A great way to explore the old Bangkok is to take a canal tour. In the past, Bangkok was known as the “Venice of the East” as there were so many canals. People used to live on floating rafts and they got around town by boat. Over the years, many of these canals were filled in to make way for new roads. Fortunately, many of these old canals still remain on the Thonbui side of the Chao Phraya River. A boat tour here is an excellent way to see close up how Thai people used to live along the canals. Even today, many of these residents are visited by postmen who come by boat. Even the monks have to do alms rounds by boat. Every now and then you can also see boat vendors selling not only food but essentials for householders. I have rented longtailed boats several times at the Tha Chang pier near the Grand Palace. They usually ask for 1,000 baht per boat though if you try hard you can knock the price down. While on these personal boat trips, I had often seen boats tours with Thai people. As that seemed like a cheaper way to explore the canals I set off last weekend to find where I could join a Thai tour.
Last weekend I was at Taling Chan Floating Market. From the pier under the railway bridge you can join a boat tour at the weekend of the local canals. The price for this has just gone up to 90 baht for adults and 50 baht for children. This includes free water and a fan to keep yourself cool. Though I used it more to shade my face from the sun like all the other Thai people. Although the price is obviously good for foreign tourists, (there is no two price system and no need to haggle over the price), there are of course disadvantages. The tour guide only speaks Thai and there is very little leg room. When I first got into the boat I was hoping that it wouldn’t fill up. I made sure I sat behind a seat where the back could be removed to make more room for this long-legged foreigners. That is what they do for tours for farang. They use the same boat but every other seat has the back removed. Unfortunately, the boat was packed to capacity so I was a little uncomfortable to say the least. But we had several stops on this two hour tour so I was at least able to stretch my legs.
My tour left at 9.45 a.m. They run all day but it is best to go as early as you can as it can get quite hot in the middle of the river. Fortunately, whizzing along on a boat provides you with some natural air-conditioning. A tip for photographers. If you sit in the middle and towards the front of the long-tailed boat you will find that you don’t have a clear due to the spray from the river. Sitting at the back gives you a clearer view though you are closer to the noisy engine! We started on the busy Chak Phra Canal where we passed many other boats with foreigners riding in pairs. But, we soon found ourselves on smaller canals and away from the crowds. Our first stop was at an indistinct temple. To be honest, as it wasn’t really an impressive looking temple I got the feeling that this was more of a commercial break as we were urged to make merit by donating money to the temple. It was a shame as we passed some really fascinating looking temples. Some were very old. We also passed Wat Paknam which is a famous temple that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet.
The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly the orchards where we stopped to wander around to look at the orchids. So many different species and so many different colours. I was tempted to buy some for my house as the prices were good, but the trouble would have been too great. But, other people bought some orchids. The canals in this area are much narrower and there was only just enough room for two boats to pass. It was a truly unique experience to see up close how people lived alongside the canal. We even passed another floating market and I made a quick note of the name of the temple so that I could come back and visit in my car. On the way back, we paused outside one temple where they had a fish sanctuary. We were encouraged to buy bread to feed the fish. As you can see from the top picture, the fish were desperate to eat. a word of warning, don’t throw the bread too near the boat as you will get splashed by the frantic fish for sure.
I did enjoy my boat trip though I don’t think I will do it again due to the cramped conditions. I am sure there are other local boat tours around here and I will continue looking for better ones. You can get to Taling Chan Floating Market by bus 79. I believe the sky train is being extended this direction which will then make it easier for you.