Why would anyone go through the trouble of traveling kilometres away for a piece of pottery? It doesn’t make sense, especially if you take a forty Baht skytrain ride to Sapan Taksin for a boat trip to Nonthaburi. That almost half of the sixty or so passengers of the boat you took were all headed for Nonthaburi – and ultimately to Koh Kret, the pottery island – made it all the more mind-boggeling.
But the boat ride itself makes the trip compelling. The fare is a mere ten Baht – too cheap for the one-hour-and-a-half Chao Phraya River cruise. It doesn’t have the trappings of a luxury dinner cruise that usually comes with seafood buffet, a batch of traditional Thai dancers and a live band. But just the same it gives you a great sightseeing opportunity – of picturesque temples, markets, stilted Thai houses on the banks of the majestic river, etc.
Nontaburi is the final stop of the boat. But Koh Kret – fantasy island to the constant trickles of tourists who visit the place daily – is still kilometres away. From Nonthaburi, there are private long-tail boats to take you direct to the island. But they are a little expensive, charging from 600 to 800 Baht per return trip for a group of three to eight people. So why the heck then, for only 15 Bath per passenger, a van can take you to Wat Sanam Nua in nearby Pak Kret town where you cross a river into the island on an aging ferry for just 2 Baht.
What striks you about the island is its community of potters who have lived here for around a century or so. Originally from Myanmar, these ethnic Mon families have dedicated their lives to perfecting their art, the manufacture of terracota ceramics. Over the years they have transformed their sleepy atoll into one of Bangkok‘s hidden treasures.
From the flimsy Koh Kret pier, you pass through a quiet food market to start your island exploration. Turn left for the narrow, winding lanes that take you deep into the Mon village. Souvenir shops burst out of unassuming wooden homes. Redbrick kilns sprout from the earth like hobbit-houses. Old ladies tinker away in their workshops, joyfully ignorant of modern technology, where the ancient tools of string and plank shape their mud-colored raw pots. Not only pots, in all conceivable shapes and sizes, but terracotta turtles, fish, elephants, monkeys – the whole ceramic menageries! Silently they wait for their turn in the ovens, from there to the souvenir stalls, and from there to … who knows … maybe a shelf in your home.
Such is the charm of these pocket-sized and inexpensive creations that few tourists can resist stocking up. You may wish to tour this leafy labyrinth for hours, seeking out that perfect salad bowl or melodious wind-chime, but don’t forget the tongue-tickling delights of the food marked, where the aromas of Thai and Mon cuisine compete for your senses. (Order a glass of nam pao or chai yen in advance as the spices may curdle your taste-buds!)
Turning right at the landing pier will take you up to the steps of the island’s temple, stuffed full with Buddhist antiquities. After that unwind along the shady river banks, where Kho Kret’s notorious landmark, the lop-sided white chedi stands, – totters, to be more precise – proudly over the Chao Phraya River.
When you’ve had your fill of terracotta trinkets, its back to the steamboat and the delights of a modern day Bangkok. Ten minutes back on the mainland and Koh Kret is already slipping into the stuff of daydreams and fairy-tales, and all for less than a hundred baht!