Riddle of the River is a reality show type tour of one of Bangkok's oldest and most fascinating neighborhoods. Organized by Bangkok Walking Adventures, it is a great way to explore a part of the city often overlooked by tourists.
It is a hot and humid day in the Big Mango, as Bangkok, Thailand, is affectionately known. It seems a "big cheese Chinaman" has been stabbed in the back, and the killer has paid off the cops, who have been trying to sweep things under the carpet.
Not only that. Some of the victim's priceless works of art have been stolen, and slightly altered versions of them have been starting to appear all over town.
Do they contain clues regarding the suspects?
Before embarking on our great adventure, we pause to take the requisite selfie!
I’m in town with Perry Yip of Ming Pao Newspapers Limited (middle) and Dennis Lee of Perspective Limited (right).
The three of us have been flown from Hong Kong to Bangkok by Country Group Limited to be briefed on a massive real estate project they are building, Chao Phraya Estate, which will comprise a 73-storey residential tower and two low rise hotels.
After our official business has ended, we are instructed to head to the waterfront, where a “local mediator” has a mission he wants us to carry out.
Complicating matters, we have to leave our hotel quite early. All three of us are half asleep, and one of us overslept and didn't have time for breakfast!
We arrive at Sathorn Pier at 8.55 am, where some coppers are sitting behind portable desks. The agent shows up, introduces himself, and quickly briefs us on what is expected of us.
The agent's name is Santiporn Suttiwetchakui. He hands us a booklet and a piece of paper and wishes us luck, pointing us in the direction of the Old General Post Office.
Santiporn says we need to complete three of the following four missions, posting evidence with hast tags on line:
- Take a Picture of a Large Jewel (real or fake) in Someone’s Hand;
- Take a Picture of a Team Member Wearing at Least Three Items of Protective Clothing;
- Take a Picture with at Least Five Kinds of Balls:
- Take a Smiling Tourist Selfie with a Helpful Police Officer.
When we complete these missions, we should head to a restaurant, where Santiporn will be waiting for us.
We check out street vendors and shops and an open air food court but turn up nothing.
We finally spot a jewelry shop and walk inside.
It must be a slow day, because the employees are all over us.
I ask if I can see a piece of jewelry.
An employee obliges, handing me a ring. I want something bigger - something that will show up clearly on Facebook. So I point to a jade bracelet. Then comes to awkward part. I hold the jade bracelet up, and I ask the employee if my companions can take a picture of me holding it.
The employee reluctantly says yes - what else could she do? Now comes the tricky part: How to politely not buy anything and exit the shop as the employees continue to point out things that we could not possibly live without.
Five Kinds of Balls
Finding a sporting goods shop in this part of town is a bit trickier than finding a jewelry store.
The fact that it is an important Buddhist holiday and most of the shops are closed today doesn't help.
There don't seem to be any sporting goods shops, at least none that are open.
When we finally do find a sporting goods shop, we walk inside, but it only sells Muay Thai uniforms and gloves.
The shop keeper looks at us suspiciously. Do we really look like we are in the market for boxing gloves? We finally stumble across a stationery shop selling pens and notebooks and artist's supplies - and an assortment of balls! I count them to make sure there are at least five types.
Voila! The owner of the shop is very helpful He lifts down some balls and hands them to me. My companions take a picture of me.
The employee looks confused when I hand him back the balls, thank him, and don't buy anything. But he's a good sports and smiles at us as we leave, thanking us as we return to the sidewalk.
When I see a man in uniform at a crosswalk, I think our mission in accomplished.
I say, "Shall I ask him if he will pose with me?"
But Dennis says, "No! He's not a policeman. He's a security guard."
"Does it matter?" I ask. "He's wearing a unform."
Dennis insists it does. The uniform clearly says SECURITY and not POLICE on the back. So we keep looking. It's either that or finding someone wearing three pieces of safety equipment that we can borrow. Lots of scooter-riders are wearing helmets, and a few of them are wearing safety vests, but nobody is wearing that crucial third piece!
When a friendly sidewalk vendor asks what we are looking for, I tell him a policeman.
He thinks we want to report a crime. He seems very concerned. He directs us to the nearest police station. It takes a while for us to find the place, but eventually we do.
We walk inside and - with a bit of persuasion - I convince an officer to pose with me. A friend that has lived in Bangkok for nearly 40 years is impressed when I tell her about this later.
"How did you pull that off?" she asks. "They're not supposed to take selfies with civilians! I read about it in the newspaper a few days ago."
"I can be very persuasive when I put my mind to it,'" I say.
With photos posted on Facebook, we high-tail it to the first checkpoint.
“We’re going to set a new record,” I say excitedly. “Quick!”
We arrive at Le Reve Restaurant 20 or 30 minutes later, expecting to see our mediator waiting for us, but there is neither hide nor hair of him. That only confirms our expectation that we have, in fact, set a new record!
Dennis makes a phone call, and we order fruit smoothies. When Santiporn finally shows up, he asks to see our “evidence”.
“What evidence?” I ask. “We’ve posted pictures with hashtags on Facebook!”
