Mon pagoda at Wat Songtham in Phra Pradaeng.
My cycling weekend starts when I board the ferry at Wat Bangna Nok's community pier. The sky is so dark and cloudy that I wonder if Bangkok's governor has forgotten to pay the sunshine bill. But no matter: I quickly join the other commuters on the ferry - a huge, flat metal sheet with an engine - and watch with delight as we gradually leave behind the soulless saw mills, smoky chimney and rundown factories behind. Ahead of us is Bang Krachao, with its fertile mangrove, ton jak (palm) forest and glittering temple.
A Mon settlement since the early 19th Century, Bang Krachao is shaped like a giant kidney bean and has survived the march of time largely thanks to the Chao Phya. The river has acted as a natural fence and, up to now, has done much to keep the property developers away, so the mangroves and forestland have remained intact, offering an ideal escape from Bangkok without even leaving the capital.
Getting off the ferry, I hesitate between stopping at nearby Wat Bang Namphueng Nok or going straight for the concrete path that winds its way southwards over the wetlands and through the secluded woodland. Many weekenders saddle up here to start their laidback weekend rides. I decide the adventure can wait a little longer and head for the temple.
Built in 1911, Wat Bang Namphueng Nok boasts some fine mural paintings. There are two chapels - old and new - but the timeworn temple with its peeling walls and old Buddha images is where I find myself lingering the longest.
From the temple, I cycle off down a small soi and along the back road until I reach the floating market.
This bustling market takes place every Saturday and Sunday, and draws many weekenders. Some come to escape the city heat, others to charter small sampans along the canal. But most come for food. Hundreds of stalls, offering everything from noodles cooked the old way to roast duck, dominate the 500metrelong strip along the canal.
Fuelled by noodles and fish cakes, I manage to get back on track and head west on the back road to Phetchahueng Street. While I'm sure about where I want to go, I'm less certain how to get there. In this situation, some local expertise is needed.
"Auntie, how far is Wat Bang Krasorb?" I ask the elderly food vendor by the side the road.
"Follow this strip to the Tjunction and turn right. Then, turn left two more times and you will find the temple by the river."
Her advice is kind but proves of little help.
Ten minutes later, I'm on Phetchahueng - the main street that cuts through Bang Krachao from north to south. Travelling southwards, I finally reach the 700yearold Wat Bang Krasorb. Legend has it that husbandandwife team Duang and Sab built this temple with a huge jar of golden coins they found buried in the area. I look around the old chapel but don't find a jar, although I do manage to wake the monks and temple dogs from their afternoon naps.
Many parts of Bang Krachao are car free, which makes it ideal for a cycling weekend. Less easy is going through the riverside communities, which are perched over the wetlands, and linked to each other through a web of concrete pathways. Misjudge a turn or lose your balance and you'll end up in the ditch.
A couple of hours later, I cross Klong Ladpho, the canal that takes a short cut through Bang Krachao, and enter Phra Pradaeng, where 300 Mons established the outpost almost 200 years ago. They also built the elegant Wat Songtham, a Buddhist temple that's well worth visiting for its shining pagoda, swan pole and centipede flag.
After a hard day in the saddle, I find a bollard against which to lean my bike and a table for myself in the new public park and sip a beer while watching the lively scene around me.
On one side, a bride and groom in ivoryhued suits are posing in front of the beautiful Mon Museum for their prewedding album while on the other, beneath the imposing arches of the Industrial Ring Road bridge, a group of young men are playing football. Far away, on the banks of the Chao Phya, anglers sit patiently waiting for the fish to take the bait.
Amphawa in Samut Songkhram, with its canal network and leafy gardens, may still be the most recommended destination for a cycling weekend, but Bang Krachao is certainly a strong contender.
Back at my table, I look at the halfempty bottle and then at my bike. Perhaps I should try to dismantle it and take a cab home.
WAY TO GO
Saturday and Sunday are the best days to pitch and punch around Bang Krachao. You can cross the Chao Phya from three small piers: Bang Na, Klong Toei Nok and Chong Nonsee.
The homestay in Bang Namphueng has decent bicycles for rent at Bt30 per day. Call (089) 807 2501 to arrange your ride..