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Living Local: The Canal Taxis of Bangkok

Water Taxi

I haven’t owned a car in years. Now that I’m traveling more and currently in Thailand, being car-less matters even less. There are many different forms of public transportation here for those of us who don’t want to own a vehicle of our own, as Maria wrote about on her blog. Of all these different methods, my favorite has got to be the Khlong Taxis.

There are many canals (‘Khlongs’ in Thai) around Bangkok today. There were many more in earlier times, but they have since been filled in to build roads as they became less useful.

The Saen Saep Khlong cuts east to west across the middle of the city, and is still in use as a major transportation line on the city’s taxi or bus service. It is run by a private company that operates 70 boats that carry roughly 40-50 people each. There are several floating docks on the route where passengers must quickly hop on and off the boats. You can see a Google Map of the stops here.

Just like the seemingly natural ability of the locals to ride scooters from birth, they climb on and off the khlong taxis with apparent ease. I’ve heard stories of people falling in at times, and YouTube is full of videos of this happening as shown on the closed-circuit cameras at the docks, but whenever I am using the boats, I am by far the least nimble of the passengers, and most likely to take a swim in the water of questionable content.Water Taxi

The canal covers 30 kilometers (19 miles)  across the city and makes for the most useful form of transportation if your destination is near one of the docks. The boats move fast except for when they pass the palace of a Thai Royal family member, and every time there is an incident of some sort they are held to speed limits for a time. The stops are efficient and quick, and obviously avoid Bangkok’s heavy street traffic.

There is no time for lollygagging when the boat shows up! Grab the rope and step down onto the boat quick. The others will make room for you, even when it looks full. You’ll be moving again before your butt hits the seat, and the attendants will come to collect your fare and give you a ticket as they deftly walk along the outside rail. Here is a normal stop I filmed the other day.

The ride is inexpensive, ranging from 10 to 20 Baht (about $0.32-0.63 US at today’s exchange rate).

There are interesting sights along the canals from buildings new and old, to graffiti of various artistic levels. But when the boats get splashing too much, you’ll want to keep the splash guard raised to stay dry! Not to mention that you should always keep your mouth closed: you really don’t want to taste the water from the khlong. Most of the overhead bridges are uneventful, though there is at least one low bridge that requires the attendants to lower the roof of the boat to get under, and raise it again once past.

If you get a chance to spend any time in Thailand, I recommend you take a ride on the khlong taxi even if it isn’t going exactly where you need to go. It’s one of the more fun and interesting ways to get around on Bangkok’s many forms of public transportation.

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{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Maria October 22, 2013, 8:12 pm

    Great job capturing the water taxis! I would also recommend the mantra of “Don’t fall in, don’t fall in, don’t fall in” every time you grab the rope and swing yourself in. I do that each time and have not fallen in once!

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