Apparently we were not supposed to visit just ANY jewelry shop, ANY sporting goods shop, ANY security supplies shop - or even the police station for that matter!
There were SPECIFIC venues expecting us, and we were supposed to check them off of a WANTED list of suspects to be questioned about regarding what I assume was a fictitious murder.
Is that why nobody seemed to know who we were or what we were up to?
We (or should I say “I”?) had clearly misunderstood the directions, but it wasn’t entirely our (or should I say “my”?) fault. Nobody pointed out to us that we should read the rules in the booklet before setting off on our endeavor.
We only listened to Santiporn's instructions and referred to the "Chapter 1 - First Suspects Gone" sheet of instructions. We hadn't read the booklet, which explained things in more detail. Oh, well ...
- Le Reve Restaurant - 672/5 Siphraya Road, Charoenkrung Road, Bangkok, Thailand. Telephone: +66 85 122 5010.
No Free Lunch!
Santiporn takes charge, and lead us to an unpretentious little back alley, which is lined with unpretentious little shops and cafes.
Business is booming at a spot called Duck Noodle House, and Santiporn says it has the best boiled duck in Bangkok. This information seems to trigger Perry's appetite.
He says he didn't have time for breakfast at the hotel and asks if we can stop at the eatery for a quick bite. Santiporn says, "Why not?", we do, and we love it.
We love it so much, in fact, that we order more food!
Lunch was not included in the tour, so the lunch was at our own expense. Which just goes to prove - there really IS no such thing as a free lunch!
Did it live up to expectations? A review of Duck Noodle House is coming in a future post.
- Duck Noodle House - Soi Wanit 2 (off Charoenkrung Road), Bangkok, Thailand. Telephone: 02-233-2541.
We pass by an elderly man burning paper offerings and take photos of him. I pose for seflies in front of wall posters in Chinatown and the so-called metal mountains of used parts in the rough and tumble Sieng Kong district.
We photograph ambulant fruit-sellers, roadside shrines, and a posh Buddhist temple - is this the temple built with prostitution money by the owner of a sophisticated brothel that I read about in the booklet?
The End Is Near
With all but one of our suspects accounted for, we make our way down Songwad Road when suddenly we are accosted by a very enthusiastic young lady named Beauqui Eamp.
We are taken into a stylish coffee house called Hawt Cafe. Apparently it has been open for only a short time. While there, a group of Scandinavian tourists arrive. Word must be getting around!
We are served something to drink. Will the final clue be hidden at the bottom of our glass?
- Hawt Cafe - 983 Songwad Road, Sampanthawong, Bangkok. Telephone:;+66 81 820 5066.
Our Riddle of the River mystery tour ends at Ratchawong Pier, 3 hours and 35 minutes after we embarked. I had no idea when we set off that we would set a new record. But we did. I'll leave it to Santiporn to reveal how we will go down in the record books.
I Say - I really enjoyed this tour of Bangkok's riverfront district! It was like being on a TV reality show! Best of all was interacting with the locals along the way. Unfortunately, we misunderstand the directions. I'm sure the shop keepers wondered what we were up to and why we left their shops empty-handed! But it doesn't matter. We all had a wonderful time!
Perry Yip Says - I was extremely tired when I woke up for that tour because I slept less than four hours a day in the past two days before that. Luckily, our effort paid off well. With the guidance of Michael, we walked around the hidden streets in Bangkok and found the best duck restaurant there. It was a special tour indeed!
Dennis Lee Says - It was a fun and enjoyable experience, making me feel like being part of the Amazing Race. The best part was to get to know a different side of Bangkok that an ordinary tourist won't get the chance to do. Good company from Santiporn and Beauqui, too.
Beauqui Eamp Says - I am glad to meet this team from Hong Kong. They are fabulous people who are enthusiastically excited to try almost everything that is in Bangkok. The fact that they visited many spots that are neglected by the tourists, like braised duck house on the street in Chinatown, really surprised me!
Santiporn Suttiwetcha Says - The Cathay Dragon team members comprised Mike, Dennis, and Perry. The hunt started at Sathorn Pier at 8.55 and ended up at Ratchawong Pier at 12.30. They most likely were looking for good food during the game instead of suspects. They walked right past the suspects' locations without noticing them!
From our record, we will put them in the Hall of Fame for the slowest team that ever took part in this event. Anyway, they could complete all missions as we instructed at the beginning. By the end, they were all happy. Therefore, we consider our game was a success.
Bangkok Walking Adventures 101
Riddle of the River was organized by Bangkok Walking Adventures, which offers off-the-beaten-path walks and day trips around Bangkok and Central Thailand.
Various other adventures are offered, including Chinatown Street Bites, Bangkok's Must Sees, Trains and Tree Temples, City Hunt Rankings - the list goes on.
Bangkok Walking Tours also arranges educational trips around Bangkok and Central Thailand for international schools.
Sincere thanks to Beauqui and Santiport for their warmth and enthusiasm! It was a memorable adventure, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them both, and this was SOOOOOO much more fun than going on a guided tour!!!