The Khlongs of Thonburi in Bangkok
Having stayed an independent province until it was merged into Bangkok in 1972, Thonburi – the old Bangkok capital situated on the western banks of the Chao Phraya River – has avoided much of the modern development seen elsewhere. Its man-made network of khlongs, including Khlong Mon and Khlong Bangkok Noi, retains much of their ramshackle charm.
Forget the over-crowded ferries. Forget the tourist hordes, the overpriced souvenirs, the whole money-making charade. For a real sense of how people in Bangkok used to live, in stilted shacks, old wooden townhouses and dilapidated lean-tos – and still do – try them Bangkok Thonburi Khlongs.
River Boats and Tours?
At 6 metres across, only small, narrow boats like flat-bottom boats and long-tail speedboat can navigate the Thonburi khlongs. You can hire a colourful painted long-tail boat (hang yao) from any major tourist piers like Rivercity, Taksin, Chang or Maharaj, and go exploring. Agree on the price before departure (400 - 500 baht per hour; negotiable). However bear in mind that he's your driver not your guide; his English may be minimal but he will know where to go.
Ask to explore Khlong Mon, Klong Bangkok Noi and Klong Bangkok Yai, and also the Royal Barges Museum, which contains splendidly decorated boats and barges completely unique to Thailand. Sound tricky? Try the Khlongs Tour or the Canals Route Tour instead – they're hassle free and include pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.
Highlights of Thonburi Khlongs
Khlong Mon is as quaint as they come. Old, weathered teak homes alternate with modern town houses, crumbling shacks and the odd temple. Saffron-robed monks and verdant patches of morning glory or water hyacinth. Small boat's travel up and down river. People are scrubbing clothes, sleeping or throwing scraps to fish, smiling - or waving. This is an older, simpler and altogether sweeter Bangkok.
Khlong Bangkok Noi is wider and bolder – more river than canal. It is lined with factories, temples and navy installations as well as homes. Where it meets the Chao Phraya river is the Royal Barges National Museum, where the elaborately gilded barges used in solemn Royal ceremonies can be seen up close.