Thought I would conclude the week with a pair of beautiful nighttime shots showing two different bridges here in Bangkok.
This is the pedestrian bridge at the intersection of Narathiwat and Sathorn roads. The tall building is the Sathorn Square Office Tower, which opened just recently. The shorter building on the left is the soon-to-open W Hotel Bangkok.
This is the Rama VIII Bridge across the Chao Phraya River. This single pylon, cable-stayed bridge is two and a half kilometers long and will be celebrating its tenth anniversary next month. It is a beautiful bridge.
Sunday morning, the city quiet as many residents have fled the flooding, I rode my bicycle for a first-hand look at the situation in the old city and along the river. What I found was not as bad as flooding further north, but it left me with the realization that our relative dryness is a tentative state, one that could easily change.
My ride took me west into the old city, around the Grand Palace, and then north along Sam Sen Road to the Rama VII Bridge. Most of the way, I was on the road closest to the river, giving me a chance to evaluate the neighborhoods. Like a checkerboard, some neighborhoods had water while adjacent neighborhoods were still dry. The dry neighborhoods were taking no chances, though, with walls of sandbags or brick and cement erected in front of shops, buildings, and homes.
Location 1: The Emporium
These photos were actually taken Friday night, when Tawn and I drove to the Emporium shopping center at Sukhumvit Soi 24 to watch a film. Both parking structures were packed, not with shoppers’ cars but with cars that had been parked there for safekeeping. Cars were double parked, left in neutral gear so they could be pushed out of the way. To park in the only available space, we had to push six other cars out of the way. I can tell you from this experience that classic Mercedes are very heavy and do not roll easily.
We noticed that someone had parked a pale yellow Rolls Royce Phantom with an auspicious license plate with the numbers 9999 on it. (The current king is Rama IX, so nine is considered a lucky number.) Inquiring with the guard, I understand that the car’s owner is someone very high up in one of the government’s ministries. The guard also shared that this person has parked 26 cars in the lot. Perhaps the government’s scheme to encourage car ownership is working too well?
All of these cars had a notice placed on them (after they were not moved at the end of the night) asking the owners to contact the management office before leaving the car park. Presumably, there will be some sort of a fine for unauthorized long-term parking. I would guess some people probably won’t have to pay that fine.
Location 2: Phra Nakhon District
The ride to Phra Nakon, the oldest district of Bangkok, was smooth as so few cars were on the road. Along the way, streets were dry and canals were at close to their normal level. When I came up to Khlong (canal) Khu Meuang Derm near the back side of the Ministry of Defence, I encountered the first flooding. While not deep – about 10 cm (4 inches), it covered most of the blocks adjacent to the canal.
I rode around the north side of the Grand Palace where the street had moderate flooding (the far two lanes in this picture) in some areas. The entire road around Sanam Luang, the large field to the north of the Grand Palace, was flooded a bit more, with the entire road under about 15 cm (6 inches) of water.
The Grand Palace was open for business (tourists note: the Grand Palace is open every day, no matter what any scam artists may try to tell you) but there were few visitors. The entry gate, pictured here, was under about 30 cm (1 foot) of water, requiring visitors to balance on sand bags as they made their way inside.
Around the corner from the Grand Palace, closer to the river, is Maharat Road leading to Thammasat University. Flooding was more severe in this neighborhood and a barrier had been built in the street to contain the water. Vendors were still working on the sidewalks and residents (and monks from the adjacent Wat Mahathat) were coming and going as best they could. One vendor explained that the area had been flooded for the past four days. When asked whether the water was still rising or was falling, he replied that it depended on the tides.
One block away from the river, Na Phrathat Road runs along the west edge of Sanam Luang, passing the National Theatre and National Museum. It was closed to through traffic and has about 15 cm (6 inches) of standing water.
Location 3: Sam Sen Road, Dusit District
Heading north from Phra Nakhon, I rode along Sam Sen Road through the Dusit District. There, I found the same checkerboard pattern of flooding. Some stretches I rode through the water that reached the bottom of my pedals, about 15 cm (6 inches) high, although waves caused by passing vehicles left me with wet shoes. There were points where the roads were impassable, so I cut east one block, rode a few blocks north, and then returned to Sam Sen Road to find it dry again.
