So, turned out my hostel was located in Baan Khrua, the historically Muslim quarter of Bangkok. I realized this upon hearing the call to prayer for the first time. It went off several times a day, of course, including at around 5am, but it was no big deal as it only lasted a minute or two. It was a tad confusing, though; unexpected and kinda surreal.
I say historically Muslim as it’s no longer predominantly so, with only about 30% of the quarter’s inhabitants who are Muslim, most are now from the Northeast, or Isan, region.
A few decades ago, the neighborhood was nearly all Muslim and it was here that Jim Thompson, an American, discovered and popularized Thai silk, allowing local weavers to enter the global market. He made a fortune and built an impressive mansion on the canal across from Baan Khrua. In the ’60s he disappeared in the Malaysian Highlands under mysterious circumstances. Turns out he’d been a spy for the CIA, which may have led to his disappearance, or his entrepreneurship may have angered elements of local organized crime.
Anyway, his home and gardens have been turned into a beautiful and fascinating museum well worth visiting, but the canalside Baan Khrua is especially interesting to explore. Though painfully poor, the people there have decorated the narrow alleys and walkways along the canal with hundreds of potted and hanging plants and flowers. It’s quite lovely but doesn’t hide the poverty just beyond the fronds and blooms.