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Navigating the Waterways

Get some cultural immersion with canal and river tours

The canals of Bangkok Yai and Noi ("big" and "little" respectively) are capillaries that branch off from the main jugular vein of the Chao Phraya River. Twisting through the Thonburi side of the capital they are timelines flowing back through the centuries when Bangkok was called the "Venice of the East."

Chartering a long-tail boat to explore them could almost be classified as a "thrill sport". The prow, laden with garlands to appease the Water Goddess, spears through the waves while the boatman at the back of the vessel steers it with a rudder connected to a big, noisy, diesel-spewing engine, which moves fast enough to have spawned a chase scene in the '74 James Bond vehicle The Man with the Golden Gun.
The canals are awash with traditional sights. Children use them as ad-hoc swimming pools. Vendors ferry fruits and vegetables to fresh markets. Families gather under the wooden pavilions in front of houses that hover just above the waterline. And teenagers play takraw – a kind of Southeast Asian volleyball played with the feet, elbows and shoulders – on the grounds of Buddhist temples.

Most of these long-tail tours, departing from the bigger piers such as Ta Chang, near the Grand Palace, will include stopovers at the more impressive sights, such as the Royal Barges Museum and the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun).

You can also catch the river taxi from the pier near the Saphan Taksin BTS Station to the end of the line in Nonthaburi. There, you can charter another long-tail boat to the tiny island of Ko Kret. Home to some 4,000, mostly ethnic Mon inhabitants, this enclave of artisans and spinners of pottery has no main roads or hotels. In an hour or so you can circumnavigate it by foot. Nearby is Khlong Om, another flashback of Bangkok's Venetian past with a Siamese slant.


Published on Sep 7, 2009

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