The dry areas looked like they might not be dry much longer. Here, I passed through an otherwise dry neighborhood and found water bubbling up through the manhole cover. Passing motorbike riders gazed warily at the water, which ran across the road and into the storm drains.
Location 4: Bang Sue District
Underneath two railway bridges just south of the Rama VII automobile bridge in the Bang Sue district, the river threatens to spill over its banks and an extra layer of sandbags marks a last line of defence. The bridge belongs to the State Railways of Thailand. Just to the right of the frame is a second bridge (to the right of the crane) for the under-construction pink rail transit line.
To the left of the previous picture (of the bridge), the road comes immediately adjacent to the brimming river, right at the entrance to Khlong (canal) Sung. The water gate for the canal is shut in order to protect the district from flooding. Soldiers from the army were on hand monitoring the situation and adding sandbags as necessary.
Just a short distance north, I rode across the Rama VIII Bridge and stopped to take pictures. There were several people fishing from the bridge, but I noticed this man who was fishing from the waterfront park underneath the bridge. Because of the flooding, it is hard to tell where the river ends and the park begins.
In the same waterfront park, a boy ran through the water as buses passed on a moderately flooded frontage road. After having pedaled about 30 km, I headed inland past the closed and sandbagged Chatuchak Weekend Market (which I’ve never seen closed on a weekend!), taking the Skytrain home from the Mo Chit station.
While I didn’t travel further north into the more severely affected areas of the city, what I saw was enough to make me realize that even though we’ve passed this week without flooding in many of the central parts of the city, those areas that are still dry, remain so only because of luck and limited rainfall. Water is bubbling up through the drains and seeping through the sandbags and dikes; it seems inevitable that some of those defenses will fail before the excess water is moved safely to the Gulf of Thailand.
I suspect that the risk to the area I live in is relatively minimal, but I think we have another week or two before the city as a whole is out of the gravest danger.
Even though Tawn and I had a chance to visit with them in Los Angeles just a few weeks ago, it was a pleasant coincidence that Gary and William had scheduled a trip to Bangkok for the end of June. We were able to see them several times during their visit, and they invited me to travel to Kanchanaburi Province with them to visit the Tiger Temple.
First stop was the town of Kanchanaburi itself, about two hours northwest of Bangkok. This town, located on Maenam Kwai (“River Kwai” – pronounced “kwae”), is the site of the bridge made famous in the 1957 David Lean film, Bridge Over the River Kwai. We made a quick stop at the very good Thai-Burma Railway Centre, the better of two museums in the city about the building of the bridge.
Next, after a delay of about 45 minutes, we jumped on a train pulled by a 40+ year old GE diesel engine for a trip across the bridge and about an hour towards the Burmese border.
Riding in a nearly antique (but still considered standard, third-class quality by the State Railways of Thailand) car, our interest quickly faded as the passing scenery blurred into a hazy green.
William, leaning out the window, takes a few shots of the countryside. Fear not, we were actually stopped at a small country station when he did this. Otherwise, he would have been whacked in the back of his head by overgrown bushes alongside the tracks.
A lone motorcyclist travels a country road as we pass a pair of houses.
Young rice grows a vibrant green in rich, volcanic soil.
Can you identify these crops? Our tour guide disappeared for most of the train ride, but I was eventually able to learn that these are cassava plants, from which tapioca starch is obtained.
After much too long on the train, we disembarked at a dusty whistle stop and boarded our van, which had been chasing after us. About twenty minutes later we arrived at the Tiger Temple. The temple itself started out as a forest monastery in the mid-1990s. Over time, the monks came to care for insured birds, an injured boar, and other animals they either encountered or were given to them. The large grounds of the monastery developed into something of a wildlife sanctuary.
