Do you know why Bangkok is often referred to as the Venice of Asia? That’s because part of the city is fully covered in water canals or Klongs, houses built on water and basically all the life happening on the water.
And the best thing – it’s green, peaceful and relaxing. Not the typical adjectives that people normally use to describe the busy and crowded capital of Thailand.
To experience this different face of Bangkok I took a 90-minute longtail boat tour taking me through the narrow canals and allowing me to see the local life on the water. And to be honest, this tour was definitely the biggest highlight on my first ever visit Bangkok.
Discovering canals of Thonburi
The west bank of Chao Phraya River is called Thonburi and it’s the only area of the fast-growing Bangkok that hasn’t been developing with the time. Quite the opposite. It’s still like it used to be, with man-made water canals used as streets, small boats parked by the sides of the local houses that are built right on the water.
Can you imagine that Thonburi was once the capital of Thailand, at the end of the 18th century?
Part of the locals has never wanted to let this piece of history go, so they still live the slow-paced lifestyle.
Not everyone in Thonburi lives wealthy, so circling through the narrow canals allowed me to see fragile huts built right on the water that looked like they’re about to collapse if the wind blows a bit stronger. Some windows didn’t have glass and seemed to have no electricity either.
People here go to work by boat. They buy their fruit and vegetable from the neighbors who use their boats as floating markets.
The kids play on the porch of their homes right above the water. They throw in some bread to attract the fish and then jump in the water to play with them.
In between the houses by the water, there’s so much greenery – large banana trees, palm trees, green bushes. It’s the kind of nature you don’t see that much in Bangkok.
While people live here in different circumstances, they still seem to be happy, as they wave to the tourists from their porches with warm smiles on their faces.
The boat tour
Taking the tour offers a great contrast between the mighty Chao Phraya River and the small 6-meter wide Klongs. Most of the tours usually start at the Phra Arthit boat pier right next to Khao San Road.
The first few minutes the boat rushes between the quite heavy ferry traffic along the river and then it takes a sharp turn into one of the Klongs that connect the new Bangkok with the old one.
Right after the turn, you suddenly find yourself in a totally different environment.
The city noise slowly disappears, the water becomes more peaceful and local homes in size of small wooden boxes on one side of the canal and larger mansions with beautiful yards on the other side reveal themselves.
And most importantly – the air is fresh, the surroundings are quiet and it feels like you’ve entered a serene oasis. The loud noises coming from your boat’s engine are the only things ruining a bit this otherwise blissful environment.
The tour takes you along temples by the canals, a local school, and other establishments just like in every normal town. But in this case, it’s all on the water. Unfortunately, boat drivers usually don’t speak any English, so they won’t be able to give you more information about any of the objects you’ll see along the way.
I also had an old Thai lady approaching us in her small boat, selling cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs, right before we stopped by a temple, where I could throw in the water some snacks for the fish myself, sold to me by a local monk.
Always keep an eye on the boat coasts, as you might notice some monitor lizards sunbathing there.
I was so impressed with the surroundings and how different Thonburi life is from the rest of the Bangkok, that 90-minute tour felt like it’s been only 15 minutes.
How to organize this tour?
Simply show up on the spot at the N13 Phra Arthit Pier. There are two tour desks, one at the entrance on the street and the other one on the actual pier. I used the first one. The prices and the route at both desks are the same.
You can choose a 60-minute or 90-minute tours. One takes a shorter route through the Klongs, while the other one adds 20 minutes more in the Klongs and 20 minutes on the Chao Phraya River to see the skyline of the new Bangkok.
The prices vary based on the season. I visited during the high season and the fixed price was 750 THB per person for a 1 hour trip or 1000 THB per person for 90-minutes. The cashier lady was not up for negotiation at all.
During May – October, the price per person is around 500 THB for a private boat.
PRO TIP: if you would like to visit any of the temples or the houses of the locals, these kinds of tours exist too and can be arranged via travel agents in town or online. The classic tour from the pier that I took follows the regular route without stopping anywhere.
The tours run daily from 7:00 – 18:00, with the best light and atmosphere early in the morning. It’s smart to go during the weekdays, but generally, the canals never feel too busy.
A longtail boat tour is a fun activity for all ages. You just have to be flexible enough to be able to climb from a high pier into a very low boat and back.
How to get to N13 Phra Arthit Pier?
If you’re staying anywhere in the Khao San Road area, the pier is within walking distance.
Otherwise, the best way to get there is to take MRT Metro to Hua Lamphong Station or BTS Skytrain to National Stadium and grab a metered taxi to go the final distance. The Taxi should cost no more than 100 THB.
Are you ready to experience the Venice of Asia? Let us know in the comments below!