Canal / Khlong Boat Rides in Bangkok

As of 2022, there are still at least 2 boat services down some of Bangkok's canals, or "khlong" streams in Thai. In the 1990s, there were many more, especially during the time before the skytrain, subway, and elevated expressways, but many have been shut down. There has been talk for some new boats, many times, including fairly recently with electric boats, and even pier signs erected in anticipation in some places, and test runs of boats, but I've still not seen recent new commercial boat service. I'm not sure it's a viable business anymore. In the old days, it was to beat the gridlock. If you see anything new, please let me know.

Central Thai people originally developed the area using khlongs, not roads. If you can find a map of Bangkok which actually shows the many small waterways, you will see it's a massive network. Many have been filled in and converted into roads, and many others now have large pipes.

The khlongs previously performed the dual roles of irrigation and transport. The water table is very high in Bangkok, which is near sea level, so all you had to do was dig a ditch and you had a boatway. Need a vehicle? Make or buy a boat. That was the old days.

If you pay attention to your environment, you will see a lot of small waterways, often tucked tightly between buildings and neighborhoods. Some sois will have a small bridge, whereas others stay flat and just go over a big pipe or flat underpass. Many have silted up over the decades.

Artificial waterways are straight. Natural waterways weave back and forth. The vast majority of waterways are straight, but there are some connections to natural waterways.

One of the remaining khlongs is more touristy, going around Bangkok Noi. I haven't been on it in more than 20 years, but considering all the commercial development since that time, I would guess a lot of its charm showing old Siam might be gone now.

The other main khlong is Saen Saep, which is not very charming, but instead a main commuter route, which goes between the pier near Central World, parallel to Ploenchit and Sukhumvit, until it turns northeast around the top of Sukhumvit soi 71, then goes parallel to Ramkhamhaeng Road way up to beyond Sri Nakarin. Each boat carries more than 100 passengers, and they come frequently (or, at least they did in the 1990s). There are many, many stops along the way, to piers along Ploenchit, Sukhumvit, and Ramkhamhaeng Roads. You need to be a little agile to get on and off. Observe others first.

When I lived in Bangkapi in the 1990s, I took this canal boat often, to beat the gridlock, for years. However, the canal was dirty and had a smell (though that didn't stop some kids from swimming in it...). I always got onto the front of the boat, to try to avoid any mist from the waves, especially when two boats passed each other. The boats had a big curtain on both sides which passengers knew to pull up when another boat passed, and they could just pull up anytime they wish.

The bridges get lower after Central World, so back when I used the boats, if you wanted to go further then you had to change boats, to another service provider, at the interchange "station" there, a short walk to another pier. The other boats were still large boats but had a low ceiling. After still another boat change, you could go to the floodgate on the Chao Phraya River not far from Khaosan Road, or else to Hua Lampong railway station, on smaller, lower occupancy boats. I enjoyed the ride to the river back then, but the last leg to/from the river shut down (at least temporarily) due to further road work near the river, though other legs stayed in service at that time.

I also took the boat all the way from Sukhumvit soi 71 beside Sukhumvit Road to near Don Mueang airport, with just a small backpack for a flight out on a short trip. It was a very charming ride, and a long ride. The boats were a lot smaller than the Khlong Saen Saep boats, but also much more charming. It was a very smooth ride with the big exception of a short transit of Khlong Saen Saep where the big boats made big waves. However, that was the 1990s. That route was fairly popular with locals but eventually shut down.

Another one was from the same Sukhumvit soi 71 pier down another canal (turning right soon after the pier, instead of straight as for the airport route) whereby that journey ended just beyond Srinakarin Road. This route was partly natural stream. Residents had put a lot of beautiful flowers along it. Many school children took these boats. This was my most recommended tourist canal ride, even though it wasn't made for tourists but instead for local commuters. It was rare to see a foreigner on it. Yet it was so nice. This route continued to be used after the airport route shut down, but wound down at some point. Some part of the route might still be in service using small private boats, but I'm not sure.

Back in the 1990s, you could also hire a private boat. There were Thai guys with speed boats who would take you down both the main commercial canals and many back canals not used commercially otherwise, but not just any canal due to silting, pipes, and other obstructions. I haven't seen any of those private boats in ages now.

Over the decades, despite closings of many canal boat services, there have been talks and proposed plans for opening boat services along additional, major canals, using clean electric boats, with lots of test runs, but the commercial viability of those services in modern times has been called into question, and I haven't seen any major commercial opening to date. With the skytrains and subways opening, and elevated expressways, traffic isn't as bad as it was during the 1990s when it was often gridlocked. Also, I feel that there has been a generational change in attitudes and preferences.

 > Domestic Travel for Leisure > Boat ride at Klong Tan

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