An independent province until it was merged with Bangkok in 1972, Thonburi – the old capital located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River – has largely escaped the modern development.
Its Khlongs network, including Bangkok Noi Khlong and Mon Khlong retains much of its old-world charm.
It is a real discovery of the art of living in Bangkok – of its huts on stilts and its old wooden houses – all at the leisurely pace of a boat sailing through the maze of canals.
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 neighbours 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.
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.
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