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    Tropical Storm Tour: Thailand Part 38

    Tuesday, July 28, 2015
    Bangkok, Thailand

    Enter the shantytown maze toward the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    Enter the shantytown maze toward the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    A small bridge crosses a canal in the shantytown maze near the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    A small bridge crosses a canal in the shantytown maze near the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    Although it was mostly overcast this afternoon, the sun was visible intermittently and it didn’t look like it was going to rain, so I figured it would be a good time to visit a Bangkok attraction I’d still never seen: the National Museum of Royal Barges. The reviews on Trip Advisor were mixed; some people liked it, some didn’t, and still others complained that the path you had to take through a shantytown to get to it seemed dangerous. Well, I happen to be a big fan of danger, so I decided to go for it!

    An overview of the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    An overview of the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    A seven-headed dragon adorns a barge at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    A seven-headed dragon adorns a barge at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    After taking the boat across the Chao Phraya river from Phra Arthit to Phra Pin Khao, I happened upon a sidewalk market where I bought a couple of pairs of thin, polyester no-show socks. I read that wearing them under your normal socks can help prevent blisters. At only 10 baht (30 cents) per pair, I didn’t have much to lose! A block farther away from the river, I spotted a sign for the National Museum of Royal Barges with an arrow pointing into a narrow side lane. Upon entering, I encountered a veritable wonderland of extremely photogenic distressed surfaces everywhere: rusted corrugated metal panels, old weathered wood, signs rendered almost illegible from the effects of time, weather and vandals.

    A barge crew's uniforms at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    A barge crew’s uniforms at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    Three of the main barges at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    Three of the main barges at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    I passed by numerous small shops set up in the front of dwellings with little old ladies posted up selling snacks and other small goods, while kids walked home from school and the occasional motorcyclist passed by. During the entire journey, I never once felt slightly threatened or like I was in any kind of danger. The people on Trip Advisor who said this area seemed dangerous must lead really sheltered lives, frowning upon anything that doesn’t match up to the shiny, glitzy malls that they frequent in their ultra sterile, dull suburbs and gated communities.

    After 10 or 15 minutes trundling through the maze, I finally stumbled upon the National Museum of Royal Barges. As I forked over 100 baht for my ticket and 100 baht to shoot photos ($6.00 total), I headed inside, only to be taken aback by a whole row of incredibly long and narrow, intricately carved, gold-soaked boats of the highest order. I spent close to two hours taking in all of the glorious detail, including a series of displays and dioramas circling the perimeter of the building that showcased crew uniforms, flags, scale models, musical instruments to keep the rowers in time, etc, with informative signs explaining it all to the layperson.

    A front view of a barge at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    A front view of a barge at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    A close-up of a dragon on a barge at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    A close-up of a dragon on a barge at the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    Most of these barges, which were originally built in centuries past up to the early 20th century, were damaged during World War II, then ordered to be restored in more recent decades by the current King of Thailand himself. (They are still used today once in a great while for official royal ceremonies.) The results are fantastic and fun to gawk at even for a non-boat fanatic such as myself. If you’re staying in Bangkok for an extended period and have run out of major–and even minor–sights to explore, I highly recommend a visit to the National Museum of Royal Barges. And the walk through the scenic shantytown maze in and out of the museum is just as enjoyable on a nice, sunny day–despite what the sissies say.

    A scenic view within the shantytown maze near the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    A scenic view within the shantytown maze near the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    A picturesque gate to someone's house in the shantytown maze near the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.
    A picturesque gate to someone’s house in the shantytown maze near the National Museum of Royal Barges in Bangkok, Thailand.

    After a tasty dinner at May Kaidee’s, I had to head down the dreaded Thanon Khao San to cash some traveler’s checks at the moneychanger to pay for my Air Asia flight to Medan, Sumatra coming up on August 4. On the way, I encountered a video crew shooting some footage of four Thai girls who were dressed up in traditional costumes and dancing right in the midst of the tourist hordes milling about. I had never seen that happen there before. Of course, it had to be during one of the very few times that I left my camera in my room, as the battery was almost out of juice! A couple of minutes later, the air smelled of rain and a sudden cold breeze whipped through the street with such force that it caused girls to squeal. I’ve never felt a wind anywhere near as strong and cold in Southeast Asia before. It was freakish! Of course, a minute later, the clouds started pouring rain. Then it was hot again.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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