In Focus: Bangkok Waterways

Bangkok is an amazing city with a storied past. Although never colonized by western powers, Bangkok changed hands many times as dynasties and monarchies came and went. After flourishing in the later part of the 20th century, Thailand’s capitol city is now a modern and prosperous center for Thai commerce and culture. Called Krung Thep in Thai, this city is mesmerizing with its mixture of old and new. A walk down the city streets will sure impress most tourists with its modern buildings, historic districts, and traditional markets.

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While we, originally, had a ton of plans for exploring Bangkok and exploring a few areas around the city, most of our plans were derailed by a massive battle with food poisoning. For three days we were holed up in our hotel making trips to the toilet every 30-45 minutes. Those were not pleasant days and, knowing that we weren’t going to be able to do what we had planned on once we returned to Bangkok, the frustration added to the fire being generated by the food poisoning. After the incessant need for the bathroom lessened and we watched the Patriots defeat the Seahawks over our first solid meal that didn’t demand exit immediately, we set out to salvage our last day in Bangkok with some sort of adventure since we had been forced to abandon our magic tattoos, visits to temples, and watching a Muay Thai fight.

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Our solution led us to the water. Off behind the scenes, old Bangkok still lives in a maze waterways, and we set off to explore them in what little time we had. We set off on the BTS for Sathon Express Boat Pier and immediately booked a boat. Late in the day, no one else was taking tours so we chartered our own private canal boat and set off on an hour and a half long ride. The private tour was more expensive, but we didn’t have much time and we weren’t leaving without seeing something amazing.

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Heading south, we began our tour being hurtled down river with outrageous speed. These boats have (sometimes supercharged) V8 engines precariously perched on the stern with the driveshaft attached to a propeller. Reaching ridiculous speeds, we cruised the main river while our driver sipped his Chang Beer until we located the entrance to the canals. Controlled by a system of locks, these canals act as an efficient roadway for the western side of the city. entire regions of Bangkok have addresses along the waterway instead of by roads. Children paddle to school, mailmen race the canals every morning, and elderly women fill their small rafts with souvenirs for the tourist canal boats.

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Once the locks open, it’s off to the races. All of the boats waiting inside the lock immediately rev their engines in a Indy 500-esque roar that announces the upcoming tumult. Speeding along the canal, far and away the leader of the traditional “get me the hell out of this lock” race, we eventually slowed to a pleasant pace and could comfortably take in our surroundings. The houses and buildings of these waterways were beautiful in their simplicity. Each establishment had its own dock where we often found groups of children laughing and splashing and pushing their friends into the water in a game of King of the Dock. Elderly couples relaxed in lawn chairs that overlooked the canal and smiled as they chatted in the late afternoon. Women sold beers and trinkets from their makeshift rafts as we passed, an obviously planned stop to support these old ladies with our foreign-earned money.

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As we raced further and deeper into the maze of canals, we found ourselves in a unique position. Our trip to Bangkok and our plans had been derailed by stomach issues, but we were in an area we hadn’t originally planned to tour- but we were loving every moment. The canals held a charm that we hadn’t expected. While we planned on some other trips and sightseeing expeditions, this one would have been unfortunately missed. The boat eventually brought us to our last stop at a different pier after our 1.5-hour ride and we suddenly regretted not taking a longer tour with stops at temples and other famous areas. Unfortunately, we only had an afternoon and our time was short.

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IMG_3663The canals of Bangkok are often overlooked as a tourist destination but they are also underrated. What we found on the waterways of the oldest remaining portions of the city were majestic in their charm and exciting in their modes of transport. For all of the things we missed out on due to our food poisoning, we will be returning to Bangkok in the future and you can be sure that we will be taking another, longer, boat ride through this great city’s canals.

Ryan

2017-03-06T09:21:19+00:00 By |Destinations, Thailand|12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. […] like more firsthand information from us, check out the photo-laden blog post about our canal tour HERE or hit up the comment section […]

  2. Meaghan Wray June 26, 2015 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Your photography, as always, is so mesmerizing! I still have 6 months left in my contract but I’ll be heading directly to Bangkok after and this post got me so excited. I like how your photos seemed to capture, or at least emulate, a quieter/calmer version of Bangkok. Whenever I see photos or videos, it’s always so hectic and somewhat scary-looking. Thanks!

