I first traveled to Thailand in 1973 as a buyer with Six Flags Amusement parks. I was just 23 and the world lay before my feet, or so I was brash enough to think! We all know when we are young we are invincible and nothing can stop us. I felt that way when I first went to Bangkok. I wanted to try and do everything that was laid out for us and I wouldn’t say no to any opportunity. When they asked us if we wanted to take a Khlong ride, I jumped at the chance. Mind you the structures were completely different back then and Bangkok wasn’t as notorious as it is today for their party atmosphere. It was just another SE Asia city except it had a wonderful allotment of canals, hence the nickname “Venice of the East”.
Forty years ago is a long time and I know that most of you doubt I can really remember that far back. I can and there are three things that stand out from my first visit to Bangkok. The first thing was the Golden Buddha and all of its beauty. It has since been relocated and yes we visited again on this trip. The second was a restaurant that is no longer in operation named Nick’s Number One. It reminded me of the movie Casablanca the way it was decorated. It had the best steaks in Bangkok. The third item was our Khlong ride in the canals with floating markets. Khlongs are the vessels used to navigate the canal system in Bangkok and they have changed a great deal. When I saw my first Khlong I just about turned around and headed for higher ground. You had to be kidding me. I was supposed to get into this thing?
Well they finally got me in and we ventured out running into Floating Markets everywhere and all kinds of vendors pulling up along side our Khlong, hawking various wares and foods. It was actually a wonderful experience and I soon lost all apprehensions about how tiny the boat was and how unstable it was. I decided to enjoy the ride. Today’s Khlongs have changed dramatically and do not resemble the “canoes” we rode in. They now are covered and can sit several people across like this one below.
The first thing one notices when they walk outside in Bangkok in August is the humidity. It surrounds and envelopes you like a platonic shroud. As I entered the street I was completely over taken by how much I perspired and it made me feel like I hadn’t just taken a shower! Riding in the Khlong was better, as the breeze caused by the boat’s movement helped provide a little coolness. We set out for the day and I was excited to see how much remained the same and how the canals had changed as I remembered them. One thing for sure is poverty never changes. There were issues back in the 70’s and there still are.
We saw these yellow boats on our journey around the canals and I had to inquire what they represented or what the deal was. It turns out the government is highly concerned about the appearance and tourism approach of the canals and has these boats gather the trash and weeds that exist in the canals. I think that is a great idea and should help the environment.
The canals serve as a method of circulating and balancing the tides as they roll in and out. At most entrances off of the Chao Phraya River there are gates similar to these to hold back flooding in the canals. When a typhoon or storm approaches they are closed and efforts are made to protect the people who live on the canals. It works sometimes and sometimes the forces of nature are just too strong.
One never grows tired of the ornate structures that exist along the canals and are used for worship by the local population. I am always intrigued and cannot get enough of the Thai Temple construction. They are both beautiful and magical in my opinion. One has to appreciate the fact that 95% of the people practice Theravada Buddhism and are a very reverent society. Not once did I see any of our representatives pass a Temple without offering a sign of respect, by clasping their hands together and bowing towards the structures. I am impressed with the strength of their religion and how they treat the shrines with appropriate honor.
What I did not expect or remember was the plethora of Monitor Lizards that abound in the canals. We were told that sightings are extremely rare and group gatherings are almost impossible to view. We saw this one swimming in the water and it was a little too close for the comfort of yours truly. We then saw a group of five sunning on the banks and our guide stated that the Thai people considered this a very lucky event. Who knows maybe I will win the lottery!
As we turned a corner and came upon the dock I thought I saw another Monitor Lizard sunning himself. My photo may not do it justice, but it seemed to be about 150 to 175 pounds and more than likely could eat any dog, cat, rodent or small child that got in its way. It was damn scary!
Just when I thought I had seen everything we came upon this. I was flabbergasted that they actually used street signs and had names for the different canals. I guess it would help if you really didn’t know your way around, if by some chance you had your own vessel. Really caught me off guard and I found it humorous to an extent.
As we came to an intersection in the canals I noticed this boat docked beside the canal. I am not sure what it is used for or how they would even get it through some of the narrow areas, but it caught my eye and I thought I should share.
As we ventured down one canal we came upon this beautiful wood house and I asked our wonderful guide Sammy what type of wood it was. He stated Teak. I am not sure if I have ever seen this amount of Teak and he told me it had to cost a fortune, but would last a substantial amount of time. I believe it!
Right before we disembarked at our cooking class we came upon this group of school children honoring Loy Katrong, a Thai festival celebrated annually.
There could be no better way to end our Khlong ride than seeing the smiling faces of these children. They were genuine smiles and they all waved and expressed their joy at seeing us on the canal.
I have a confession to make. For forty years of my life I have always thought that the boats that traveled the canal systems in Bangkok, were named Khlongs, as they were called Khlong boats in 1973 when I first visited. This trip I learned that in reality a Khlong is the Thai word for the canal and not the boat. So the literal translation from that trip is “Canal boats”. I guess its true that one learns something new everyday. It was definitely a “Duh” moment!
*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always generated without any influence.