King of the Khlong (canal)

The canals reveal a different Bangkok

The canals reveal a different Bangkok

When reading about the history of Bangkok, you may be surprised to hear the city being referred to as the Venice of the East. When thinking of Bangkok, canal systems probably aren’t the first thing you think of. This is mostly down to the fact that most of the canals that once acted as arterial waterways through the city have been filled in to make way for paved roads.

However, there are still a number of what the locals callkhlongs snaking their way from the Chao Phraya River, the river that dissects Bangkok in two. The relaxing meander through the remaining backwater channels of Bangkok is something well worth doing on a visit to the city, and longboats depart every 15 minutes from the Tha Chang Pier.

If you’re lucky, you may have the entire craft to yourself, though this may put you on the spot if a floating concession stand pulls up and suggests you buy a beer for the driver as well as yourself. You may want to consider bringing along a clothes peg for your nose; the canals are filthy. Though recent efforts have been made to improve the cleanliness of the water, most would agree the waters are still dirty.

In 2003, a 21-year old pop singer crashed his car into a khlong. The water entered his wounds and he subsequently developed a fungal brain infection, which left him permanently disabled. This wake-up call kicked the government into gear. Today there are children splashing about at certain points of the canals, but you may not want to go quite as far as to swim in the waters.

Longtail boats whisk tourists around the canals

Longtail boats whisk tourists around the canals

The Chao Phraya was what attracted people to congregated here in the first place. One of the most well known tourist sites along the river is found 80kms southwest of Bangkok proper, and is well worth a visit if you have the time. The earlier you arrive at the Damoen Saduak floating market the better, as crowds can get fierce with tourists clamouring to snap photos of the local produce changing hands from boat to boat as it has since 1868.

The river is also a great way to get to Ayutthaya, the former capital, which is reachable by express boat. These boats leave from Wat Ratchasingkorn Pier, just beside Krungthep Bridge. Along the way you’ll be able to get an idea of the way of life along the river and a sense of how, in many ways, it is the source of life for the people living around it.

The fact that so many Bangkok residents depend upon the river as a water source and a means of transport is all the more reason to keep it clean. These life supporting waterways are simply fascinating to explore by canal, an experience not to be missed.

Most of the remaining canals are found across the river on the Thon Buri side and tour of this area, either organised or by private charter is a charming way to experience the quieter and more peaceful side of Bangkok. A typically tour takes roughly an hour and may include the royal barges museum, and a trip past Wat Arun and the Grand Palace from the Chao Praya river.

There are also canals that run through Bangkok proper - which are more likely to be polluted - and these pierce the very heart of the commercial districts. Believe it or not they are still regularly used for commuting, deliveries and of course, tourism.

About the Author

Andrew Bond is a travel writer who has been living in Thailand and writing about the region for more than 10 years, contributing to numerous local magazines and major web travel brands. He travels around South East Asia by tuk-tuk, bicycle, cyclo, jeepney, taxi, moto, elephant or foot in search of new smells, sounds, sights, and atmosphere. Share your travel bits with him on Google +

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