Jul 06 2011
Snaking throughout Bangkok are the remnants of its pre-road days: the canals. Bangkok has a huge network of them, most of which are no longer used for transportation. The canals used to be Bangkok’s preferred mode of transportation. Before pavement, the tropical rains would transform footpaths into swamps, and any draft animal and cart would be lucky to pass through the quagmire for even six months of the year. New canals were dug to new neighbourhoods when houses started developing too far from existing ones. It’s no surprise that linguistically Thais still build a new road with the same verb that they dig a canal. What’s become of this once efficient aquatic architecture?
While much of the network is now used for drainage-only purposes, you can still catch a canal ferry to get through the traffic-clogged city — tourists rarely seem to use the boats as a way of getting around. Consider it the wilder cousin of the subway or Skytrain system, connecting Democracy Monument (and Khao San Road) with Rajatewi (and the BTS), Siam Square, Ratchaprasong (Central World Shopping Centre), the MRT at Petchaburi, and the northern parts of Thong Lor and Ekkamai.
It’s cheap enough that the ferry ride plus a moto taxi ride to your final destination often come to less than a similar journey on the train.
The Saen Saeb Khlong Express Ferry has two lines, which interchange at Pratunam — the khlong doesn’t actually split into two parts here, but you must change boats at the pier (no need to change piers — boats continuing in the same direction arrive and depart from the same pier). The ferry runs from dawn to about 21:30, and stretches along the canal from Leelat Pier (near the Golden Mount, a 10-minute walk to Khao San Road) to Bangkapi. The journey from Golden Mount to the BTS at Ratchatevi takes around 12 minutes and costs 11 baht, and Siam or Pratunam (CentralWorld) are only a few minutes further.
When the boat arrives, jump down from the pier using the ropes as handholds and grab a seat. The conductors walk on the outside of the boat and will come around to collect your fare, and pull up plastic sheets to make sure the khlong water doesn’t splash into the boat. It might smell, but so does sitting in traffic for 45 minutes. Plus: wwwhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeee!
The pier close to the Democracy Monument is a bit hidden. From Khao San Road, basically walk out to Ratchadamnoen Klang Road and follow it to the right and around the circle at the Democracy Monument. Cross after the traffic circle to the opposite side and continue away from Khao San Road. You’ll reach the canal in a few minutes — look for a 7-eleven on your right, and the entrance to the pier is right next to it.
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