12 April 2003 - Bangkok
Bangkok Transportation Part II - The Khlongs

You can traverse Bangkok by bus or skytrain, but probably the most interesting of all is to go by boat along the khlongs. A khlong is basically an oversized drain leading off the main river (in this case, the Chao Phraya) that crosses the city. It's possible to get to most places and it beats using a bus during rush hour.

The first thing that strikes you when you get to the water is that it's very brown. Very un-watery, in fact. And then you realise there is a thin line between "river tribituary in the city", över-sized moonsoon drain"and "very large effusion outlet".

There are several types of boats but all of them work on long tail motors. I assume that's because the khlong isn't very deep, and the water level probably changes with the weather, anyway. The smallest I tried could just about seat two people per row and the largest about five or six.

The boats are pretty cheap. It costs anywhere between 5 and 7 THB per journey, but finding out exactly what you have to pay when you don't speak Thai is difficult. It's even worse when the conductor is standing on the six-inch edge and asking you as the boat rocks side to side.

If you have an adventurous streak, I strongly reccommend that you go for the small one. If you think that getting some Bangkok khlong water in your shoes, eyes, nose and mouth is not a particularly good idea, then I would advise you to stay clear of khlongs altogether.

They have no problem loading the boat to the limit, and in the smaller ones that means that the water line is less than six inches below the edge of the boat. Add to that the sheer impossibility of keeping the boat level, both while you are travelling and from the wakes of other boats - well, you shouldn't be surprised that your feet get wet.

The larger boats have plastic sheeting that you can raise to protect yourself from splashes, but where's the fun in that?

The other problem is in trying to figure out where to get off. I used landmarks, although the Bangkok Hilton seems to have moved, and so I missed my stop by a good kilometer or so.

All in all, it's good fun, and everyone should try it at least once, although the squeemish may think it's an experience worth missing.


posted on Saturday, April 19, 2003 - permalink
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