On Saturday morning, the sky over Bangkok was virtually cloud-free and perfectly blue. We knew that clouds would inevitably roll in and that we needed to get out and enjoy the weather while we could. A trip along the Chao Phraya and the canals that branch off it seemed like the perfect way to begin the weekend. After a short taxi ride, we were at the Sathorn Pier hiring a longtail boat (Rua Hang Yao) for a ride north on the river and through a small part of the maze of canals.
Bangkok has been called the Venice of the Orient. While this may seem difficult to believe with the city’s massive road network, millions of vehicles, and inevitable traffic jams, there is still a vibrant and extensive canal network in much of the area. At the Sathorn Pier, we could see the start of what was once the busy and flourishing Sathorn Canal. Today this waterway is all but covered as the adjoining roadways have expanded to 4 or 5 lanes in each direction (picture on left below). But at one time, Sathorn was a major canal that linked the Chao Phraya River with the Hua Lampong canal (picture on right below.)
As a brief aside, Sathorn is named after a Chinese immigrant, Chao Sua Yom, who built the canal and adjoining roadway. For his accomplishment, he was given the title Luang Sathon Rachayutt (or Luang Sathornrachayuk) and the road and canal were named in his honor. (I know that Sathorn is not Sathon but keep in mind that English words in Thailand are spelled phonetically and there are often several ways to spell the same word, even Khun Luang’s surname! For a farang, this can be maddening at times, particularly when trying to get directions. I have no idea how mapping software deals with this.)
If you look at the map above, our journey began where Sathorn, the yellow roadway at the bottom right corner of the map, meets the river (near Wat Yannawa, also known as the boat temple.) The boat headed north on the river to Khlong (canal) Bangkok Noi, which is about half-way up the map. We entered the canal and continued in a northwesterly direction toward Arun Amarin. Just past Arun Amarin, Khlong Bangkok Noi meets with Khlong Chak, on which we went southwest toward Taling Chan. Taling Chan is a floating market on the canal where our longtail driver stopped so that we could go shopping and get something to eat. After visiting Taling Chan, we continued south on Khlong Chak until we came to Khlong Mon (look for Bang Chueak Nang on the map.) We took Khlong Mon east until we were back on the Chao Phraya. As you can see on the map, there are a host of canals in this area, particularly to the west of the city.
The longtails on the Chao Phraya are narrow craft that typically seat 8 to 12 passengers, two abreast. The prow of the boat rises sharply upward and is decorated with garlands and scarves for luck (a repeating theme here in Thailand) and protection. The driver stands in the rear where he controls a huge engine — many of which appear to have been pulled from some Detroit muscle — that powers the propeller at the end of a very long drive shaft. The boats have a canopy on top to shelter the passengers from the sun and rain. These vessels speed through the water and passengers inevitably are hit with some spray, which is probably not so healthy particularly when on the river.
As we went up the river, we passed many landmarks that are quickly becoming very familiar to us as well as a lot of marine traffic ranging from tugs and barges to water taxis and cross-river ferries.
After going about 3 or 4 miles upriver, we turned into Khlong Bangkok Noi, the first of three canals that we would travel through. The canal started with a very well-defined walls that channeled the water. As we went further into the canals, however, the walls often disappeared. Homes, temples, and businesses are built right to the waters edge, often on pilings so that water is actually beneath the structures.
Taling Chan is a pretty typical Thai marketplace. Since it is a bit out-of-the-way, most of the people there were locals and there were not too many tourists. The vendors were primarily selling food, either raw to take home or cooked to eat right away. There is a decent sized eating area with tables, chairs, and mats where you can eat food prepared by women who work in small boats.
After leaving Taling Chan, we took the longtail through Khlong Mon and back to the Chao Phraya. We asked the driver to drop us off at River City, a large mall on the river that specializes in antiques. Inside the mall was a display of miniature, wooden reproductions of sacred temples from all around Asia entitled “Miniature World of Sacred Architecture.” We took pictures of these scale-model replicas and the they are posted at:
Mother’s Day is celebrated in Thailand this Friday (12 August) on Queen Sirikit’s birthday. We are heading to Chiang Mai for the long holiday weekend and there will be a special post while we are gone.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.