After the street art exhibition, I went to the turtle temple.
This is why I love Bangkok. Many other cities have street art exhibitions and I am sure some have turtle temples, but how many cities can so effortlessly encompass both?
The turtle temple, Wat Prayun, stands near the Chao Phraya river in the shadow of the graceful Memorial Bridge which connects Thonburi to Chinatown. I had to hop on a river boat to get there. By the time I arrived it was late afternoon and the sun was sinking.
People were sitting on benches by the river – some with ukeleles, some fishing, some with partners or children. There was a breeze blowing and a clear, end-of-day light. The whole riverfront seemed to be drowsy with peacefulness and contentment, a feeling you get in many of Bangkok’s residential corners – surprisingly – despite the craziness of the city.
At the temple there were monks on stepladders touching up murals,a few stray dogs and a drinks stall but alas, no turtles. The famous rock garden where the sacred turtles live was being renovated and signs sternly forbade anyone but the workmen from going in. I saw some of the turtles in protective cages from behind the fence.
Still, I didn’t mind. I grabbed a drink from the drinks stall and went for a stroll up the river, past the charming Santa Cruz church in what was once the city’s Portuguese quarter where home bakeries still bake Iberian influenced egg-custard tarts. I walked through little alleyways, past tiny corner stores, chirping finches in elegantly carved cages and Chinese shrines (and one junkie inhaling paint thinner from a plastic bag) and along the sunny riverfront to another nearby temple, Wat Kalayanmit. This is also a turtle temple, but of a different kind. Rather than keeping the turtles in a pond, it is a famous place to buy live turtles from the vendors outsid. These are then released into the river as a merit-making act to earn good kharma. But at this hour of the evening the turtle sellers had all packed up and gone home.
Contended, I walked back slowly and watched the sun set. When I got back to Chinatown, the flower market at Pak Khlong Talad had just started for the night (it reaches its crescendo in the early hours) and I walked through the bags of yellow garlands, purple orchids and red roses, happy to have spent an aimless afternoon wandering in a city that I love.