• Rei Tangkijngamwong and Mint Ruangritchai

Khlongs: The Waterway That Built Bangkok

We may know it as the source of stench, a waterway we never dare to touch, a disturbing contrast to the canals of Venice. But what is the Khlong?

Meandering through the city centre, Khlong Saen Saeb has been an integral part of Bangkok since 1840. It was first built by King Rama III, with the purpose of transporting soldiers and weapons efficiently by boat. The khlong is 54km long, running through the wealthy and poorer parts of Bangkok. Many sub-khlongs were then built, connecting Khlong Saen Saeb to more than 100 khlongs around central Thailand. After the conflicts, the khlongs’ primary use became irrigation, drainage and transport around Thailand.

The vast 72km network of the khlong spans from the Bang Pakong river in Chachoengsao province to the Chao Phraya river near Yaowarat chinatown. Though it is a single waterway, the name changes from Saen Saeb to Phra Khanong, and to Prawet Buriram.

The city of Bangkok is a city with many interesting sights to see. From various cultural monuments and temples to the many tall and towering buildings overlooking the city from a beautiful tower top view, but where to begin? Historically Thai merchants spent most of their waking hours on the khlong. Paddling their boats from house to house selling their goods to whoever passes by. To truly experience historic Thai culture, you must take a boat trip down Khlong Saen Saeb.

Imagine this. You wake up in the bustling heart of Bangkok everyday and your first thought is to explore the city by car, however, you’ve never thought about hopping on a boat to see what Bangkok is all about. Perhaps you feel afraid to try, or you’ve just never bothered to think of the unique experiences one boat ride can give you.

Khlong Saen Saeb is serviced by the NIDA line, which runs from Pratunam pier to Wat Sriboonruang pier. The ferries operate from 5:30am to 20:30pm daily, with more than 100 boats in total. The wait is usually not longer than 5 minutes, and the prices are affordable, ranging from 5-20 THB, depending on the distance travelled. With the daily passengers averaging at 60,000, it could get congested in peak times such as the morning or evening commute. But with 40-50 seats per boat, you can stand or sit, depending on your length of ride. Something to keep in mind is to avoid touching the water at all costs. Though the water itself already looks heavily polluted, consuming or being in contact with the polluted water could harm you, so we recommend for you to stay as close to the boat’s center as possible.

Starting off, the most important ferry stop you will need to know is Nana Chard pier (ท่าเรือนานาชาติ). This is the stop right in front of NIST, and is only a 2 minute walk away. In just 4 stops, you will reach Pratunam pier, which is the main ferry hub for the whole khlong boats system. At pratunam (ท่าเรือประตูนำ้), you can walk to the extravagant high-end malls such as CentralWorld and Gaysorn village. Or for a more affordable option, shopping for local products and souvenirs at Platinum Fashion Mall, a classic in-door market. This stop also allows for a transfer to the Golden Mount line, which terminates at the Panfa Leelard pier (ท่าเรือผ่านฟ้าลีลาศ). For the Instagrammers out there, Saphan Hua Chang is definitely a stop you’d like to visit, as it is close to the trendy graffiti filled Chaloem La park, where many people go to take aesthetic photos. It is also not a short walk to Siam Square, the epicentre of youth culture in Bangkok. From streetwear to high-end brands, K-Pop goods to the Hard Rock Cafe, you can find almost anything here. Then you can experience the bustling, colourful market that is Bo Bae market. With bright fluorescent clothes and the smell of food, it is definitely worth the trip.

Backtracking all of 14 stops, you will reach the Soi Thonglor pier, which as the name suggests, is close to Thonglor. Thonglor is a hip, indy district with countless small-business coffee shops and bars. It is also the birthplace of many delicious restaurants and cafes you must try! All of these wonderful cafes and restaurants are accessible by the Thonglor red bus, which runs up and down Sukhumvit Soi 55, with fares only being 7 THB! This can take you to the Thonglor BTS station, where you can ride along the Sukhumvit line for 1 stop to find the well-known Wat-That Thong, where functions are traditionally held by Thais. Once a year, there is also a winter festival, where you can participate in country fair style games and food. You then make your way to the other end of the NIDA line, Wat Sriboonruang pier, where it is only a short walk from Ramkamhaeng university, where Thailand’s biggest stadium, Rajamangala National, stands tall and large. It has hosted countless international sporting events such as 7 AFF championships, and the 1998 Asian Games. It was also the site of many iconic musical acts such as Lady Gaga, One Direction, BTS, Ed Sheeran, and ColdPlay.

Although an integral part of Thailand, the Saen Saep Khlong is one of Bangkok's most polluted canals due to being one of Bangkok's major drainage waterways. In fact in 2015, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha started a 2 year effort to clean the canal but ended up not successful as the problem had already grown too big and damage was already done.

The Pollution Control Department (PCD) investigated the canal and found 631 buildings and residences beside the canal, concluding that there were 412 sources of pollution. This includes 157 homes, 62 hospitals, 144 condominiums, 107 restaurants, 81 department stores, 66 hotels and 14 markets. In the same investigation, they also found that 50% of condominiums discharged wastewater into the canal, further contributing to the pollution of one of the most well-known khlongs in Thailand. Pollution of the canal has led police to charge a 2,000 THB fine to multiple buildings and other sources of pollution. Other smaller contributors to the pollution of the water were ordered to improve wastewater treatment systems to meet the standard law.

In order to maintain standards and the cleanliness of the khlong, Natural Resources and Environment Minister General, Surasak Kanjanarat, proposed charging wastewater treatment fees to all buildings using the khlong as a waterway. The PCD recommends that the charge should be 0.43 THB per cubic meter as it’ll bring in more money to clean the khlong.

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