In February 1999, the first tiger cub was brought to the temple. The cub had been orphaned by poachers and then had been sold to someone who was going to have it stuffed. The cub survived the botched procedure to euthanize it and was brought to the temple. Over the next few years, other orphaned cubs were brought to the temple and the head monk cared for them in following the principles of compassion for all living beings.
My last visit there was five years ago and the temple has developed quite a bit. It remains a very popular tourist destination and the visitors’ fees go to support projects to protect the tigers. The temple has also come in for some criticism from animal rights activists, which I won’t go into here other than to say that I did not witness any signs of ill treatment of the animals.
Okay, not a tiger, but a very large fire ant. I was impressed with the macro focus on my camera!
The tigers, much like all cats, were napping in the warm afternoon. There were about three or four staff members and volunteers for each cat and we were instructed about how to approach the cats and then the staff would take pictures.
There were also plenty of other animals roaming about the large temple grounds, including this very friendly deer named Ta Waan – Sweet Eyes – who knows our tour guide because he always brings a bag of dried corn with him to the temple.
After feeding her, Ta Waan became our new best friend, following us around the temple.
Many of the tiger cubs are handled by various monks. They play with them and keep them out of trouble. This one made a lunge for Ta Waan, who bounded away, and the monk literally had to grab the tiger by the tail to keep him from running after the deer.
Since my last visit, the temple has introduced several programs that allow more interactivity with the cats, all for an extra price. One of the programs was being able to feed and play with the cubs. Gary and William opted for this and ended up with some wonderful pictures and great memories. You’ll have to stay tuned to Gary’s site for those pictures.
Another program was being able to exercise the big cats. Visitors are escorted by staff members into the exercise enclosure (Daniel in the lion’s den?) and get to play with them much in the same way you play with your cat at home: by holding something at the end of a stick that they will want to pounce on. The enclosure has good vantage points from which you can see the big cats enjoying themselves.
As for the danger level, these are definitely wild cats and I observed that a lot of work is done by staff and volunteers to ensure that visitors don’t do anything that would startle the cats or cause their natural instincts to kick in, causing harm. I suppose that also keeping them fed (boiled chicken) and happy do a lot to minimize some of the risks.
While I was standing there filming from the wall (standing about where the man in the white shirt is taking a picture in the photo above), I suddenly sensed that there was something just over my right shoulder. Sure enough, the tiger cub (pictured with the monk several photos above) was walking along the top of the wall and had stopped because I was in his way.
This picture, one of three that turned out very nice, wasn’t taken with any zoom lens! I was about two feet away from his whiskers. Beautiful animal but a bit unnerving to be caught unawares.
I’ll leave you with this video compilation, about three minutes of footage of the tigers playing in the water.
All in all, I think Gary and William had a fantastic time and I’d include a visit to the Tiger Temple on the itinerary for other guests. It is certainly an experience you won’t have at home.
Last June I wrote about the opening of Bangkok’s Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, line. This new bit of mass transit is basically a light rail line but without the infrastructure costs of adding rails. In a bid to connect a growing corner of the city that has never had significant mass transit to the existing rail network, BRT extends from the Chong Nonsi Skytrain station to the south side of the city along Rama III Road.
Of course, for the system to effectively feed passengers onto the rail network, there had to be an easy connection, something that was missing at the half-way point of last year. Pictures at the BRT stations promised, though, that a grand, shaded walkway would link the BRT’s terminus with the Skytrain station.
I’m glad to report that just a couple of weeks ago, the arched section of the pedestrian bridge opened. There is still some additional work being done including the addition of additional, newer stairs to connect to the bridge from surrounding street corners. This work is proceeding rapidly, though, so I think in just a few short weeks we’ll have a finished product. Nice to see some bit of urban infrastructure actually come to fruition.
Looking from the BRT station side of the intersection north towards the Skytrain station.
While some finishing touches are being placed on the bridge, it is open and being used.
Lots of people were taking pictures of what is a dramatic addition to the skyline.
