Catching the San Saeb Express Khlong Boat

Snaking throughout Bangkok are the remnants of its pre-road days: the canals. Though most of the many khlong, as they're known in Thai, are no longer used for transportation today, they were once the best way to get around. 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. What’s become of this once efficient aquatic architecture?

The blue plastic keeps you from getting the plague.

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 Ratchathewi (and the BTS), Siam Square, Ratchaprasong (Central World Shopping Centre), the MRT at Petchaburi, the northern parts of Thong Lor and Ekkamai off Sukhumvit Road, and more distant neighbourhoods like Bang Kapi off Ramkamhaeng Road in Bangkok's far eastern reaches.

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.

It's not Sydney- or Seattle-picturesque, but it'll get the job done.

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 21:00, and stretches along the canal from Phan Fa Leelad Pier (near Wat Saket, a 10-minute walk to Khao San Road) to Bang Kapi. The journey from Leelad to the BTS at Ratchathewi takes around 12 minutes and costs 11 baht, and Siam or Pratunam are only a few minutes further.

When the boat arrives, jump down from the pier using the ropes as handholds and grab a seat -- or stand near the engine for a view of the ramshackle houses and street art that line the canal. The conductors walk on the outside of the boat and will come around to collect your fare, while fellow riders 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 Phan Fa Leelad pier close to Democracy Monument is a bit hidden. From the east (Tanao Road) end Khao San Road, walk out to Ratchadamnoen Road, cross it and go left, walk for a few hundred metres and follow it to the right and around the circle at the Democracy Monument. Continue up Ratchadamnoen, passing the Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall, and look for a cluster of tuk tuks on the right, behind King Prajadipok Museum, just past the canal bridge. Walk towards the tuk tuks, look for a 7-eleven on your right, and the entrance to the pier is right next to it.

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