Explore the Old Canals of Bangkok
Most people are unaware that the canals of Bangkok past earned it the nickname “The Venice of the East”. Traveling around the newer parts of the city, visitors may notice a canal here or there, but they have little knowledge of how life used to be before many of the canals were filled in or paved over.
But simply by venturing across the river from the Grand Palace area of the city, history buffs who want to see a completely different side of the city can get a glimpse into what life used to be like in Bangkok.
Where to Go to Explore the Old Canals of Bangkok
Exploring this charmingly ancient side of the city requires you to embark on a canal route tour of southern Bangkok. Getting to the starting point of this tour is easy if you stay at the Narai Hotel. Just jump on the BTS Skytrain a short walk from the hotel, and alight at Saphan Taksin station at the foot of Sathorn Road. Get off the train and follow the signs to Sathorn Pier, located right under the station.
If you’re making a day of it then you may want to buy the special water taxi tourist pass. This pass enables you to travel up and down the river all day and hop on and off at whatever attraction draws your interest. But for the moment, use it to take the water taxi up the river a short distance to Tha Thien Pier (stop number N8). This is a busy stop for all the passenger boats and water taxis along the river as it’s convenient for the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the government offices in the area. It’s also the main pier for ferries across the river to the Temple of the Dawn.
But it’s also the gateway to the past. You may notice several long-tail boats and their owners sitting at the pier and chatting while waiting for customers. These are the boats that conduct the canal route tours of Bangkok. If you don’t see the boats, just ask the ticket seller for the water taxis. They may be able to point them out to you.
What to Expect on Your Tour of the Bangkok Canals
Up to eight people can comfortably fit in a single long-tail boat. Try to book the services of one with a canopy to provide some shade. It gets hot, and you’ll be moving slowly at times. A tour of around 1 hour will cost approximately THB 1,500. The tours generally run in a clockwise direction just across the river from the Grand Palace in the Thonburi area of the city, but you can negotiate your own tour. Just bring a map showing where you want to go, and the driver will quote you a price.
The tour takes you on a journey into a peaceful world where the doors of traditional homes open right onto the canal, children swim off their family’s personal docks, monks sell bread to the tourists who then feed it to schools of fish, and vendors sell their wares from their boats. At some point, your boat will probably pull up to one of these vendors, and you’ll be expected to buy a drink or some snacks from them. After all, these boat people have to stick together and support each other.
The pace of life slows perceptively as you cruise past overhanging lush green spaces. Cats, dogs and monitor lizards relax along the shores, and beautiful traditional-style villas are interspersed with smaller homes that look like they’ve existed for centuries. At some point, you’ll emerge back out onto the bustling river, and the peaceful spell will be broken.
Taking this tour makes you realize there is more to Bangkok than meets the eye. It just might serve as an incentive to expand your explorations to see what other secrets this colorful and vibrant city holds. The Narai Hotel is the perfect accommodations in the heart of the city, especially for adventurers. Close to the BTS Skytrain, the MRT and the Chao Phraya River, it serves as the ideal location to discover all the exotic charms of Bangkok.