(This post was written by Tedly.)
Bangkok, Thailand; home to 10 million people; a massive center of commerce; a polluted, congested, chaotic metropolis. Yet somehow, at the same time, a peaceful, exotic and charming place that I greatly enjoyed during the two weeks we lived there.
One of my favorite ‘discoveries’ in Bangkok was the ancient system of canals – and the public water taxis that still make use of them. Indeed, Bangkok has been called the Venice of the East. And as someone who was recently in Venice, I can say the name is appropriate.
Bangkok is criss-crossed by miles of canals (khlongs) fed by the Chao Phraya River. From the 16th through 19th centuries, these canals were often the primary form of transit around Bangkok. Many canals have now been filled in to accommodate development or sit dormant. But the Chao Phraya and a number of the khlongs are still heavily used by locals – and visitors – to save time and money while navigating and enjoying Bangkok.
A ride down the Chao Phraya on an orange flagged express boat – which stops at over 20 different boat piers – costs 15 Baht (.50¢ usd). And there are other colored boats which stop less frequently for a slightly higher fare. By comparison, a single ride on a water taxi in Venice, Italy costs 7.5 €uros ($8.50 usd).
Rides on some of the smaller, narrow canals through the city cost as little as 9 Baht. And a one-way ferry across the Chao Phraya is only 3 Baht (.10¢ usd)! A quick traghetto (gondola) trip across the grand canal in Venice is 2 €uros ($2.30 usd). Now granted, Venice can be more romantic — but the water seemed only slightly cleaner and the rides in Venice are nearly all packed with tourists. Bangkok seemed more ‘authentic’ as we passed canal-side food carts, Thai school children, business commuters, and homes with laundry and junk piled on porches. They even have adjustable plastic side covers on the smaller Bangkok boats to keep you from being splashed with canal water.
I took a handful of rides around Bangkok during the time we were there; both for specific transport and just joy riding. Both ways were fun, cheap, relaxing and interesting – and just as fast as using the terribly congested roads combined with the monorail/subway. I should also point out that there are other options for exploring Bangkok by waterway; including private long-tail boat, big tourist ferries, and dinner-cruise type vessels. All of these cost way more money and seemed far less fun than riding with the locals.
Check out the video to get a feeling for traveling around Bangkok on the inexpensive water taxis.