Thonburi to the west is less built up with far fewer tall buildings, and it still boasts huge swathes of undeveloped land festooned with palms, banana plants and other verdant vegetation, all of which are dissected by its myriad klongs. It was the capital of Siam from 1768 to 1782 before it was relocated across the river.
Life on the west side has a different feel to it than that in downtown Bangkok, the area is less developed and the canals feature prominently in the everyday lives of many inhabitants: hawkers ply their trade selling goods, kway teow rice noodles, grilled squid and other wares from their smaller boats, children swim around the piers, and groups of men fish along the banks and under bridges.
Klong or canal tours on longtail boats provide one of the best ways of exploring that part of the city. The tours are about much more than providing a window into some imagined past, they instead offer a warts-and-all view of some of the lesser known parts of one of the most dynamic cities in Asia.
Many parts are less than beautiful – there are long stretches of scrubland, barriers walling off new housing developments, and dilapidated wooden buildings that will eventually disappear into the water — but these sections are interspersed by verdant jungle, fruit plantations, centuries-old temples, many markets and ample wildlife: ranging from egrets, myna birds and heron to 1.5-metre monitor lizards which swim in the waters.
On the klong tour before the longtail boat bears west along a canal into Thonburi, we spent a good ten to fifteen minutes heading south down the Chaophraya, bouncing past industrial works, drydocks, luxury apartments, international schools and temples. On the river itself, longtail boats zip across from one side to the other, river taxis carry scores of commuters to and from work and tugs tow monolithic barges weighed down with huge consignments of sand, rice and other commodities upriver. It’s wonderful just sitting back and watching this cinematic cityscape pass by.