On your way through Bangkok, you might be thinking its a rather messy city, with tangles of cables, tight squeezes, and dirty canals. But there’s more than meets the eye.
The tangles of cables:
Microsoft founder Bill Gates once got on social media to say that they were a sign of “energy poverty”, and evidence of people stealing electricity from the grid. But thats not true. Rather private utilities companies hire the poles from the metropolitan or provincial electricity authorities, and their competing interests mean that they tend not to coordinate and share cables like in other countries.
It may look dangerous, but most are just telephone and internet wires with very low voltages. The higher voltage wires are placed higher up, in relative safety. They can become dangerous when vehicles collide with them, and the weight of all the cables can drag down multiple poles.
Most Thai people are willing to shrug it off the unsightly appearance as a necessary price for modern amenities.
The tight squeezes:
One of the few points for which the Thai rail system is famous is the precious little space left between the passing trains and the structures on either side. Space is short in Bangkok. The railway tracks are built on public land, so its up to the Thai authorities to tell people to vacate it. But I guess they don’t have the heart to do so, and the only convincing argument is made by a moving train.
In Maeklong – a town to the southwest of Bangkok – locals have a regular wet market where fresh fruit and vegetables are actually laid over the train tracks. When the train’s horn blows, awnings are withdrawn, produce is shifted, people disperse, before a slow-moving train pushes through a still space that was a briefly before a heaving mass of activity.
The stinky canals:
Bangkok was once referred to as “the Venice of the East” due to its sprawling network of “Klong”. They still serve a vital function for Bangkok for sewage disposal, transport, and flood mitigation.
The Klong Saen Saep, which we cross just outside of Hua Lumphong Station, was built by King Rama the 3rd in 1837 to transport soldiers during a conflict between Siam and Annam over Cambodia. It connects the Chao Phraya river to the Prachin Buri and Chachaoengsao rivers. The portion of the canal you should be able to see has an express boat service that cuts through and churns rather dodgy smelling water today, but its interesting to note that it was once so abundant with lotus flowers that King Mongkut built the Lotus Pond Palace on its banks.
Take a real klong ferry in Bangkok: No trip to Bangkok is complete without a canal boat ride. But avoid those people offering to take you to a water market – you will see no such thing. Rather, do as the locals do and take a canal ferry ride! It will cost you less than a dollar, and you will see just as much of Bangkok, as well as a more authentic slice of modern Bangkok life.
Don’t put your hand out the window: In the train stations, you might like to keep an eye out for the rather gruesome painted scenes of what happens to people who do.