Bangkok Thailand Travel Guide - Bangkok Downtown, Shopping Area, Airport, Riverside hotels accommodations

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Waterways of Bangkok Thailand

Bangkok's history has evolved along the banks of the Chao Phraya River and its adjoining canals. It may no longer be the "Venice of the East" described by early visitors, but the waterways still breathe life into the city. Winding its way through the heart of the city, the river continues to play an important part in daily life. Every day you see commuters, saffron robed monks and school children speeding by on fast river taxis, overtaking the heavily laden rice barges making their sedate journey upriver.

Chao Phraya River
The River of Kings - as King Rama I named it - is the lifeblood of Bangkok. And not just because of this rich history. Around 50,000 people still use its ferries to get to each day. Slow barges bearing cargo coast upstream. Kids still frolic in the russet-brown water. Wooden shacks, mottled by the elements, still lurch over the water. Soaring hotels and condominiums hem in solemn temples, churches and civic buildings that look 19th century European, while yards away the odd wooden sampan sells noodle soup or dried squid to hungry river workers. It is this juxtaposition of calm and chaotic, modern and traditional, religious and secular, ugly and sublime, foreign and indigenous that makes the Chao Phraya so evocative.

Khlongs (Canals)
In the late 19th century, a young Italian nobleman named Salvatore Besso stumbled across Bangkok's crisscrossing network of manmade canals, or khlongs.

The 'Venice of the East' nickname in fact predate Besso's scribblings by hundreds of years. However, though it is unclear when exactly the phrase was born, it is clear that no tourist guide since (book, person or website) has been able to resist this captivating cliche. Like Burma's 'Mandalay', it evokes the romance of the Orient, only Bangkok-style: of languid sampans drifting down tree-lined canals, of stoic locals living next to them in floating wooden shophouses, of city life before the advent of tuk-tuks and traffic jams.

Khlongs of Thonburi
Thonburi is the western part of Bangkok, and begins on the west banks of the Chao Phraya River. It was the capital of Thailand for a short time during the reign of King Taksin, after the ransacking of old capital Ayutthaya by the Burmese. However, in 1782 King Rama I moved the capital to the other side of the river, and called it Bangkok (Krungthep).

Khlong Saen Saeb (Saep)
These conjoined 20 metre-wide khlongs stretch east to west across the map of Bangkok. Khlong Mahanak was dug during the reign of King Rama I. It is not known exactly when construction began on Khlong Saen Saeb, an extension of Khlong Mahanak, but it is estimated to be shortly before 1837 on order of King Rama III. Thailand was at war with Vietnam and Cambodia and the provision of food, soldiers and weapons needed to be speeded up. Beginning in the Old City, near the Mahakhan Fortress at the end of Ratchadamnoen Road, combined they run all the way to Chachoengsao, where they end by flowing into the Bang Pa Kong River. Running parallel to Phetchaburi and New Phetchaburi road, they cut through central areas like Phayathai, Pratunam, Chitlom, Nana, Asok Road, Thonglor and Ekkamai, before turning up Ramkhamhaeng Road and on to Bangkapi.

Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem
The 5.5 kilometre long Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem is a moat marking the unofficial border for Bangkok's Old City, otherwise known as Rattanakosin. Digging began in 1851 during the reign of King Rama IV in response to the rapid expansion of the capital. It stretches in an arch from Chareon Krung Road, past Khlong Mahanak, before ending in the Chao Phraya River, near Rama VIII bridge.


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