Thursday, March 13, 2008
Yet similar in Singapore, as a city develops, the rivers and canals lose its importance in comparison to trains and cars and airplanes. Bangkok, “Venice of the East” could benefit with the renaissance of klongs in the city, recreational spaces could be created along the Chao Phraya and klongs to bring life to the city, like Clark Quay in Singapore, Shanghai Bund in China and The Han River in Seoul.
There are 2 main public spaces in Phra Pradaeng. Both of them are beside klongs. One of them is the Sri Nakhan Khuean Khan. It is a landscaped park with lakes gouged out from klongs. Villagers can rent boats to row and bicycles to cycle. Yet, I felt it stood in stark contrast to the rustic landscapes and makes me wonder whether people really needed these facilities when rowing and cycling are part of their daily life.
The weekend market beside the park is the main commercial area, featuring food stalls on boats. Right in between the market is a clearing where villagers are entertained by performers and aspiring villages. The roads, walkways and canals surround this public space allowing people from villages to converge, communicate and commerce.To save space, hawkers move their stalls on the river banks onto small boats floating on the klongs. From the tiny boat, 2 people prepare bowls of steaming hot beef noodles. These bowls are then passed to a helper who will then serve the customers.
Another interesting aspect of Phra Pradaeng is the elevated concrete walkway. It is about 1m wide and at least elevated 1m from the soft soil and klong. This protects the natural habitat and demarcate a route that links up the villages and plantations.
The houses further inland are also built on stilts and elevated one storey high. This method of building originated in Ayutthayu era as a precaution against floods during monsoon seasons. Both old and new houses follow traditional Thai construction. For example, porches to reduce temperatures in the main house and big eaves to provide shading and shelter.
Opposite the shores of Khlong Toey is the rustic Phra Pradaeng. It’s a peninsula connected to Thonburi but most Thais, my guide said, calls it an island. It is nicknamed the lungs of Bangkok because of its greenery and pristine mangroves.
Most of the villages in Pradaeng are situated along Chao Phraya and the main canals. Resembling kelongs, the houses on the river are built on stilts and fishermen built enclosures to rear freshwater fishes.
While information I gathered from the Internet and books (e.g. Bangkok Inside Out) seemed to suggest Klong Toey as a sleazy shanty town that Bangkok seemed to have forgotten. Life there, I observed, is peaceful. The lack of basic recreational facilities had made the klong a hangout point of some sort.
While the Talaat represents development, the Salam community remains backwards. It is situated between the Chalerm Mahanakhon Expressway and the port. The name “Salam” is derived from “Slum”. Its residents are improvised fisherman and laborers living in dilapidated corrugated zinc huts.
Most of the community houses are built by the mouth of the klong in messy and dense clusters. Much of their daily lives revolves around the river, where boys play, mothers prepare food and men fish. Because of its prevalent use, the klong remains pristine and stood in contrast to the huts on the banks.
In the Talaat, there are both indoor and outdoor markets, yet the latter is more popular. In the open, where it is well lit, it is easy to determine goods freshness. The pathway between stalls are much wider, allowing more human traffic and less feeling of being enclosed, making marketing more enjoyable.
Displayed goods are pushed beyond the boundaries of the stall, visitors are often confronted by a myriad of seafood, poultry, meat and beyond. The sights, stench and sounds made Klong Toey Talaat an unforgettable experience. The vitality and vibrancy of the place is an eye opener and is rarely seen locally.
Like other areas situated near the Metro, Klong Toey Talaat enjoys a relative higher level of development with modern commercial buildings and residence. It is also the site for Bangkok’s largest wet market. It stretches across 3 streets with sections for cooked food, household, vegetable and meat.
To understand the relevance of the klongs in modern Bangkok, it is necessary to see how locals in different parts of Bangkok relate to the canals in daily lives. 3 areas in Klong Toey are selected: The marketplace, The slum and The fishing village. They represented 3 different environments in Bangkok.
Yet despite the stench, Klong San Seb recently started a River Taxi service. The River Taxi is promoted as a cheaper alternative to BTS, Metro and Taxi.
Rates for taxi :B35 onwards
Rates for BTS and Metro: B15-B55
Rates for River Taxi: B7-B8
While the bus remains the most popular choice because of its affordability, there is a lack of seats and buses arrive irregularly during the evening peak hour. Hence, more people are taking the river taxi as an alternative.
Several of the old klongs are filled over to make roads and buildings during the early 20th century. In newly developed areas like Silom, several klongs such as Klong Hualampong and Klong Silom have disappeared. These paved streets are susceptible to floods during monsoon season, aggravating the bad traffic situation.
Other klongs in the city are covered up while most become dumping grounds. Near our hotel, hawkers at Pratunum market conveniently unload their litter into Klong San Seb beside their stalls, making it foul smelling and unsightly.
Historically, Bangkok people depended on their rivers and canals. Like other great cities, Bangkok was built around its main river, the Chao Phraya. The canals or klongs enabled people to live further inland yet remained connected to other districts by boat.