A few months back I climbed aboard the Klong Saen Sap ferry service to see where it took me.
A word of warning. To “Bangkokians” an account of this journey is probably as interesting to read as a description of the 7:30am Norbiton to Victoria train service is to London commuters. However I am a farang (foreigner) and Bangkok continues still to surprise and retain the exotic aura that prevailed the day I first arrived some 30 years ago.
I boarded the Klong Saen Sap Express Service at Bang Kapi just behind The Mall shopping centre. Incidentally I used to visit the water park on the top of this complex with my kids when they were younger. Amongst its attractions is a really exhilarating water shute. Now its “we’re far too old for that DAD” so alas I really don’t have a viable excuse to go any more.
Back to the klong. Nowaddays the canal is used by Bangkok commuters though its original purpose was to provide water transport for soldiers and their arsenal of weapons to fight in Cambodia. In fact the canal extends further east across Thailand than you can go via the current scheduled boat service. It was originally dug by imported Chinese workers primarily in the reign of Rama I and completed in 1840. The 18 km scheduled boat service route runs diagonally across Bangkok from the NE to the WSW. It is served by 100 boats each having up to 50 seats. I read in the company literature that the service carries about 60,000 passengers daily. I was going the full distance co my ticket cost me 18 baht. Now that is the equivalent of 36 (UK) pence – a boat journey only to be surpassed in value for money by the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. Many will know that the latter literally translates as Fragrant Harbour which is rather ironic now. Klong Saen Sap’s waters are even more pungent and certainly you wouldn’t wish to take any impromptu dips.
I counted some 23 stops on the journey which lasted about 50 minutes. 3 sops are of particular note; Pratunam (Water Gate – yes another one), Sapan Hua Chang (Elephant Head’s Bridge) and the terminus, Tha Phanfa.
Pratunam is one of Bangkok’s major clothing markets so from a shopping perspective it has absolutely no interest to me. It is however fascinating to walk around the market as it represents a microcosm of the world’s population; Arabs, Africans, Indians, Iranians etc with restaurants to cater. Recently an Afghan doctor visited our office (a tropical disease research centre) and wanted to eat Persian food. Where to go? Pratunam of course. If you take the Klong Saen Sap journey from end to end you actually have to change boats (I couldn’t figure out why actually) at Pratunam and it is certainly the busiest of all stops.
Sapan Hua Chang is the very next stop. I used to travel daily over this bridge when travelling to work in the early eighties and never once pausing to look over the side at the canal. Though in fairness you just can’t in the maelstrom that is Bangkok’s traffic. This is worth a detour however as it is adjacent to the Jim Thompson House. I won’t add to the voluminous literature on Jim Thompson (of Thai silk trade fame) but his house (now a museum) is built in a traditional Thai style (some farang ” Thai hands” live in a more traditionally Thai way than Thais). The approach from the klong is the easiest and shortest way there.
Wat Saket is not far from the terminus Tha (pier) Phanfa. Wat Saket is renowned for the Phu Khao Thong (the Golden Mount) a steep hill inside the compound. Incidentally not a natural outcrop, but an artificial hill (330 ft). The leit motif of my travel log is hills so naturally we have to go up. The day I visited was a religious festival so I had to join a long queue of believers snaking their way up the steps which spiral the mount and into the scarily overcrowed temple rooms at the top. I heard that once upon a time this was the highest point in Bangkok (which is a very flat city). There are some nice views from the temple still as there are strict building height regulations in this part of Bangkok being so close to, inter alia, Wat Pra Keow the most revered temple in Thailand.
I have lived in this city on and off since 1981 and travelling down Klong Saen Sap filled in another small piece of the big jigsaw that is Bangkok.