In the old days, most people lived along canals and rivers. This was their lifeline as it was a means of communication and commerce with other districts. Although times have changed, it is still worthwhile taking boat trips along Thailand’s waterways to get a glimpse of life in times gone by. In Bangkok you can rent a long-tailed boat for about $30 to explore the canals. But outside in the provinces there are plenty of opportunities to take boat trips for less than a $1. In Samut Prakan we have some good boat trips which are worth doing as a day trip from Bangkok.
Last weekend I caught a boat to Ban Sakhla which is an isolated community in Samut Prakan. When I first came to Thailand they had only just completed building a road to this town. Before that, the only access was by boat. When I first visited the town about ten years ago, there was only a paved road half way and the rest of the way was a dirt track. I have driven there a dozen times over the years but this was the first time I had gone by boat. It is not an easy boat to catch. On my first attempt I found that the boat had been cancelled because the boatman had to attend a funeral.
It is basically a commuter boat for Sakhla people. It takes them to Paknam Market at 6.30 a.m. in the morning so that they can buy food and other supplies and then it returns at 11 a.m. I was advised that I should go to the Samut Prakan Pier at least half an hour early. As it is the same boatman every day he knows most of his passengers and will probably leave once everyone is there. It is not the kind of boat that attracts tourists. Even Thai ones. During my attempt the previous week to catch it, a local person at the market said that it would be easier if I went to Ban Sakhla by taxi. She didn’t seem to understand that the mode of transport going there was half the adventure.
There a number of piers at Paknam so you need to make sure that you go to the right one. Enter through Wiboonsri Market which is the normal entrance for people wanting to catch a ferry boat across the river to Phra Samut Chedi. Before you get to the ticket booth, make a sharp left turn and walk through the market a short distance looking for a turning on your right. Here you will find three piers. I caught the boat from the middle pier which has the sign for “Samut Prakan Pier”. It is a good idea though to ask someone about the boat for Sakhla. When I did someone shouted out that the farang wanted to go to Sakhla. After that there was no risk of me being left behind.
Like the week before, someone came up to me to ask why I didn’t go by taxi. Samut Prakan has two new bridges and that is now the easiest way to go there. Alternatively he said that I could catch the ferry boat across the river and from there a songtaew to Sakhla. I knew that would be easier but I just like doing boat trips. While I was waiting, more and more people turned up. Many of them were carrying heavy boxes and bags which were loaded onto the boat. It wasn’t really a big boat. Maybe enough room for about 30 people sitting cramped on rows of low seats. By this time the boat was more than half full with supplies and I was starting to wonder whether there would be any room for us. No-one was on the boat at this stage as we were waiting up on the pier.
With only ten minutes to go I decided to get on the boat. As it turned out, there was no need to worry as only six other people got on the boat. The rest were obviously waiting for another boat taking them elsewhere. It wasn’t the best of weather for a boat trip on a tidal river as there were dark clouds in the distance. The boat had a canopy protecting us from sun and rain. But the sides of the boat are low in the water and I guess there would be a risk of it being swamped if it rains very hard during the journey or a big container ship passes too closely. There were no lifejackets and so if you cannot swim you are basically putting your life in the hands of the boatman.
We left Samut Prakan Pier about five minutes early. He took us straight across to the other side of the river and then we followed the West bank towards the river mouth and the Gulf of Thailand. The Chao Phraya River here is quite wide. At places it is nearly a kilometer across. As it was low tide we didn’t see any of the really big container ships, but there were a number of smaller ships moored in the middle of the river. We also passed a number of fishing boats on their way home from a fishing expedition. There is always a lot of activity on this river with boats and people going all different directions. We passed one boat party coming back from scattering ashes at the river mouth. Paknam is a popular destination for doing this.
After about 15 minutes we reached Sappasamit Canal where we turned off the main river and headed towards Ban Sakhla. This canal was built back in 1939-41 by the Excise Department (hence the name of the canal) as a means of communication and commerce from the Chao Phraya River in Samut Prakan all the way to the Tha Chin River in Samut Songkhram. It is 30 kilometers long and about 112 meters wide. If you had your own boat, you could go to Ban Khun Thien which is the coastal community in Bangkok. I last went there about four years ago and so I guess it is time for a return visit. Apparently you can rent a boat to go there from Ban Sakhla which would be interesting. They have started building a road along the canal but it stops halfway. I am not sure when they are planning on finishing it. For us to go there we have to go the long way round by going into Bangkok first.
Sappasamit Canal is virtually straight for much of the way to Ban Sakhla. Close to the Chao Phraya River there were many houses along the river banks. Some just tin shacks, some wooden houses on stilts and others virtually mansions. Many of them had their own private piers. There were also many fishing boats moored on both sides. We passed one boat which was offloading a large heap of cockles. We stopped a few times along the canal. Sometimes someone wanted to get off but usually the boatman offloaded boxes for people waiting on various piers. After about twenty minutes the number of houses started to dwindle and we were mainly seeing nipa palm trees.
By the time we reached Ban Sakhla there were only four of us left on the boat. The trip had taken us just over 40 minutes. It was a little cramped for my long legs but it had been a good trip. If you can, it is best to sit towards the back of the boat as there is less splash there and so easier to take pictures. Unfortunately I didn’t have much choice as the boat was so full with supplies. I hadn’t asked how much the trip would cost which is normally a dangerous thing to do in tourist areas. I gave the boatman a 50 baht note and he gave me 30 baht change. Obviously an honest man. He told me that there was no more boats that day and I would have to return by songtaew. I thanked him and said that wouldn’t be a problem.
I will tell you about Ban Sakhla tomorrow on www.thai-blogs.com and my trip home. In the meantime, I will post more pictures and some maps of my trip over at the Samut Prakan Forums.