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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.