For a city of about 8 million people with generally poor mass transit systems, Krungthep (Bangkok) can sometimes surprise you with the usefulness of some of its infrastructure development. A good example of this are the pedestrian bridges built to connect some of the BTS Skytrain (elevated rail) stations to surrounding buildings. In a city with lots of traffic congestion, poor air quality, and even poorer footpath quality, an elevated way to get from the station to the buildings is a big incentive to get out of the car and into the mass transit.
The junction of Asoke and Sukhumvit roads is an example of this bridge building trend. One of the busiest intersections in the city, crossing at street level has long been a hazardous activity for pedestrians. Located at the intersection of the MRTA subway and the BTS Skytrain, this junction houses three high-rise offices each with a few floors of retail, two large hotels, and a nine-story mall that is under construction.
The pedestrian bridge built under the Skytrain viaduct, heading east from the Asoke station.
In the past two years, pedestrian bridges were built to the west of the BTS Skytrain station, connecting the two hotels and one of the three office buildings. Then a large bridge was built to the east under the Skytrain tracks on Sukhumvit, crossing Asoke in a single cantilevered structure. On the east side of the junction the pedestrian bridge connected to the building in the southeast corner, but not to the newer building on the northeast corner.
The northeast corner of the Asoke-Sukhumvit junction.
Before the pedestrian bridge opened across Asoke, you had to descend from the Skytrain station to the subway station, cross under Asoke road in the subway station, and then reemerge at the base of this building. The subway entrance is in the lower left of the photo, near the large umbrellas. The new pedestrian bridge is on the right that connects directly to the building is on the right. What follows are some pictures of the connection under construction over the past two months:
Taken about six weeks ago, you can see in this picture how the new extension of the bridge will connect from the existing pedestrian bridge (shown in the very first picture in this entry) to the third floor of the building. At this point, just a part of the metal framework has been put into place.
A few days later, crossbeams have been added and some of the concrete flooring is in place. You can also see how a stairwell to the street level – a requirement for all the bridges that connect to buildings to allow after-hours access to the pedestrian bridge – fits into the design.
A few days after that, the columns for the roof structure are mostly in place. The following week, the roof itself has been added and most of the side panels are installed.
Finally, about two weeks ago the bridge is finished and is nearly open. Lighting is working, as you can see. This will be much more convenient to access the building and its businesses. Certainly much easier than having to pass through the subway station to get there! Plus, you can now descend to the street and access businesses along this side of the street more easily.
A second example of new pedestrian bridges is going up on the west side of the Thong Lo Skytrain station. This is my neighborhood station and it lies just to the east of the junction of Thong Lo and Sukhumvit Roads, two stops to the east of the Asoke station.
Looking west from the foot of the Thong Lo Station
The main driver behind this bridge is the Noble Remix condo (the purple building) which will have two floors of retail below about 35 stories of residences. While the retail floors will get traffic from the residents, there’s no hope of anyone else traipsing over there unless it is convenient, and that means a pedestrian bridge.
Looking west from the station’s westbound platform.
Looking from the station platform to the west, you can see the condo on the left and the entrance to my alley on the right, just under the tracks before the first column. The rationale for needing a pedestrian bridge is that someone walking along the sidewalk has to go along the petrol station and then cross a small but busy alley between the petrol station and the condo. By building the bridge, it is safer and more convenient for pedestrians.
At the same time, some stairs will be built on the north (righthand) side of the road in front of the international school – the building that is wrapped in blue construction tarp. This should be safer for students and their parents to access the Skytrain station.
Looking back from in front of the international school towards the BTS Skytrain station, you can see the condo to the right and the first columns of the pedestrian bridge. This is about two months ago.
As of four weeks ago, box frames were built around the train viaduct’s columns.
A few weeks later, the bridgework was added to connect each of the support columns. For the past two weeks, no further work has been done including the connection to the station itself. I’m curious to see how quickly they will finish this project. It seems like it should not be difficult but each step has moved quite slowly. In the end, it won’t benefit me very much but it is another sign of progress in making the Skytrain more accessible to the area surrounding the station and and more user-friendly to potential passengers.