Khlong Saen Saeb (Saep)
Dirty and dangerous... but also handy, vibrant and exhilarating. With ornate Italian Barocco bridges and river boats that resemble gondolas on steroids, Khlong Saen Saeb is the closest to the Venice of the East you'll find in central Bangkok.
Stretching west to east across the map of Bangkok, Khlong Saen Saeb begins in the Old City, near the Mahakhan Fortress at the end of Ratchadamnoen Road, and runs all the way to Chachoengsao Province, where it ends by flowing into the Bang Pa Kong River.
It cuts through central areas like Phayathai, Pratunam, Chitlom, Nana, Asok Road, Thonglor and Ekkamai, running parallel to Phetchaburi and New Phetchaburi Roads, before turning up Ramkhamhaeng Road and on to Bangkapi.
Yes! An 18km long section of these canals are served by express boats (details below) providing a fast, inexpensive means of cutting across traffic-infested Bangkok. They run between 05:30 and 20:30 each day, arriving approximately every 10 to 15 minutes and stopping at 27 piers. Fares range between 10 and 20 baht, depending on how far you travel.
There are two lines - the western line (terminating at Golden Mount) and the eastern line (terminating at Wat Si Bunrueang, near the National Institute of Development Administration). The interchange, at Pratunam pier, feels seamless and tickets are valid on both lines.
While busy during rush hour, it's convenient for shopping, sightseeing. There are temples, markets, old simple wooden houses and interesting bridges en route, and it is possible to walk along the banks in many places. Simply wave them down and wait patiently for two helmeted deckhands to jump ashore, ropes in hand for fastening. Be warned though: rush-hours are busy and falling in could prove fatal.
Highlights of Khlong Saen Saeb
Wat Saket (Golden Mount). Built by King Rama I just outside the new city walls, this late-18th century temple is famous for its golden chedi (stupa) built on top of a hill. Climb the 318 steps to get to the top and take in the panoramas of the Old City area and scenic Ratchadamnoen Klang Road. To get here, hop off at Phanfah Pier.
Mahatthai U-thit Bridge, with its Italian Barocco reliefs of a woman clasping a child to her breast, is especially striking. To get here, hop off at Phanfah Pier.
Jim Thompson’s House. The six lovely teakwood houses set in a lush tropical garden belonged to the late Thai silk legend, Jim Thompson, who disappeared mysteriously while trekking in Malaysian jungles. Today, it’s a museum showcasing Thompson’s flair for design as well as his private collections of antiques, silk and Southeast Asian objets d’art. To get here, hop off at Ban Krua NuaPier.
Siam. A shopping haven. Find everything from street fashion to top-end designer labels, luxury goods and even sports cars at the range of shopping malls all located in the same area: MBK, Siam Paragon, Siam Discover, Siam Square and Siam Centre. To get here, hop off at Saphan Hua Chang Pier.
Pratunam. Another shopping haven, for those on a tight budget or in search of something totally off-the-wall. Find all your accessories from Platinum Market, Platinum Fashion Mall, or hit Pantip Plaza for cheap computer equipment. To get here, hop off at Pratunam Central Pier.
Ratchaprasong. From luxury hotels to high street fashion and malls, Ratchaprasong has it all. Other highlights include the Erawan shrine and gourmet eateries along Lang Suan Road. To get here, hop off at Chidlom Pier.
Thong Lor, the see and be-seen street. Peppered with hip outdoor malls and trend-setting pubs, the entire stretch of Thong Lor is like a giant magnet that draws the younger and well-to-do crowds. To get here, hop off at Thong Lor Pier.