The Golden Mount and Jim Thompson’s House

After a busy week, I had a slightly lazier day on Sunday. We’d been pretty not stop in Chiang Mai, and spent a lot of time on our feet yesterday exploring Chatuchak market. Today we slept in, then went for a lazy coffee with Marwan (it was his one day off work for the fortnight). We went to a nice coffee shop, that reminded me of the sort of place you’d find back home. After coffee we wandered a shopping centre for a little while, then Marwan decided to head back home while Victoria and I continued on to Wat Saket on the Golden Mount.

Houses and shops line the canal
Houses and shops line the canal

The easiest way to get to the Golden Mount is via ferry on the canals. We had a bit of trouble locating the stop which was tucked under a bridge. The canal is a few metres wide, lined with a narrow path with houses and shops backed up against it. I enjoyed our visit to the Golden Mount, but the trip along the canal was an experience in itself.

The ferry arrives
The ferry arrives

We were the first people to arrive at the ferry stop, and spent a few minutes trying to decypher the map and timetable. Boats going both directions use the same stop, so we had to work out which boat we needed. Also, we couldn’t work out how often the boat would come. The smell coming from the canal was really bad, but we stuck it out about 10 minutes when the ferry arrived. By then there was a small group of people waiting with us.

The platform we were standing on didn’t have any railing, and was bobbing up and down on the water. The ferry pulled up, a rope was quickly thrown around a pole on the dock, and the conductor blew his whistle.  People quickly disembarked and we all hurried on. The movement of the water from the boat pulling up caused the dock to move up and down and there was a gap between the ferry and the dock. There was a significant step down from the side of the ferry to its deck, but we managed to get in safely. The conductor blew three short sharp whistles, drew in the rope and we were off.

Cruising along the canal
Cruising along the canal

The ferry was very noisy, with the engine sitting under a wooden cover on top of the deck. There were rows of low benches, but they were all full so we stood.  Ropes criss crossed the roof for holding on, and there were tarps on the sides which could be pulled up when other boats passed to block splashes of putrid canal water. The conductor made his way through the ferry collecting fares and handing out small paper tickets, just in time for the next stop.

Once we were moving there was a strong breeze and the smell disappeared. It was only when we stopped that it came back. The view along the sides of the canal was really interesting. People were washing and hanging out clothes, there were some small kids bathing in a big plastic bucket, and a lady was washing her dishes and dumping the dirty water into the canal. It was a great way to see a different side of Bangkok, hidden behind the tall skyscrapers and busy city life.

A lady washes dishes on the side of the canal
A lady washes dishes on the side of the canal

Fortunately our stop was the last stop, so we couldn’t miss it. We clambered off the ferry, and wandered up the path to the street, somewhat glad to be back on firm ground. We crossed over the canal, and followed food stalls along the street towards the Golden Mount.  A market was setting up as we arrived for a week long festival held there as part of Loi Kratong, but we continued past to the stairs.

The base of the stairs
The base of the stairs

I didn’t count these ones, but there were a lot! They were very small, but quite deep making the climb slower than it needed to be. It was an overcast day, and very humid. We could hear bells clanging as we climbed the stairs. There was a massive gong halfway out which made a beautiful booming sound.

Banging the gong on the way up
Banging the gong on the way up

Somehow the stairs were structured so that it was up only. They spiralled around the Mount, working their way to the temple at the top. The hill is man made, with a golden chedi on top. It’s not particularly high, but being on the edge of the city there are no tall buildings around and it afforded a nice view of the city.

View from the top
View from the top

At the top, there was a procession of people around the chedi, offerings for sale and some sort of prayer service in progress amplified over a PA system. We were able to go inside the temple to see the budha relic, where there were more people praying. We chose a busy time to visit, but from what I’ve read in a tourist brochure the evenings are even busier, so it was lucky we went in the early afternoon. The chedi was wrapped in red cloth as part of the Loi Kratong festival.

The golden chedi of Wat Saket
The golden chedi of Wat Saket

After circling the chedi and enjoying the view we started to make our way back down. The stairs down were lined with bells, and some people were stopping to ring every bell. One lady had a closed umbrella in her hand, and if a bell didn’t have a clanger she hit it with her umbrella. I’m not sure what the signifance of ringing the bells is, but it seemed to be important that she ring every one. The stairs are lined with dense trees, and statues scattered throughout. It was quite a pleasant walk, despite the humidity.

Bells lining the stairs down
Bells lining the stairs down

Back at the bottom, the market was in full swing. More food stalls had popped up, and there were carnival rides and games. I think they were getting ready for the evening, when people would have finished school and work. We grabbed a drink, then made our way back over the canal to the boat. On the way back, the ferry stopped for a few minutes. We were moving very slowly, and it felt like something had gone wrong with the boat. After about 5 minutes, another boat passed us in the opposite direction, then we continued at full speed so I think they were waiting for the other boat to pass before continuing (perhaps the canal narrowed further down and we could only overtake at that point).

The market in full swing
The market in full swing

Just behind the stop where we got off was Jim Thompson’s house. He was an American businessman who helped kick off the Thai silk market in the 1950s. He took samples of Thai silk back to America where there was great interest in the material. He then began a business exporting the silk worldwide. The signifance of his house was in its construction. He had purchased 6 houses from around Thailand, and relocated them to this land near the canal. They were connected as a single residence where he lived. He disappeared in 1967 trekking in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, and no-one knows what happened to him.

Exterior of the Jim Thompson house
Exterior of the Jim Thompson house

He collected many Thai artifacts and artwork, which are kept in his house, and a foundation has been established to maintain his collection and house. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but we did go on a tour. The building is very impressive, with a lot of artwork scattered throughout. It felt very grand, but not over the top.

In relocating the six houses used to build it, he had chosen to install the windows “inside out” so the intricate carvings usually on the exterior could be appreciated on the inside. The house was surrounded by well maintained gardens filled with statues and a fish pond. There was also a back gate leading directly to the canal where people would previously arrive by boat and access the house directly. It was interesting to learn a little bit about his history, and visit his beautiful residence.

Artwork in the Jim Thomspon gallery
Artwork in the Jim Thomspon gallery

We stopped at the restaurant there for a refreshing smoothie, then caught the free shuttle to the nearest station to head home. The clouds we very grey, and we didn’t want to get wet. We sheltered from the rain back at the apartment, then that night headed out to Soi 38, a narrow street lined with busy food stalls where we enjoyed pad thai and coconut water for dinner. It was an exciting little street, with both locals and tourists buying dinner from the stalls. A great way to end the day!

Posted from Bangkok, Bangkok, Thailand.

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