Nonthaburi: little-known attractions just north of Bangkok

Nonthaburi is a city (and a province) merging with Bangkok from the north. Very few international tourists stop by, but the Thai tourists enjoy the visit to Koh Kret, an island of the Chao Phraya river featuring a temple and pottery workshop of the Mon ethnic group. The greatest attraction of Nonhaburi is a 17th century, late-Ayutthaya temple Wat Chomphuek.

Wide Chao Phraya river north of Bangkok, with stilted houses on either bank
On Chao Phraya river

24 hours with our Thai friend, Siriporn

After very touristic Chiang Mai, Pai and Sukhothai, we still had 24 hours on our hands before the flight to Yangon. We could have spent it in Bangkok, visiting its museums. Instead, we paid a visit to a friend we made on the meditation course in Koh Samui. We couldn’t make a better choice. She took us to the places no guidebook mentions. We also tried delicacies we wouldn’t have tasted otherwise. Thanks, Siri, you’re great!

Blog-s co-author and our Thai host sitting at a table laid with vegan fake meat dishes
Sayak and our host Siriporn having a vegan treat from the Buddhist canteen

Siri waited for us patiently at the monstrously huge Mo Chit station and drove us to her lovely house in Nonthaburi. In the evening, we visited sister Ben, our teacher at the Anapana meditation course we took on Ko Samui. We enjoyed her anecdotes about cultural shocks she went through during her visit to the UK.

The owner of a sweet shop in Nonthaburi proudly shows the cauldrons with famous coconut milk mixtures
The famous Nonthaburi sweet shop

Then, we moved on to a famous local sweets shop where I tried some desserts I’d never seen before. We let Siri deal with the order and we were not disappointed. First came a bowl full of warm coconut milk with colourful balls and -for me- sort of crunchy chestnuts- for Sayak- poached egg. We were greedy enough to share the iced version of that sweet: coconut milk, a ball of ice and coloured balls stuffed with crispy chestnut. Yum!

A Thai dessert: a bowl of coconut milk with colourful dumplings
Sweet warm coconut milk with crunchy water chestnut

Koh Kret and the Mon pottery workshops

In the morning, we went to Koh Kret. This large island on the Chao Phraya River is inhabited by the Mon people, whose ancestors came from Myanmar many centuries ago. We took a ferry across the river to arrive at an island full of temples and innumerable stalls. The first thing we saw was the iconic crooked chedi and a famous Mon temple.

A small, white tilted chedi stands on a river pier decorated with Thai flags on Koh Kret island
Crooked chedi

We soon moved on to visit an earthenware workshop. One lady explained the pottery production process which compelled me to buy something. There were plenty of exquisitely carved clay pots and vessels on offer. Eventually, I chose a decorative teacup for my father’s collection.

A star-shaped, intricately carved earthenware base and egg-shaped tea candle holder at the Mon pottery workshop on Koh Kret
Intricate earthenware made by the Mon artisans at Koh Kret

I was not surprised when Siri invited us to continue the exciting culinary discoveries. She took us to a modest-looking, river-view restaurant. You could buy there affordable high-end dishes, in the past reserved for the royalty. Siri ordered a special summer snack: rice on ice. It was probably one of the most bizarre dishes I had come across. We got a small bowl with rice dyed blue (by cooking it with a butterfly pea flower) with some ice over it. At 40 degrees, the ice melted in no time, leaving us eating rice with water. The second bowl contained four varieties of fried snacks. Next came two other tiny, beautiful appetizers: watermelon with crispy fried shrimps and various fruit dotted with sweet peanut paste.

Baskets filled with fancy Thai starters: balls of watermelon with deep fried shrimps and fruit slices decorated with peanut paste at a restaurant on Koh Kret
The ‘royal’ starters

Wat Chomphuek

After we came back mainland, we still had time to visit an absolute, hidden pearl: Wat Chomphuek. The compound consisted of two old, 17th century buildings and a bigger, new temple.

Half-faded frescoes and a multitude of golden Buddha statues fill the interior of 17th century Wat Chomphuek in Nonthaburi
The fresco-rich interior of Wat Chomphuek

The interior of the late-Ayutthaya ordination hall was filled with splendid murals, many of them faded. The principal one depicted Phra Mae Thorani, the earth goddess in Theravada Buddhism. Meditated seated Buddha was ‘attacked’ by various monsters symbolising temptations and distractions. Below him, Phra Mae Thorani was wringing out water from her long her. That water flooded and washed away all of the enemies, allowing Buddha to achieve enlightenment. I equally liked the remaining murals showing scenes from everyday life. Siri told us that women hiding in the temple during Burmese invasions painted them. The neighbouring building was also full of old murals and had a lovely, painted wooden ceiling. 

A mural showing contorted body of a godess Phra Mae Thorani wringing out her long plait and a seated Buddha above her
Fresco of Phra Mae Thorani wringing out her hair

Before leaving the compound, we tried a red-coloured herbal infusion made of the bark of the very same tree under which we were sitting. It was a perfect end to our stay in Thailand.

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