The highways of Bangkok are not the streets or roads but
the river and the canals.
-- Sir John Bowring (1855)
Bangkok has changed a lot in the past 150 years and the
dominant means of transportation
has long since been
, but many of the canals are still there.
And in particular, the bit about highway
s remain very true:
the best escape from Bangkok's infamously horrendous traffic jam
is to take the canal
Boats of Bangkok
The Chao Phraya River Express
, which plows up and down
the great river of the same name, is the handiest means of
reaching many of Bangkok's tourist attractions
, Wat Phra Kaew
, Wat Arun
, wat ever) and thus
firmly on the tourist track. Easily accessible from the
, well signposted with big signs in English,
large boats with English-speaking staff and still a
ridiculously cheap bargain
, your guidebook will tell you
all about it and thus I won't!
No, today's topic is the humble reua hang yao
or longtail boat. Your standard longtail is a stretched-out colorful wooden boat with a high curved bow,
seating 4 abreast in 20-odd rows, fitted with an absurdly oversized motor, a canvas roof to protect you from
the fierce tropical blaze and blue plastic 'curtains' to
attempt to protect you from getting wet. Place these in a
narrow canal with just enough space for two to pass
at high speed, place a maniac hopped up on yaba at the
steering wheel, and you're set!
Where They Go
By far the most useful longtail service -- for your average farang
anyway -- runs along Khlong Saen Saep (aka Sen Seb), whose west-east
route paralleling Phetchaburi Road looks approximately like this:
- Phanfa pier (Golden Mount) on Ratanakosin, a short tuk-tuk hop
or longish walk from Khao San Road or the riverside wats
- Saphan Hua Chang (Phrayathai), near BTS Ratchathewi
and Jim Thompson's House
- Pratunam market, near World Trade Center and Siam Square
- Note: All passengers must change boats here to continue
- Soi Chitlom
- Wireless (Witthayu) Road
- Soi Nana Nua (Sukhumvit 3)
- Soi Asoke (21)
- Soi Thonglo (55)
- Soi Ekamai(63)
- Soi 71 (another change needed here)
- Wat Sribunruang (Bang Kapi)
Boats run from 6 AM to 9 PM on a demand-regulated system, a fancy way of saying they take off when there are enough passengers on board. At peak hours this means every other minute or so, and even at off-peak the interval is 15 min or so at worst.
The maximum fare is around 15 baht
some examples at time of writing were Phanfa-Pratunam 7 baht and
Pratunam-Thonglo 9 baht, the rate being around 50 baht to the euro.
This makes them far cheaper than taxi
s but more expensive than bus
and while status-conscious wealthy Thais will opt to stew in their
s instead, you'll see not a few office ladies in high heels
gingerly stepping on.
Other popular services run along khlongs Phrakhanong, Bang Luang/Lat Phrao,
Phasi Charoen, and Bangkok Noi. You can even charter your own
complete with driver, but expect to pay around 400 baht an hour for
the privilege; not unreasonable for a larger group but rather
expensive if going solo.
Note that in the rainy season (August-October), boat services may be temporarily suspended if prolonged heavy rain has caused the water level to rise too high, meaning that the boats can't squeeze under the bridges.
How To Use Them
The hardest part is actually figuring out where to board
) are not exactly well signposted -- most have no signage in English -- and you pretty much have ask the locals. But if you see
see a stairway leading down to a rickety wooden canalside contraption
with a bunch of people standing on it waiting and a few blue signs
in squiggly Thai, you just hit paydirt
So. Get down on the pier and figure out which direction you want
to go (nearly all piers are bidirectional). Once a longtail
comes barreling down in your direction, hail it by waving your hand
if needed; the boat will expertly dock at the pier and you now
have approximately 2.7 seconds to haul yourself in before the
driver floors the accelerator.
Plunk your rear end down on the wooden bench, at the front of
the boat if you can manage it so the din from the motor is not
completely overwhelming. The plastic curtains are operated by an
advanced rope and pulley system; yank the rope, the curtain goes up!
Whee! Try to figure out how this works before the backwash from
a longtail rocketing in the opposite direction hits you (literally), and be a gentleman and lower the curtain back down if the boat docks on your side.
But wait: who's this funny fellow in a helmet clambering around
outside the boat? Not only is he (or not uncommonly she) suicidal --
you will soon note that there are approximately 10 centimeters of
clearance between the roof and the bridges overhead -- but he wants your
money. Give him a 10-bt coin, and you'll get a ticket for the maximum
fare of the current leg and your change (wave fingers if you want a
different fare, he wouldn't understand English even if he could hear
you). Now sit back, relax, and try not to pass out from the canal stench.
Once you approach your destination, get up and perhaps even clamber
on to the side of the boat you'll be docking on (watch your head!),
the boat crew will take the hint. And then you have another 2.7
seconds to disembark, and there you are, at the other end of Bangkok
in record time!
Why To Use Them
Just in case you didn't figure out yet: on an extended business trip in
Bangkok, I used to commute
my hotel near Pratunam to the worksite by the Ital-Thai Tower by
longtail. By boat, the trip took
exactly 7 minutes, all day every day, and cost me exactly 8 baht;
by taxi, the trip took anywhere from 15 minutes (in optimal
traffic) to one hour plus (in normal traffic) and cost me
50 baht plus stuck-in-traffic surcharges. You do the math.
Rough Guide to Thailand (nice map too)
Lonely Planet Bangkok (not much detail)