A Two Baht Ferry to Koh Kret
by Danny Speight
A day trip to Koh Kret has something for everyone in the family. There's possible exercise, with a four kilometre walk or bicycle ride around the island. There's food aplenty with good cheap Thai open-air restaurants and coffee shops. There's market shopping to please most wives and kids. And there are river views, ancient temples and a museum to nourish the mind. In other words, you can lose weight, put it back on, spend your money and leave cleverer than when you arrived, but not necessarily in that order.
Koh Kret is an island in the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok's northern suburbs. It's that part of Nonthaburi Province adjoining Bangkok. The usual way of getting there is via Pakret using the ferry from the pier at Wat Sanan Nua. This costs just two Baht per person. There's no bridge to the island, so no cars. It's just motorbikes and bicycles on Koh Kret.
If you are driving yourself, the easy way is to follow Chaeng Wattana Road down to the river. For Bangkok residents this is the road with the new government complex with the Immigration department. The river is nine-and-half kilometres west of the junction with Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road. Make sure you follow the signs for Pakret, otherwise you will go up onto the Rama IV bridge and cross the river instead. The turning to Wat Sanan Nua takes you past a Lotus-Tesco supermarket which is a great place to park your car. A short walk further down the soi will take you to the temple and the ferry. For GPS users the Lotus car park is at 13.9127°N, 100.4959°E. There is a small car park charge.
The very short ferry ride will drop you off at Wat Poramai Yikawat, which is the largest of the five temples on the island. Koh Kret was originally a meander in the river, but in 1772 under King Taksin the Great a canal was dug to allow shipping a short cut upriver. It is still used today by tugs pulling giant barges. The cut off meander then became an island. The region has long been inhabited by ethnic Mons, although I have read King Taksin did encourage the former Ayutthaya Mon community to move there after the destruction of the city by the Burmese.
The Mon peoples are an ancient ethnic group who live in both Burma and Thailand and predate the Tai people who settled the region much later. They are credited with bringing Buddhism to both countries. It seems that once we look back a couple of hundred years ago the various kingdoms were happy to have a mix of ethnic groups living there as land without people to farm it is not worth much at all.
The pathway taking you around Koh Kret is built on stilts as it's almost all low lying agricultural land refreshed each year by the river flooding. From the temple pier you have a choice of walking straight ahead which is the path on the northern bank of the island. The first kilometre of this route is covered and has small shops and market stalls on both sides. Here you will find all types of goods on sale including the famous Mon unglazed red pottery that is still produced on the island. You will also find a selection of cafes and restaurants to remove any hunger pains you may have.
Both Wat Saithong Thong and Wat Phai Lom are on this stretch of pathway and are worth a visit as they date from the late Ayutthaya period. To your right there are some good views of the river, including Wat Bangjak across the river with its gigantic Buddha statue under construction.
If at the landing pier you take the pathway to your left you circumnavigate the island in a clockwise direction. This way you have the choice of losing weight by biking or walking. There are bicycles for hire not far outside of the temple grounds. Do take care using this method if you haven't been biking for a while as riding off the pathway could lead you to a sudden six foot drop into a field. Taking this route will take you past the very old Wat Chimphli and also Wat Salakun. The latter is very peaceful place to take a rest.
An even more restful way of circumnavigating the island is to do it by boat. Trips are offered from the landing stages on the main river's bank at Wat Poramai Yikawat, further to the right from where you landed. Whatever way you do decide to get around the island do look out for the DC-3 airplane parked next to the river in the northwest corner of the island. You can get down to it although this does involve following a small pathway and walking through someone's back garden. Even if you don't make it all the way you will wonder how they ever landed the plane there, but afterwards probably decide it must have been bought in by barge.
Last but not least, when leaving the island do stop by the two storey museum in Wat Poramai Yikawat. Here is a collection of the artifacts from the Mon community's life on Koh Kret. Then it's just another two Baht ferry ride to take you back into the hectic life of bus, truck and car traffic which you have managed to avoid by having a pleasant day on the island.