San Sap Canal and Khao San Road

Today’s travels took me along one of Bangkok’s waterways and into Thailand’s ‘backpacker central’, on another rainy Bangkok day.

I’d intended to make this journey yesterday, but it rained heavily. So heavily, in fact, that it turned the soi (side-street) next to where I am staying into a small canal and caused me to postpone my plans.

It was cloudy and overcast this morning, as I walked along Soi 15 to the Nana Chard pier to catch one of the water taxis that ply the San Sap Canal, also known as Khlong Saen Saeb. The canal generally runs west to east across Bangkok from Phan Fa Leelard at the western end (near the Golden Mount) to beyond the Bangkapi Mall. The boats that ply this stretch of water offer the least expensive mode of transportation in Bangkok (except for walking). The full length of the route can be traveled for only 20 Baht (about 62 cents). As a result, it is very popular with local commuters but also sees some tourist traffic.

Looking west along the San Sap Canal from Nana Chard Pier
Looking east from Nana Chard Pier
Chart at the pier, showing fares ranging from 10-20 baht

To use the canal boats, you simply wait at one of the piers for a boat to come along. Be sure to know which direction you are heading, as boats going in both directions stop at the piers. Each boat has a driver and two helmeted crew members who secure the boat to the pier for boarding, as well as collecting fares and issuing tickets. The boat doesn’t stop for long at each pier so, as soon as it is close enough, grab onto the rope that runs the length of the boat and quickly board and find a seat. The crew members will approach you once the boat is underway to collect your fare. Just tell them which pier you are heading to and hand over cash. You’ll get a small ticket in exchange.

A boat taxi approaches Nana Chard Pier
Standing room only on this boat

Whilst I was waiting at the Nana Chard Pier, the rain started and would last for a few hours. I boarded an eastbound boat and rode it to the Bangkapi Pier – the penultimate stop for the eastbound route. At that point, I got off the boat and waited a couple of minutes for a boat heading west. I then rode west all the way to Phan Fa Leelard, although all passengers have to transfer to a smaller boat at the Pratinum Pier (the existing ticket is valid on the transfer boat). Due to the rain, passengers ensured that the side curtains on the boat were raised to keep the water out, so there wasn’t much to see. But it was enjoyable to watch the commuters jumping on and off the boat – it isn’t for the faint-hearted!

Here are a couple video clips showing the docking process for boarding of passengers:

Almost full on the boat heading west
End of the line – Phan Fa Leelard Pier

Fortune smiled on me as we reached the Phan Fa Leelard Pier, as the rain eased up to a trickle. I was able to walk from the pier to Khao San Road without getting wet, passing the Democracy Monument along the way.

Democracy Monument
A vendor puts fruit on this tree to feed the squirrel

Khao San Road has been described as “the centre of the backpacking universe”in the book ‘The Beach’. It certainly seems to be a magnet to backpackers in Bangkok, who seem drawn to the mix of bars, restaurants, tattoo shops, market stalls and other tourist traps that are crammed into this short street and its immediate surroundings. As soon as I reached the periphery of Khao San Road, I was greeted by in-your-face advertising for a 24-hour Burger King, with KFC being just around the corner and McDonalds also having a presence. They screamed ‘come to Thailand and eat American junk food.’

24-hour junk food!
Colonel Sanders grins over Khao San Road
And Ronald McDonald peeks out from behind a street food vendor

With bright signage trying to capture your attention from above, at street level you can’t walk more than a couple of minutes without someone touting their wares or services. With tailors trying to sell suits, tuk-tuk drivers trying to sell tours, bar staff trying to get you to drink at their bar, massage girls calling out ‘massage, massage’, and wandering vendors trying to sell you tourist junk, this is not a place where you can walk in peace!

Advertising signs compete for space and attention
Signs above and touts at ground level

Giving the junk-food vendors a wide berth, I settled on a street food vendor on an adjoining street where I ate some Massaman curry and rice for 50 baht ($1.50) and got a watermelon smoothie for 30 baht. But whilst I was eating, the rain began to pour again. At least I was under cover!

Lunch time at a street food vendor
Massaman (chicken) curry with rice
Waiting for the rain to stop

Video clip below of the rain shower

After standing for a few minutes watching the rain, I realised that there were better places that I could sit and watch rain – such as a bar! So I headed back to Khao San Road where I found a bar where I could ‘sit and rest’. I soon had a large bottle of Chang in front of me and then I saw a vendor hawking scorpions on a stick. Haven’t had scorpion before, so yes please! The vendor first asked for 200 baht for a single scorpion. I managed to haggle him down to 80 baht (about $2.50), which was more than I paid for my lunch!

Tray full of scorpion snacks


A bottle of Chang and a scorpion

And so, for your viewing pleasure, here I am eating the scorpion (clip below):

After my beer and scorpion, I wandered around the area whilst trying to stay out of the rain showers. Close to the Phra Sumen Fort, I spotted a small barber shop with one customer in the chair and nobody waiting, so I popped in for a haircut, a shave and an ear cleaning! The hair-cut came first and then the shave. I know that my eyes were closing during the shave and I’m pretty sure that I fell asleep whilst he was cleaning out my ears! I realised that it was probably time to head back to the condo. The cost was 100 baht each for the haircut and shave and an extra 70 baht for the ‘ear pick and clean’, for a total of 270 baht ($10, once the tip was included).

Phra Sumen Fort, built in 1783 to defend against naval attacks
Barber shop
Barber’s price list
With my new haircut and shave

I walked back through Khao San Road and re-traced my route to the Phan Fa Leelard Pier where I got the water taxi back to Nana for 12 baht (about 37 cents). Fortunately, the rain had stopped by then. I took a couple of video clips showing the shacks and homes that line the canal (below):

Today marks two weeks since I arrived in Bangkok (feels longer). Whilst it has rained on occasion over that period, yesterday and today were the first days where the rain actually interfered with my activities. I note that the forecast calls for thunderstorms every day through to Sunday, but I’m hoping that we get back to short occasional rain!

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