longtail boat klong tour anantara riverside hotel chao phraya river skelly

Bangkok stopover | take me to the river | klongs on song

Brainy and cheeky. Witty and inventive. Always smoking hot.

A longtail boat ride along the canals of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River is a reward for the culturally curious

The experience travellers have in Bangkok is very much determined by where they stay. Sky bars, glitzy malls, floating markets, royal palaces, ornate temples, sitting or reclining buddhas, award-winning restaurants – chances are you’ll go places where you can maximise your time off, and most easily navigate the throngs.

anantara riverside bangkok chao phraya river canal skelly

Anantara Riverside, making the most of its location

At Anantara Riverside Bangkok, on the west side of the Chao Phraya River, where Excess All Areas checked in recently (a 15-minute boat shuttle away from the Saphan Taksin Skytrain stop), it’s hard to motivate yourself to get out and about at all – thanks to what’s in-house … the glamorous swimming pool and jacuzzi, tennis court, muay thai kickboxing lessons, lily ponds, bliss-bomb massages in the Spa, cooking classes, and the front row seat to the River of Kings, cocktail in hand. Not to mention the time-consuming shops dedicated to both hand-painted elephants and chocolate.

painted elephants numero uno cafe anantara riverside bangkok skelly

Elephants, they’re everywhere: as art, gifts, sculptures, sentinels


However, the presence of a hotel “Klong Guru” piqued our interest. Thailand’s 372 km long Chao Phraya River has a maze of connecting canals, known as “klongs”. Our “guru”, once a buddhist monk, with insider knowledge and a certain amount of bravado, led the way.

Heading off in a traditional longtail boat, with its trademark long propeller shaft powered by an old truck engine, our party of five embarked on a four-and-a-half-hour cultural reconnaissance.

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After waiting for the lock to open, Klong Dao Kanang and Klong Bang Khun Tien are an introduction to the unique way Thailand marries celebration with near collapse. The proliferation of corrugated iron plays into a kind of scavenger chic, a scramble lifestyle where any piece of junk just might have a value, in amongst a bounty of bananas, jack fruit, mangoes and butterflies.

corner store riverside chao phraya river bangkok skelly

A “corner shop” on the canals of the Chao Phraya River

Little boats appear from nowhere to offer coconuts ready to have their heads lopped off, and ice creams. Or you can berth at the river’s version of the corner store for provisions, souvenirs or a cooling soft drink.

Fish leap from the water for the high-top loaves sold especially to feed them. A brisk trade in what looks like multicoloured polystyrene fish food for tourists has itself become a livelihood along the waterways.

For all that, industry thrives, producing and packaging fish sauce, tofu, sea salt and lychees.

beef noodles chao phraya river klong bang khun thian bangkok skelly

Takeaway beef noodle soup, with fish balls, cooked to order

Our excursion is a heady brew of ornate temples, monasteries and gilded palaces. We dock at Bang Khun Thian for a spicy beef noodle soup fresh from the market boat.

Wat Rajorasaram, beside Klong Dan, is one of Bangkok’s most beautiful temples. A monastery and Royal Temple for King Rama III, it’s famous for its harmonious Chinese-Thai architecture and its sitting and reclining buddhas (the latter a smaller version of the famous one at Wat Pho).

Wat Paknum Bhasicharoen on the River Bang Luang is a 23,000 square metre temple complex, whose  Buddha is in the process of being replaced. The new one, which was due to be completed in 2018, but was still under construction when we visited, will be 69 metres high and made of bronze.

green glass pagoda wat paknum temple chao phraya river bangkok skelly

The green Glass Pagoda at the centre of its universe

One of this temple’s main attractions is the white Maharatchamongkhon stupa, built at a cost of 500 million baht (A$22m). It contains an intriguing museum that includes vintage cars, and on its top floor is a glittering green Glass Pagoda and a ceiling depicting Buddhist cosmology.

Near the Artist’s House on the Klong Bang Luang is a collection of little local eateries, some with tables for just two people. That doesn’t stop the chef serving up a raft of the daily specials – whether pad thai, chicken broth, spicy prawn omelette or thick white noodles.

artist studio artists house klong bang luang chao phraya river bangkok skelly

Room with a view: the Artist’s House on Klong Bang Luang

The Artist’s House is a restored centuries-old house turned gallery and is studio to various local artists. Wander through, climb narrow stairs to see the artwork, experience a traditional puppet show if the timing’s right, try your hand at painting Thai-style, buy some postcards or prints, feed the fish, gaze at the homes along the river opposite and at Thai waterbabies frolicking in the murk, oblivious to water monitors as big as small dragons.

INTEL: A Klong Guru Tour costs  THB5,500 ($A242) for one, a group of 2-6 people THB3,000 ($A132) per person. For more information: Anantara Riverside Bangkok, 257/1-3 Charoennakorn Road, Thonburi, Bangkok; +66 (02) 2475 0022; bangkokriverside@anantara.com

Photos Susan Skelly


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.