Most tourists in Bangkok spend a few hours on the city’s canals, visiting the floating markets and experiencing the old-fashioned charm of canal-side life. But what many people don’t know about is the huge role that Thai canals play in protecting the city from seasonal flooding.
One such wonderful waterway is the Lat Pho Canal in Phra Pradaeng, Samut Prakan. Originally, this 600-metre canal was simply a shallow channel used as a shortcut across a meander in the Chao Phraya River. But in 2005, King Rama IX saw that if the canal was deepened and widened and gates were built, it could help drain water quickly into the Thai gulf.
Thanks to His Majesty’s vision, water only has to pass through 600 metres of canal rather than 18 kilometres of river and 40 million cubic-metres a day can be quickly dispersed. This has helped to remove excess water in Bangkok, especially when the Chao Phraya River meets high tides from the gulf around October and November.
And now Bang Krachao, the area circled by the river, has become an attraction itself. Tourists and locals visit this lovely green area, (long-known as the lungs of Bangkok) to experience eco-friendly attractions and enjoy a day out of Bangkok, without really leaving the city.
So let’s look at what’s on offer:
Lat Pho Canal
The industrial architecture of the Lat Pho Canal is impressive. The Bhumibol Bridges 1 & 2 curve and soar above you, testament to the ingenuity of engineers. There’s a tranquil park below and here you’ll find a wonderful little museum that celebrates this legacy of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Inside, there are interactive exhibitions about the late King and the Bhumibol Bridges. It’s a well-thought-out space and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in the late King’s contribution to Bangkok’s development.
Sleepy, charming Bang Krachao
In tackling rising-water in the rainy season, the Lat Pho Canal has solved one problem and created another. Bang Krachao is now prime real estate! This green area is home to families who’ve lived here for generations. But with its location close to the centre of Bangkok, Bang Krachao has attracted developers, offering life-changing money to buy land from people who are mostly not well-off. This is why there’s a drive to promote tourism so that locals enjoy a steady income and keep their homes – while Bangkok keeps her lungs.
Bang Krachao is worth visiting. This sleepy-sanctuary feels a world away from Bangkok with its high-rise modernity, endless malls and concrete canyons. Life slips down a gear here: the sounds of the traffic are replaced by the chirping of birds, the buzzing of insects and occasionally, the chanting of monks from the local temples. If you visit the Nakon Si Khuean Khan Botanical Park there are lovely places to stroll and exercise.
Cyclists have long known the secrets of Bang Krachao and come here at weekends to enjoy traffic-free exploration and the increasingly popular Bang Nam Pueng Floating Market. Visitors can hire bikes for as little as 100 Baht a day and there are trails crossing the area past rustic shops where you can stop for refreshments or take in views of the river and watch massive oceangoing ships pass.
Locals are now encouraging visitors to stay longer than a few weekend hours. Families are offering canal excursions, nature tours and homestays – all the pleasures of an up-country break without the hassle of travel. A relaxing trip down the local waterways is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. You float past jungle-like undergrowth where wild limes and mangos grow.
The locals are friendly and you’ll always get a wave or greeting from householders and passers-by and there are children splashing around, playing in boats or fishing in the waterways – like the Thailand of yesteryear.
Evening food and fireflies
It’s worth turning a day trip to Bang Krachao into an overnight stay. This is traditionally a Mon district, and it’s possible to enjoy Mon food and displays of dancing. The friendly community seems far removed from Bangkok, even though the city’s high-rises twinkle and glint, just over the river.
But for a more natural night-time twinkling, take one of the local firefly tours. There are five different species in Bang Krachao – it’s an important breeding area for this fascinating creatures. On a late night excursion you may see them gathering and glowing in the treetops – a spectacle that Thais have enjoyed for centuries, and another reason why Bang Krachao needs to be preserved as a natural sanctuary in modern Bangkok.
One of the easiest ways to get to Bang Krachao is to take the MRT Subway to Klong Toey Station. From here, it’s just a short distance by taxi to Klong Toey Pier, which is by the temple called Wat Klong Toey Nok. The taxi will drop you in front of the temple, you’ll find the river pier at the back. Here boats are waiting to ferry people to Bang Krachao.
Boats drop passengers at Bang Krachao dock, where you can rent a bicycle or take a motorbike to the Bang Nam Pueng Floating Market.