In my distant past as a tourist in Thailand, I have explored Bangkok canals by Longtail boats
quite a few times. Although I frequently visit the area by car, observing the view from the canals looks considerably different. Quite recently, along with a Thai companion, we ‘recruited’ a third friend, whose family owns a Longtail boat, and together went out to the canals, in order to explore them more thoroughly.
First, I would like to take the opportunity and clarify a certain confusion which appears on many websites that refer to the canal area – Klong, by the misleading title of Thon Buri – which was used in the distant past, when it was held the capital of Thailand between 1767-1782, throughout king Taksin’s rule.
Up until 1971, this was the second biggest city in Thailand, yet then, the ground was formally attributed to Bangkok’s municipal rule, and divided into secondary parts. Nowadays, Thon Buri is one of Bangkok’s 50 districts, and does not contain the canals. Rather, the canals are in Bangkok Yai and Bangkok Noi districts. I can also tell you that these canals actually manifest the original river, whereas today’s river with its canal outlets is in fact a paved canal designed to make a shortcut.
Most tourists refer to the canal tour as though there is a single route – but there are several possible paths. The main canals create a shape which resembles the number 8, with the entire right side being the Chaopraya river. Therefore, you can do the upper part of the 8-like route, the lower one, or both. After exploring the different routes, we concluded that the lower part of the ‘8’ is more interesting, although it doesn’t include the Royal Boats museum.
Touring through either the lower or the upper parts takes about an hour (exploring them both would take you two hours). My personal recommendation is to take a 1-hour tour, which means choosing one of the parts; it is certainly enough.
Keep in mind that the Longtail boats are operated by several companies with different piers, so that if you take a boat from a certain pier and would like to stop at another one (to which your longtail boat doesn’t belong, for instance Wat Arun), it will cost you some extra money.
I highly recommend combining the canal tour with other attractions in the area, such as the authentic local markets visited by Thai people (rather than packed with tourists). Such markets can be found in Bangkok Yai district, and those who don’t know about them, won’t get there by chance. Moreover, you can’t see them from the boat, although there’s a pier dozens of meters away from the markets.
Although I’m a big fan of independent tours, this is hardly a simple task when it comes to exploring Bangkok. The city is huge and it’s hard to find your way around if you don’t know it very well. In order to tour Bangkok ‘the right way’ you should be thoroughly prepared and able to communicate – at some level – with the locals. Unfortunately, many of the ‘independent tours’ through Bangkok, ultimately result in sweaty, redundant strolls, while missing out on many interesting things that could be right under your nose.
To those who wish to take independent tours through Bangkok canals:
- The popular piers are Saphan Taksin, the piers by Wat Po and the Grand Palace (Tha Tien and Tha Chang piers) as well as the River City (right next to Sheraton Orchid hotel) and Wat Arun piers.
- There is no need to visit Wat Arun throughout the visit as it will take some of the precious time you’ve paid for, and you’ll have to add some extra money for the stop there. Finish all your stops and visits, then use the public fairy to cross the river and arrive at Wat Arun.
- In my mind, an hour long tour is enough to enjoy the experience, and spending a longer time on the longtail boat would it repetitive and redundant. Keep in mind that the boat driver is hardly an Oxford graduate and don’t expect to hear English explanations.
- If you want to include an authentic market at the end of your tour, you should guide your boat driver to get you there by the end of the route, rather than return to the same pier where your path began (which is the default)
- While there’s a lot of fuss about the longtail boat, the tour covers a rather small part of Bangkok – one that would be covered by 10 minutes’ car drive. Therefore, don’t use the longtail boat as a taxi (it would be too expensive) but specifically for the canal tour.
FWY: TipTop Travel Private Family Adventure Tours includes the Bangkok canal tour in its Bangkok tour programs.
Enjoy your tour!