It began as a strange photo and a tip from another travel blogger, Angie at Moments In Your Life. At first glance, I had to do a double take to make sure it wasn’t a naked local completely covered in powder that many Thais are so fond of. I was reassured that he was only a statue taking up residence in a canal-side artists village, and his home wasn’t too far from me.
So picking up Laura, another English teacher who lived in the Overstay hostel across the street from my apartment, we were off to the corner bus stop next to a 7-Eleven. Problem was . . . the bus we were supposed to take didn’t show up for over a half hour. Sick of waiting, I just hailed a taxi.
Only a few minutes later, we were walking down Charan Sanitwong Soi 3 toward Khlong Bang Luang (try to say that several times quickly). At the end of the long soi was, believe or not, yet another 7-Eleven. Behind it we came to a bridge, crossed it, and we were there, the Royal Canal Village.
I hadn’t known what to expect based on what Angie told me. I was somewhat expecting a whole co-op or commune of artist homes built upon the canal. The narrow footpaths between the buildings led us through a much nicer khlong-side village than I had ever seen.
Laura immediately commented on the unique character the neighborhood had, even joking that she should move here, as she was sick of living in a hostel. Quaint homes with small snack and drink shops lined the path and kids rode their small bicycles past us, as we stepped out of their way. The people smiled and nodded to us as we walked by.
After a couple hundred meters, the footpath opened up in to the courtyard of a Buddhist temple. Nearly all the buildings were closed and gated off. Still, nearly a dozen people, including some monks, were moving a large awning across the grounds as if they were setting up for some event.
A series of stairs led down from the temple to the canal where several children were swimming. Having seen the state that many of the canals and the river that feeds them are in, I wouldn’t dare swim in these waters. Still, the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Laura and I continued back along the wooden walkway built over the canal’s edge. As we watched a canal boat go by, Laura caught a glimpse of a canal-side purple house with a For Rent sign. The owner was conveniently on our side an had a binder full of pictures of a quite impressive home contained inside this building. Laura later looked it up, and found it was significantly out of her price range.
This path led us to the actual artist village I had heard of. Here, we found people painting. Crafts were for sale. Thai puppets hung solemnly, waiting to be used. And there was my naked Thai statue, minus the sunglasses, looking contemplatively out over the canal. He also had a red friend a couple meters away I had never seen before.
The main building of the area was the Artist’s House, a 2 story, open-courtyard building constructed around a much older stupa. On the first level of the building are a book and craft shop, a café, and a puppet theater.
Being told that our timing was impeccable and one of the puppet shows was about to begin, Laura and I snagged some of the last remaining seats. Unfortunately, though I thought I had come across something remote and unique, Laura and I were still not the only foreigners there. And every so often a canal taxi only carrying a few foreigners would cruise by or dock as well.
I had never seen a traditional Thai puppet show before. The puppet show began with 4 people in black, 3 with black masks, and 1 puppet coming in front of the audience.
And then the man without a mask, the narrator, spoke.
And he spoke.
And he spoke.
And granted, I know that it’s my own fault that I had no idea what he was saying, but he just kept on talking. Not to say he wasn’t entertaining; he was quite animated and engaging to the crowd. Very often he and the puppets would play off of each other.
And then the other three men who controlled the single puppet began their re-enactment of the story that narrator had presumably been telling. It lasted a quarter the time of his speech.
The narrator began again, adding to the story in ways that Laura and I had no idea about, but we could gather once we saw the puppets acting it. Still his speeches lasted significantly longer than any of the actual puppet performances.
Later the single puppet was joined by a woman puppet also controlled by 3 puppeteers.
While I was genuinely impressed by the overall performance of the puppets and the show put on by there handlers, Laura and I decided to leave once the narrator began his third soliloquy. We wandered over into the Artist’s House café and gift shop. I bought a couple nice local photographed post cards.
Unfortunately, this was quite literally the end of the road. The dock over the canal went no further. So, both feeling he need for a good midday lunch, Laura and I retraced our path back down Soi 3, got some tom yum soup, and caught a bus back toward the Overstay just before the rain began.