Bangkok From Sea Level: Bangkok's Canals

Posted: Oct 16 2014

Just across Sukhumvit Road from Soi 8 and the Tailor On Ten shop, a brief walk North up soi 15, one finds a window back into time. Before the roads, before the MRT subway and BTS skytrain, the districts of Bangkok were linked by a system of canals. In fact, at one time the city was called ‘Venice of the East’ by 19th century Italian nobleman Salvatore Besso.

Some such canals remain. Even fewer still get utilized as a means of transportation. Khlong Saen Saeb, aforementioned as the canal so close to Soi 8, is one such arterial. From the Nana Chard Pier at the top end of Soi 15, one has two choices. Head East, further from the heart of the city, or West, further into it.

We recommend both, for different reasons. The boats that go East then turn North and forge on a dozen kilometers into the districts of Ramkhamhaeng and Bangkapi. Along this stretch innumerable sights offer their splendor. Traditional stilt structures, historic bridges and temples, immense abandoned buildings, and snapshots of daily Klong (canal) life all present themselves to the passenger. While less rich in tourism attractions, this route remains well worth a return trip on account of cultural experience alone.

While aboard, take care to observe the deftness and dexterity of courageous locals attired in business wear as they board and deboard the vessel. And the ticketeer, who endeavors in such a heroic profession, as he or she climbs about the swaying wooden boat while it travels from one stop to the next. With a moment’s pause in their daily routine, said individual may even link one arm to a rope and with the other hand quickly check their smartphone for messages, all with dark Klong water thrashing about less than a meter below. Impressive indeed.

Choose the Western bound vessel from the Nana Chard pier and the passenger can arrive at many shopping attractions near Siam such as Central World and Paragon, having first transferred to the Golden Mount line at Pratunam Pier. The trip will have proven almost as fast, less expensive, and more of an enriching if not harrowing experience than if one had taken the BTS. 

Beyond Siam Pier, the service terminates at Panfa Leelard pier in Pom Prab Sattru district. From there it’s just a short taxi trip to many attractions as well as the grand Chao Praya River itself. Or head to Khao San road, the backpacker epicenter and kickoff point of many Southeast Asian walkabouts. It’s just down Ratchadamnoen Road past Democracy Monument, a 15 minute walk or even shorter taxi ride. While there, we recommend you pay a visit to the Adhere 13th Blues Bar nearby to take in some wonderful live music.

A few blocks from Khao San, along the Chao Praya a different system of passenger vessels stops off at the Phra Pinklao Pier, and the reach of a visitor to Bangkok extends beyond city limits. After such journeys, you will surely concur that Bangkok rightly deserved the title ‘Venice of the East’.



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