The best way to get a taste of Bangkok’s past is to explore the klongs (canals) on a long-tail boat. On the west side of the river in Thonburi you can get glimpses of what Bangkok was like before the skyscrapers and six-lane expressways. Many people still live on or around the canals so there is plenty to see: traders crisscrossing the water on small boats packed with fruit and drinks, beautifully renovated traditional teak houses, the whole experience made even more enjoyable by the tranquil atmosphere that contrasts with the hustle and bustle on the opposite side of the Chao Phraya River.
Interested in this tour? Book it here.
The mini-van picks you up early in the morning, around 08:30 so as to avoid the traffic. The English-speaking tour guide does a great job of bringing the history of the buildings alive as you whizz past, making the usual traffic congested journey enjoyable. The drop off point is just by Pinklao bridge and from here you cross the Chao Phraya River. It’s great fun to be in such a small fast boat cutting through the water, and there is plenty to see as the waterway is still used as a main transport route around the city. Commuters shuttle across the river, large barges chug slowly by and zippy water taxis overtake the boat.
The boat takes a right turn, through one of the locks that is used to control the water levels during times of flood. There are always signs of the flooding that occasionally take place in this area as houses appear to float only a metre above the klong. The driver slows the boat down as you meander along the canals and there are plenty of good photo opportunities: hawkers selling their wares from the boat and families going about their daily life. You really do get a sense of what life must have been like 50 years ago, and for some, still continues today.
One of the highlights of travelling by boat is seeing all the different houses that fringe the water. As well as small lean-tos and huts cobbled together from wood and recycled plastic there are stunning luxury houses made in traditional Thai style, teak stilts protecting the owners from the threat of floods. The boat spends around an hour winding around the klongs, and having such a knowledgeable guide on board really adds to the experience, especially once you arrive at Wat Arun, the temple of dawn on the Chao Praya River.
Wat Arun is one of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok, thanks not only to its location near the river but also because of its intricately decorated spires, which rise to 250 feet and are covered in colourful mosaic pottery. After giving visitors an interesting potted history of the building, the guide lets you climb to the top of the tower by yourself. It is a tricky climb, with very tall steps and only room for one person a time. I was out of breath by the time I reached the top but the view is totally worth it, looking towards the grand palace and seeing a bird’s eye view of the river curving around the city. This is definitely the highlight of the tour.