    • Hedgers Abroad June 30, 2015 at 12:12 pm - Reply

      We can certainly relate, as most of the city IS quite hectic. The canals we a great vacation from the hustle and bustle of the city-proper, but the ride itself was sometimes nerve-racking at the speeds we would reach on straight-aways. Really great way to see the city, though. You’ll really enjoy it. We certainly did.

  3. Nathan June 28, 2015 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Aside from the reference to a very painful time in my life (The Seahawks’ final drive ended with me face-down on the floor with my head in my hands), this was a great post! I love the pictures of the boats on the waterway, it looks like such a great way to spend an afternoon. I’ve been to Bangkok quite a few times, but have never done this; adding it to the list for this fall! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    • Hedgers Abroad June 30, 2015 at 12:16 pm - Reply

      I’m jealous of your repeat visits to Bangkok, but after the bout with food poisoning, we’ll likely revisit the city again, too. You’ll love the canals and the atmosphere of that part of town. It’s a welcome relief from the stressful city experience. Sorry about your Seahawks, we were rooting for them as well and sitting next to a guy at the bar who lived in Seattle.

  4. Rafiqua Israel (@Rafiqua_Israel) June 29, 2015 at 8:35 am - Reply

    I love your photos. I was in Bangkok for only a few days so I never went along the waterways but I wish I did! I really want to return to Thailand and would like to do this! Its interesting that people actually live in those water houses…kind of inconvenient I’d think.

    • Hedgers Abroad June 29, 2015 at 11:03 pm - Reply

      The canals are awesome and you should go! We certainly had an amazing time cruising along the water roads and they actually seemed really functional! Loads of canoes for getting the kiddos to school and running errands, plus there are small roads behind the houses that allow the use of motorcycles! Thanks for enjoying the photos, but the whole time I was bouncing around trying to keep from dropping my camera into the water and hoping that something came out of it!

  5. Duke Stewart June 29, 2015 at 9:48 am - Reply

    As echoed by everyone else, you take amazing photos Ryan. Those waterways in Bangkok are pretty cool and are a great way to get around the temples there. It’s too bad that you had food poisoning while there but hey, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone whose system has always won in SE Asia. Had the same thing happen in Cambodia, while trying my best to endure through days at Angkor.

    Good to see you rebounded and salvaged the last of your time in Bangkok. I always love that point about Thailand never being conquered. Sold their souls to do so, but never colonized and they’ll always be proud of that. I know that martial law has kinda chilled out in recent months but was wondering if you saw anything related to the protests or demonstrations there. I’m not worried about safety or anything but am just curious if things were chaotic in any parts of the city.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. Great stories and shots as always. Take Care Ryan and Stephanie.

    • Hedgers Abroad June 30, 2015 at 12:35 pm - Reply

      Hey, Carl. You’re absolutely correct. While we weren’t vying to join, travelling SEAsia for any extended period of time is almost guaranteed to put you into the Food Poisoning While Abroad Club. And as bad as it was, I can’t imagine the mental anguish you were probably feeling at Angkor Wat! That would have killed me. At least in Bangkok, I was missing out on city stuff, but Angkor Wat… That being said, I’m also not much of a city guy.

      We really enjoyed our time in Bangkok, and this longer visit was actually our third and final time passing through, so we’d seen some things already. We certainly loved the unique perspective afforded by this tour and recommend it to everyone. Had you done the same type of tour?

      As far as the demonstrations go, we didn’t see a thing while we were in Bangkok. I’m not saying that they weren’t happening, but the areas we got to see were devoid of brightly colored mobs.

      Glad you enjoyed, and thank you so much for the compliments and enjoying our blog!

      • Duke Stewart July 1, 2015 at 11:00 am

        We hadn’t been on a tour, but the boats were cool for getting around the temples in the city. Not sure how much time we’ve got there (maybe just a layover) so might have to pass on that. There’s always next time though!

        Thanks for the reply.

        Take Care.

  6. Wendy Flor June 30, 2015 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    Ouch! 3 days taken because of food poisoning! While my husband and I were in Bangkok a few years ago, he saw to it that he was going to taste the street food. Told me, that’s how you taste the country’s food culture. I never tried but he was really up to it. Good thing, he didn’t get food poisoned!

    Your last picture, especially, is magnificent. The canals and the houses look relaxing. Your pictures make it inviting.

  7. Hedgers Abroad June 30, 2015 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    Eating street food is certainly a great way to get a taste for the food culture and also it also helps to save a lot of money instead of eating out at restaurants the entire time. Glad he never experienced food poisoning and hopefully you never run into that problem while abroad.

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