Skip the crowds one afternoon at the colossal lustrous reclining Temple of the Reclining Buddha, known as Wat Pho, and instead our guide will reserve a long tail boat for the sizzling afternoon. Why stand in line with other weary travelers, take to the river in local style, go back to the Buddha at opening hour, make a donation, light incense, lay a beautiful lotus blossom at the feet of a deity and say a quiet prayer.
Gleaming Golden Buddha Wat Pho Golden 46 meter long figure
For me, an afternoon on water is very pleasant and in Bangkok, an exceptional method of seeing how local people spend their days. A Rua hang yao is a long wooden boat powered by an enormous exposed truck engine, navigated by the driver with a long tiller, which also acts as the throttle. Quiet they are not, and the diesel engines can be a bit smelly, however, they are powerful wave hoppers and seem to turn on a dime in the narrow canals or khlongs of Bangkok. An entirely different world is moments away from the hustle bustle din of this clamoring, never quiet city. They are the tuk tuks of the river, a tourist draw, but also an essential transportation vehicle.
Each long tail boat is handmade, these days with nails, and the techniques have been passed down from father to son. Each captain paints their boat with personal colors and designs, intended to message the water spirits and gods, thus the bows are also decorated. Colored silks, banners and strings of colorful flowers draped on the bow pay respect to Buddha, it’s a sacred temple area of each boat.
Long Tail Boat Bangkok[
Today, long tail boats can be found on Thai waterways utilized as small ferries moving local people about their destinations, floating markets brimming with quick snacks, beads and everyday grocery supplies. Amazingly able to navigate shallow bays and creeks and passageways that appear to lead off to a thicket of deep green jungle. A narrow profile and slight draft allow these Venice of the East boats to ply quiet residential canals.
Crawl in, sit low on a wooden plank in the bottom of the boat, a flat cushion to soften the ride, an overhead canopy will provide shade. Did you love the African Queen? Different boat styles, but the atmosphere may remind you of their adventure; as far as I know, no leeches in the water. Languidly or speedily propel through jungle like communities, timeworn wooden homes listing off the river banks, their porches sometimes dangling in the water. Many newer homes have been built farther off the river banks. Imagine timber homes inhabited for generations, their storage and laundry exposed to all who pass by, every other home has an elaborate elevated temple built for the deity.
Wednesday was bathing day apparently, as I witnessed many locals shampooing in the river, washing clothes and even a few fishermen with dropped lines and kids cooling off in the December heat.
Khlong Tour on Long Tail Boat Bangkok
My favorite riverside spot was an oversize dock governed by an elderly woman selling loaves of bread to feed fish. Whiling away her day, earning a few dollars with her biscuit bread. Everyone journeyed to her dock to buy bread, who wouldn’t indulge an old woman selling bread? And the fish who jumped for crumbs were gigantic, well feed and apparently never full!
A Small Portuguese community, the Kudichin neighborhood can be explored, the brick clad dome of the Church of Santa Cruz alerts you to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, a rare Catholic Church in this Buddhist country. The narrow paths lead past small in-home restaurants, ladies on their tiny terraces cooking deep fried cookies outside – space is at a premium and many of these homes lack air conditioning – we were offered samples of home cooking as we meandered through the old neighborhood. A local woman started a museum in a family members home, the Baan Kudichin Museum, sharing local history of the neighborhood. The number of visitors inspired her to add a small café where she serves local Thai desserts, from family recipes. Small general stores line long piers, one might not have to venture off the canals into the hectic Bangkok streets.
[ The dock owned by the Old Woman selling Bread
[ My favorite – an old woman on her dock selling loaves of bread to feed the fish.
One particular charming stop is the Royal Thai Barge Museum, worth your time. Photos weren’t allowed, stroll the long interior docks and enjoy an up-close look at ancient gilded royal barges, ornate ships exemplifying Thai art and craftsmanship.
All in all, a slice of ancient and current Thai life – canals edge the city but are rarely seen by most tourists. Time seems to have stood still in the peaceful quiet canal community, even though in some of the river bends, gleaming skyscrapers, remind you of the humming city.