Wong Wian Yai Bangkok Photo Walk
Keeping up with the momentum of our previous walk, we outdid ourselves and set a new record of 57 photographers on the largest and longest photo walk the Bangkok Photographers Group has ever seen. Now aware of the great photo opportunities awaiting us on the other side of the river, we once again made our way to Thonburi to see what the Talat Phlu and Wong Wian Yai areas had to offer.
Many sites were discovered throughout the walk, but the most fascinating aspect was getting a firsthand account of how life is lived along the railroad tracks between the Talat Phlu and Mahachai-Mae Klong railway stations.
Starting at the Talat Phlu BTS Station, we headed towards the railway station and market of the same name. With its close proximity to a number of canals and waterways, the Talat Phlu area was widely used to cultivate piper betel, or phlu, by the Teochew people who migrated and settled there during the reign of King Taksin. Apparently chewing betel was all the rage at the time, especially for its stylish quality of blackening the teeth. Until it was banned during World War II, farmers hustled betel leaves along the waterways and sold them at the wholesale market at Talat Phlu.
Long gone are the days of betel trading, but the Teochew influence is still deeply felt from the food to the Chinese shop house-style buildings. We were all enthralled with the creative décor of the homes ~ whisky boxes hanging from the ceilings, bike helmets acting as planters and toy-like trinkets covering every available surface ~ and couldn’t get enough of photographing the characters that lived in them.
Rather than taking the main Thoet Thai Road along the railway line, we opted instead to weave through the alleys next to the canal, which seems to be used more by tourists boating down the Chao Phraya than by locals trading or doing business. Plenty of businesses can be found, however, in the back streets and at Wat Klang Market, forcing visitors to cover their noses with its aroma of fish, but delighting the eyes with views of the wats glittering overhead.
From Wat Kantathararam to Wat Intharam, the temples seem to emerge from the backyards of the resident’s small wooden houses. These neighborhood temples range in their significance from small places of worship to the full-on pilgrimage site at Wat Intharam, which is also where Taksin’s ashes remain.
Rounding the temples, we found ourselves on a narrow road ~ Liap Thang Rotfai ~ next to the Mahachai-Mae Klong track. Almost immediately you could feel the influence of the Muslim community in the area (out of about 20 Muslim communities in Thonburi) with most of the signage in Arabic and most of the women wrapped in traditional hijab. At the Suan Phlu Mosque, we were greeted by young boys and girls eager to know where we were from and what we were doing.
I couldn’t believe how much commotion could fit into such a small space as we continued down Liap Thang Rotfai. To our left, the train tracks were full of families eating, drinking, talking and selling – ready to jump out of the train’s way at a moment’s notice. Shops and street vendors lined the right side, making the street even tighter to walk down.
We took our time snapping photos, but eventually met at the end of Wong Wian Yai Railway Station, standing out in all of its light purple glory. As the train pulled up to the station, the locals scrambled to make their last purchases and flung themselves across the tracks to the loading side of the platform.
Although we felt like our feet were going to fall off from the hours of walking we’d endured, we still had one last site to see: the ancient Chao Mae Aniew Shrine, a small Chinese shrine hidden away by surrounding timber houses that look almost as old as the shrine itself.
As we bid our goodbyes and made our way to the BTS, the Wong Wian Yai traffic circle came into view with its statue of King Taksin standing tall in the center of the twisting traffic swerving off in all directions.
This piece first appeared in Bangkok Photo Walks "Wong Wian Yai" issue. Don't forget to click the link to check out all the amazing photos from this month's edition!