Roaming the Waterways

Bangkok used to be known as the "Venice of the East," but many of the klongs (canals) that once distinguished this area have been paved over. Traveling along the few remaining waterways, however, is one of the city's delights. You'll see houses on stilts, women washing clothes, and kids going for a swim. Traditional wooden canal boats are a fun (although not entirely practical) way to get around town.

Klong Saen Saeb, just north of Petchaburi Road, is the main boat route. The fare is B25, and during rush hour boats pull up to piers at one-minute intervals. Klong boats provide easy access to the Jim Thompson House and are a handy alternative way to get to Khao San Road during rush hour. The last stop is Pan Pha, which is about a 15-minute walk from the eastern end of Khao San Road.

Ferries (sometimes called river buses) ply the Chao Phraya River. The fare for these express boats is based on how far you travel; the price ranges from B13 to B32. The river can be an efficient way to get around as well as a sightseeing opportunity. Under the Saphan Taksin Skytrain stop, there is a ferry pier where passengers can cross the river to Thonburi for B3. Many hotels run their own boats from the pier at Saphan Taksin. From here you can get to the Grand Palace in about 10 minutes and the other side of Krungthon Bridge in about 15 minutes. Local line boats travel specific routes from 6 am to 6 pm.

These boats stop at every pier and will take you all the way to Nonthaburi, where you'll find quaint, car-free Koh Kret. A pleasant afternoon trip when the city gets too hot, the island has a Mon community and specializes in pottery.

A Chao Phraya Tourist Boat day pass provides a fun introduction to the river, and at B150 for the day it's a bargain. One advantage of the tourist boat is that while traveling from place to place there's a running commentary in English about the historic sights along the river. The tourist boat starts at the pier under the Saphan Taksin Skytrain station, but you can pick it up at any of the piers where it stops, and you can get on and off as often as you like.

Longtail boats, so called for the extra-long propeller shaft that extends behind the stern, operate like taxis. Boatmen will take you anywhere you want to go for B300 to B500 per hour. This is a great way to see the canals. The best place to hire these boats is at the Central Pier at Sathorn Bridge. A private longtail trip up the old klongs to the Royal Barge Museum and the Khoo Wiang Floating Market starts at the Chang Pier near the Grand Palace. Longtails often quit running at 6 pm.

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