If we look hard enough there is interest in the most mundane of journeys – even that to our place of work.
I start my own commute with a motorbike taxi ride which I catch at the end of my soi. This is a ubiquitous and , for me, indispensable form of transport in Bangkok. This journey of 1 KM to the Phahon Yothin underground station costs me 10 Thai Bahts (33 US cents) – pretty good value really. The only issue is ensuring you have low denomination. These guys don’t like to change a THB1,000 note!
The MRT (Mass Rail Transit) is Bangkok’s underground metro system. The MRT combined with the BTS Skytrain has transformed travel around the capital. I have lived here, on and off, for some thirty years now and certainly it is far easier to get from A to B now than in the early 80’s. At that time we could hardly imagine that an underground transit system could be built in this most frequently flooded of cities . Certainly challenging civil engineering works were required to construct the massive underground structures deep under the water-logged soil upon which the city is built. The Thais can be justifiably proud of their achievement. It is spic and span too.
One stop on the underground to Chatuchak Park (a journey costing THB20) to connect with the BTS Skytrain station at Mor Chit. The eponymous park is located right next to the BTS Skytrain station, it is the most accessible park of the 3 that form the Chatuchak Park complex the other two being Queen Sirikit Park and the Railway Park (Suan Rot Fay).
Onto the BTS Skytrain (Rot Fay Far) itself. The system comprises twenty-three stations along two lines: the Sukhumvit line running northwards and eastwards and the Silom line which runs along Silom and Sathorn Roads and the Central Business District. They have a combined route distance of 55 km. The Thais do have a fondness for formal names which are rarely used by the public and the Skytrain is no exception being formally known as “The Elevated Train in Commemoration of His Majesty the King’s Sixth Cycle Birthday”. Try saying that in a hurry!
Three stops and then Victory Monument (Anusawari Chai Samoraphum). This was erected in 1941 to commemorate the Thai “victory” in the Franco-Thai War. In fact just a brief skirmish with the then French Indo-China colonial authorities which resulted in Thailand annexing territories in western Cambodia and southern Laos. The since discredited Thai regime of Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram decided to celebrate the “war” as a great victory, and the monument was erected within a few months. The Italian sculptor Corrado Ferochi, who worked under the Thai name Silpa Bhirasiptor, and who designed the statues at the base intensely disliked the combination and referred to the monument as “the victory of embarrassment.” In 1945 it became an embarrassment in a political sense when the Allies forced Thailand to return the territories gained in 1941.
That journey cost me THB25 and we leave the station now to walk through the adjacent and enormous Rajavithi Hospital complex. In fact Rajavithi Road which runs westwards from Victory Monument to the river is lined with numerous hospitals and health-related institutions. In addition to the Rajavithi Hospital there is the Boromarajonani College of Nursing, the Institute of Dermatology, the Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health (Children’s Hospital), Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Phramongkutklao Hospital and College of Medicine, the Royal Thai Army Nursing College and Prasat Neurological Institute. If you had an injury on this street you might be faced with a confusing choice!
I am walking through the Rajavithi Hospital because it takes me almost all the way to the office under cover – I will certainly use this way if it is raining. There are a few interesting things en route. Firstly a couple of mini gardens in the complex including one with a splendid Rattan plant.
Past several mini markets (and I don’t mean 7 Elevens – but there are these too) we are in Thailand after all. These are to be avoided especially if you are in a hurry and at lunch times. I tried taking a photo but it was too crowded and not a little dangerous – definitely don’t get between Thai ladies and market stalls.
Walking out onto Rajavithi Road again I see unusual offerings under a Bhodi Tree . A wrong turning at the Serengeti?
The phenomenon has since been explained to me. Believers when they made a wish at a sacred place , such as a Bhodi tree, would in return provide a gift or offering. This might more commonly be some fruit or a bottle of Fanta (you can see one in the photo). Some in the past wished to gift wooden horses but apparently these are hard to find so instead wooden zebras were given as they are apparently a common form of garden decoration in Thailand (invites further question but no less illogical than the Western garden gnome). This is now becoming a tradition and, since I’ve started to look , can be seen under other Bhodi trees and Spirit Houses around town. This particular site has certain poignancy ias it clearly is an expression of the hopes and wishes for the sick in the hospital.
Getting very close to the office now and I found myself in front of The Mahidol University Faculty of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Here you will find a very nice bronze statue of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, who in Thailand, is considered the “father of modern medicine” and indeed is the father of King Bhumipol himself. Prince Mahidol, a good man who sadly only lived to the young age of 37, left a great legacy to Thailand in more ways than one.
After a journey of some 40 minutes (actually I am very fortunate as some of my dedicated colleagues have a daily two hour plus one way journey) I stand before my office, the magnificently, if again a little impractically, named “The 60th Anniversary of his Majesty the King’s Ascension to the Throne Building“.
I’ll call it “the office”.