On a quiet Monday mid-day I pick up a ride on a long-tail boat at Nonthaburi Pier and cross the river, my destination Wat Chalerm Phra Kiat, supposedly one of the places Bangkokese go for a bit of R&R. In front of me as I leave the pier on the west side of the Chao Praya is a wide street of shops that don’t sell necklaces, flip-flops, postcards of the Grand Palace and tourist attracting tat; back to the real world of hardware stores and motorbike repair shops, short side streets of relatively new houses, each with a balcony above a carport most of which are used as open-air kitchens, living rooms or clutter spaces, and almost all of them have plants growing in large pots. One owner has created an almost secret entrance, guarded by a black ornate wrought iron gate, virtually obscured by an overflowing of floribunda.

I stop at a roadside café whose walls and roof are of plastic sheeting, hanging to just above a picket fence. Plastic cloths of gaudily coloured fruit brighten the tables. Despite the pictures of prawn, chicken and squid dishes, the chef’s menu is take-it-or-leave-it,  minimalistic in the extreme; a pan of pork in sauce, a mundane version of khao ka moo, the wonderful Thai stewed pork dish, to which he adds noodles, bean sprouts and a few chopped leaves and spices, all served with a bowl of rice. On each table is a bottle of water and another bottle I take, without wearing my glasses, for iced tea. I try to twist the top off but the chef takes it from me and flips the lid open. It’s then I realise I’d just been about to take a mouthful of fish sauce. People call by for take-aways in small plastic bags, others take a bowl and move on. The pace is so slow that I hadn’t realised that as I watched the world go by at the front, the diner had been slowly filling up behind me until almost every table was taken.

The park at Wat Chalerm Phra Kiat

Wat Chalerm Phra Kiat is a total delight after the hyper-grandeur and ornamentation of the better-known temples of Bangkok; a rubbed-around-the-edges, Disneyesque affair, where a group of chubby babes, saluting sailors, pink flamingos and giggling monks welcome you, the devotional flowers have seen far better days, a few candles are melted in globules of yellow wax, grass around the trees and shrubs in need of a good trim, paintwork peeling and showing damp patches, roof tiles lacking the lustre of many of its more famous counterparts, but it is completely and utterly charming.

At 1.15 on a Monday afternoon I’m the only person there, other than a cleaner swishing her broom around who gives me a glorious smile when she spots me, and a couple with a young girl of around two who, at the behest of her father, gives me a pretty wai. I reply in kind. Cocks crow, birds chirrup and all else is silence as a squirrel skitters along a cable passing through trees to get from one to another.

Wat Chalerm Phra Kiat temple

Dragon entrance at Wat Chalerm Phra Kiat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mine is the solitary pair of shoes outside the door of the shrine temple. A monk in saffron robe dozes on a folding bed tucked down the side of the main alter. He rolls over, sees me, and then rolls back again.

Disneyesque figures at Wat Chalerm Phra KiatI sit peacefully, enjoying the quiet. The silence is broken by the ringtone of a mobile phone and the monk uncurls from his robe to answer his smartphone. A few moments later the Westminster chime of a mother of pearl inlaid long-case clock behind me brings me back to the 21st century.

The park behind the Wat is everything a park should be; a lake with a pagoda in the middle, humped-backed bridges over rivulets, a playground for kids, open air gymnasium for adults, similar to the one I used regularly when I lived in Valencia, Spain, although mine didn’t carry quotations attached to the machines as this one does.

‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.’ Anais Nin.

‘A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.’ Herm Albright.

‘The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age.’ Lucile Ball.

Buddha bless Lucille Ball!

Wat Chalerm Phra Kiat lake

Sleeping babes at Wat Chalerm Phra Kiat