By Graham K. Rogers
Once in a while I leave the computer at home, grab a camera or two and head out of the door. Some of my trips are quite short and may only take me into the Other Bangkok that I can find only a few blocks away on the Thonburi side of Bangkok. At other times, I like to go further.
On a number of trips down to Mahachai and Banlaem, after I cross the river, I walk towards the station. This is an unusual service that only runs a few trains a day down to Maeklong. The last time I went to the station for the train scheduled for a 13:30 departure, it was cancelled. For 3 months. The railway company was using the time in the middle of the day to carry out some long overdue maintenance. Come back in March, I was told.
Instead, I walked through some of the streets of this small town on the edge of the river. Like Mahachai it is heavily dependent on the fishing industry, but is considerably less hectic. One of the features is the pedalo men who wait for business at the exit from the ferry.
On the one hand, I have an objection to making someone work physically to take me round the streets. On the other, there is the point that this is the only income for these older men and if they have no customers, that might mean no food. When I lived in Songkhla a few years back, I knew some teenagers who would rely on this type of work: hire a pedalo for a few hours, pick up some customers, have enough to eat for a day or so.
Another point that pushed me into going down with the intention of hiring one of these was that I had taken photographs of them a number of times in the past. They were happy to have them taken without any reward. I needed to adjust the balance a little.
After crossing the river, I spoke to one of the pedalo men as I came off the ferry and he asked where I wanted to go. I was fairly vague. He went to his machine and pulled out a card with English words on it: a touristy trip was 100 baht: about US$3. We could do that.
I did have an idea where I wanted to go, but he also had an idea of where he wanted to take me. I was a tourist, so clearly wanted to see touristy things. So with plenty of time to play with, I let him take me several kilometres - leg power only - to a number of temples. After one or two, he realised I was not so much a temple person. I was happier looking at the river, at boats and people.
I did take some photographs of temples too. I brought up the Maps app on the iPhone and showed him the satellite picture of the roundabout in the centre of Banlaem. He recognised it right away and we agreed that once this part of the trip was done, this would be a second one.
At the temple furthest from where we had started, instead of heading for the temple itself, I asked him to take me to the water's edge where I could see a number of boats. I asked him if he had eaten and gave him some cash to buy some food. He offered me the change when I came back, but I suggested he might want to buy some water too.
Near where the boats were moored, I could see nets spread over the ground. I presumed these were being made ready for the next trip. I also saw several people sitting on the ground nearby, making repairs to nets: something I had not seen before.
We did make it to the roundabout which was quiet, being Sunday, although one or two stalls were set out: ever hopeful. At another temple, he mentioned the railway. As I walked to the temple, I crossed the tracks.
It was just after 13:30 and I had not heard the train. With the way it passes slowly through housing areas - with abodes built right up to the trackside - it makes a lot of noise warning the residents that it is coming.
I asked if the 1:30 train had gone. There isn't one anymore, he said. Instead of 4 trains a day, the frequency had been reduced to 3: morning, noon and night. The last one back from Maeklong was about 4:30pm.
On the way back, he passed near the station. As he turned into the approach road, I saw that one of the temples was older and made of wood: boat wood, he said. I asked him to stop and spent a few minutes there.
He tried to drop me off at the ferry, by riding the pedalo up the path in the market right to the waterside. I asked him to let me off in the street as I still had a couple more pictures I wanted to take.
I paid him for the two trips I had officially made, so the total cost (with the lunch) was 300 baht. Result: lots of photographs and a happy pedalo man.
I went back on the ferry to Mahachai a little later, taking more photographs in the market area, but arrived at the station at 2:29 pm: 5 minutes after the train had left.
There was about an hour until the next. I sat and waited until the ticket office opened and joined the line. When I bought the ticket, the clerk thanked me in English, which was a nice touch.
See also: Photography in Mahachai (1): Thaladphlu to Mahachai
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.