A Passage to Bangkok

A Passage to Bangkok, was and to some extent still is, a city of waterways. Many of its canals (locally called klongs) are still in use, especially on the Thonburi side, and all are connected with the Menam Chao Phraya, the River of Kings.

by Wayne Burns

A good and cheap way to get a feel for riverine Bangkok is by the Chao Phraya Express Boats or Ruea Duan. These boats run up and down the river at regular intervals (usually every 15 minutes), and offer an inexpensive way to see life on the main river of the country. Most visitors pick up the Chao Phraya Express at piers at the Oriental Hotel, the Royal Orchid Sheraton hotel, or the stops nearest the Grand Palace. The boats start running at dawn and stop at sunset. The fares are very reasonable.

A Passage to Bangkok - by Ferry

Ferries crossing the Chao Phraya, the ruea Kham fak, operate at many of the same stops. They are used mostly by locals, but they can provide tourists with a glimpse of certain parts of Thonburi. For example, one interesting walk is through the old Portuguese section of Bangkok, around the Church of Santa Cruz on the Thonburi side. Merely by boarding a boat at Tha Saphan Phut and crossing the river, visitors will soon find that they have stepped into a quiet oasis, which seems far from the city. Long-tailed taxi boats or ruea hang yao can be seen roaring up and down the river, sending up a rooster=s tail of spray. Some of these boats have regular schedules with fares that are very cheap indeed.

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Klong tours are a standard feature for visitors to Bangkok. At boat landings like the Oriental Pier, Tha Maharaj or Tha Pra Chand near the palace, boat operators wait to transport tourists up the klongs in Thonburi. Such tours can be short trips, or can go as far as the Crocodile Farm in Samut Prakam, the Floating Market, the Ancient City, to orchid gardens or fruit plantations.

Bargaining for fares is the rules with a minimum for one hour. Since one boat can accommodate at least ten persons comfortably, a group trip can be a real bargain. Refreshments can be purchased along the way from canalside shops. It is best to start out early, around 7AM. Many hotels can arrange such boat hire for guests.

River trips are an enjoyable way to tour Siam`s ancient capital of Ayutthaya and the summer palace at Bang Pa-in. The Oriental Hotel for example, operates some boats that leave early in the morning. A buffet lunch is served on board. On reaching Ayutthaya, the boat, meets a tour bus, which transports passengers to the main points of interest, before returning to Bangkok in the late afternoon. It is recommended to go by bus in the morning, when it is still cool enough to tour Ayutthaya, and then return by air-conditioned boat, cruising back to Bangkok in the afternoon, having lunch and sipping drinks on deck as the river flows by.

At one time a large part of Thailand was covered by jungle and was home to an enormous variety of wildlife. Alas, the forest cover of the kingdom has been depleted, which had a disastrous effect on its wildlife. However, zoos and animal farms give the visitor an opportunity to see many species of tropical fauna, which in some cases are being kept from extinction by being re-introduced in to the wilderness. Happily ecology has become a major issue in Thailand.

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