The Big C Ploenchit and the Bayoke tower are separated by the Saen Saep khlong – one of many man-made water channels in Bangkok. As I am not a big shopper for clothes or anything else, I usually don’t venture out into this part of town. Although, I have to admit, I did look at an apartment overlooking the murky waters of Saen Saep before I found my sanctuary at the river. However, I as well as my family seem to have a special connection to water as we are drawn to it as bees are to nectar.
Saen Saep khlong is more interesting than the Khlong San right next to my building in Thon Buri on the other side of town, because it has a regular boat / ferry service and it is wide enough that small commercial boats can run up and down the channel. For a mere 19 baht (roughly 60 cents), we purchased tickets that took us all the way to the end of the route to Wat Sri Bunruang.
The journey lasts about 40 minutes and takes you past some of the places I regularly go to and never knew that they were also accessible by boat. One is a stop close to the dojo on Sukhumvit 39 and another is a stop right in front of the university in Ramkhamhaeng where we recently had a seminar with high-level Japanese masters. The latter is special to me as I tested for the next level and I have never trained on the eleventh floor of a building before.
Anyway, back to the boat ride. It was loud – incredibly loud –, it stank, it was crowded, and one had to try to avoid the splashes of water coming over the sides, as the khlong water is probably poisonous and makes you sick if you come in contact with it. The ferries seem to be powerful, but probably add to the pollution of the already dreadfully dirty water and the engines sit in the middle of the boats like beasts making conversation impossible. To get away from the noise and the heat of the engine, one would have to get closer to the sides of the boat where the black water occasionally sprays the passengers when the captain hits a vicious wave.
The quality of the water is even worse than at the river. On good days you see the fish jump in the river – on bad days, its smell attacks you like a dangerous snake. But in the Khlong – I am not sure that there are any good days… It is sad and difficult to understand that seemingly nothing is being done about it. Along the shore there are houses, buildings, factories, schools, playgrounds – it is densely populated and yet in their middle is this body of water that seems to make you sick just by looking at it too long.
It is almost unbelievable that this still exists in modern Bangkok. Compared to 10, 15 years ago, the quality of the air has been substantially improved, the river has been cleaned (although there is still a lot of work to be done), etc., but the khlongs seem to be continue to be the garbage dumps of the neighborhoods and the source of many ailments.
The purpose of the journey was not to complain about the water quality, air pollution or other disturbances. We just wanted to see where the ferry goes and learn about a new part of Bangkok. The Khlong has walkways almost all along the way. Some parts are decorated with potted flowers and look well kept whereas other parts seem to disintegrate and fall apart. At each station – there are 19 to reach the final one – there are smaller ferryboats to take passengers from one side of the Khlong to the other. Further up the river or rather towards the northeast of the city we came past a number of mosques as well as a large number of temples.
The last stop is Wat Sri Bunruang that houses many Buddha statues and a range of animals including cows and bulls.
In this part of the city, the people aren’t very used to seeing Westerners and hardly anyone speaks English. People are super friendly and curious of what we might want to see in their neighborhood.
After a stroll around the temple and the neighborhood, we caught the ferry back to Pratunam station near Ploenchit – or back to modern Bangkok.
And all in all: an amazing experience of “the way the other half lives”. According to some friends, this is the regular way of public transportation for many Bangkonians to go to work or meet with people.
For now our curiosity about Saen Saep Khlong is satisfied, however, there is the other final station at the other end. It also leads to the question of how many other waterways are there to explore in this amazing city?