Khlong Saen Saeb: A Tour of Bangkok’s Central Canal

By Mark Wiens 24 Comments
Boat Ferry on Khlong Saen Saeb
Boat Ferry on Khlong Saen Saeb

As giant skyrise glass and steel structures erect at alarming rates, there are still sections of town that remain how they used to be.

Though many canals have succumbed to fast paced city expansion, being filled in to make roadways as money demands, there are still a few gem worthy waterways that cut through Bangkok.

Khlong Saen Saeb (Saen Saep คลองแสนแสบ) is one of the more prominent canals that passes through the heart of the city.

The canal is one of Bangkok’s living arteries.

After numerous occasions of being ferried through the canal and observing the interesting inhabitants, dwellings and art work, I decided it was time to explore the region on foot.

One of my favorite things to do in Bangkok (or any city for that matter) is to just explore unique areas of town.

Once you’re along the canal, it’s like a whole new world of Bangkok, hidden from the roads and free of pedestrians (other than those living there).

If you have time, check out this short 1:41 video that I put together about the canal:

Khlong Saen Saep
Khlong Saen Saeb Canal, Bangkok, Thailand

Much of the canal, depending of course at what section you are walking, has a sidewalk along the edge. Sometimes junk or random debris fills the walkway and makes it impassable, but nevertheless it’s there.

Canals in Bangkok are known for their reeking stank.

It’s possible to smell many from long before approaching the edge of the water. Since the Khlong Saen Saeb is larger than many canals, the stagnant water is constantly stirred and the putrid smells of sewage are for the most part absent.

Homes along the Khlong Saen Saep canal
Homes along the Khlong Saen Saep canal

There is a real interesting mixture of homes that are scattered along the Khlong Saen Saeb. At points there are makeshift housing that are constructed of rusty tin, wooden planks and sheets of plastic.

Other homes are newly renovated – the kind of homes that are marked by reinforced wooden doors and air-conditions that constantly blast air so cold the windows fog up.

Khlong Saen Saep
Cluttered Walkway

At some points along the walk, there is just stuff – reminiscent of a vintage warehouse of peculiar odds and ends.

One could lay a t-shirt on top of the pile of junk that gets naturally weathered and pounded by the sun, and in a few weeks that same t-shirt would be worth a lot more money as a vintage item!

Some houses look like Kenyan style Jua Kali workshops, where anything can be made or fixed.

Koala Bear Lookout
Koala Bear Lookout

This little stuffed Koala Bear, though battered by the previous nights rain, looked to be holding it down and securing his territory!

Food Court along the Canal
Food Court along the Canal

The Bobae wholesale mall in Bangkok is located right along the Khlong Saen Saeb canal. This section begins to teem with life.

Stores open their doors as close to the canal as possible without falling in. Women cook on platforms that often hover directly over the water, and conveniently, they can just dump out their wok straight into the canal. Clients are able to dine canal-side on delicious Bangkok $1 Menu items.

Khlong Saen Saeb Canal, Bangkok, Thailand
Khlong Saen Saeb Canal, Bangkok, Thailand

At the end of the day, the Khlong Saen Saeb is a real community in Bangkok.

It’s an area that few choose to venture to, to pay any attention to, or to simply leisurely walk through and smile at its friendly inhabitants.

Boy Running into the Neighborhood
Boy Running into the Neighborhood

I walked through this neighborhood where a little boy ran from the train track into the walk-way of his small shanty town neighborhood, cornered between the Khlong Saen Saeb canal and the busy Bankok railroad track.

Public Boats along the Khlong Saen Saeb
Public Boats along the Khlong Saen Saeb

Boats slosh back and forth, creating a ruckus of waves as they zoom through bridges and hustle to pick up more customers.

Boat Ferry on Khlong Saen Saeb
Boat Ferry on Khlong Saen Saeb

Transportation on Khlong Saen Saeb

Though many of the small waterway canals have been filled up to make way for more productive roads, there are still many khlongs that exist in Bangkok.

A few of the larger khlongs are even still used for public boat transportation. Khlong Saen Saeb is one of the last remaining canals where the city of Bangkok offers affordable boat rides for around $0.30 per ride.

The service begins at Pangfa Pier near Banglamphu and goes all the way until The Mall Bangkapi.

View of Bangkok from the Khlong Saen Saeb
View of Bangkok from the Khlong Saen Saeb

Walking down the canal, and looking towards central Bangkok offers the amazing glimpse at more extreme contrasts of a developing city.

24 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Tran

    10 years ago

    Good stuff! Keep up the great work on posts like this one…….I enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to more.

  • Rajasthan Tours Operator

    10 years ago

    these pics are really so beautiful

  • Technosyncratic Travel Blog

    10 years ago

    I think canals are just the coolest. I was a little put off when you talked about how stinky this one is… but then the rest of it sounds awesome! We’ll likely be in Bangkok in a few months (maybe February or March), so I can’t wait to experience this firsthand.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Great! Yah, actually, this canal has some parts that are stinky, but because it’s large and flowing it doesn’t get as bad smelling as many. If you make it back to Bangkok, the canal makes a great place to walk around!

  • The Travel Chica

    10 years ago

    Great photos! I really like all of the shots of the people going about their day.

  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    10 years ago

    I also like exploring places that are not on the normal tourist track. This looks like one of the few places I would enjoy in the much too crowded Bangkok.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Cool Christy! I agree, Bangkok is sometimes way over crowded, but this canal makes a great relief to the continual chaos of people all around.

  • Cathy Sweeney

    10 years ago

    What a fascinating look at a side of Bangkok I haven’t seen before in pics or video. Despite the smells and junk on the sidewalks, I would like to experience a walk along the canals. Great photos and video!

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Thanks Cathy! If you make it back to Bangkok let me know!

  • Renee

    10 years ago

    You know the term ‘information overload”? These pictures remind me of that….there’s so much to take in and see…it would take a minute to process it. It is definitely colorful and lively, that’s for sure!

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Thanks Renee! The life that revolves around this canal in Bangkok really is packed with so much activity and a diversity of distinct people – definitely an information overload!

  • Ayngelina

    10 years ago

    I didn’t do any of this in Bangkok and now I am jealous. I need to find a way to visit because you know the city inside out.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Yes Ayngelina! Would be great if you came through to Bangkok at some point!

  • Laurel

    10 years ago

    I lived in Bangkok for a year and this canal was one of my favorite things in Bangkok, it’s just teaming with life and you never know what you’ll see.

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      That’s great to hear that you’ve also explored this canal Laurel – it really is so interesting all the time!

    • will mac

      8 years ago

      I really want to live on this canal but my thai friends think I’m mad, because of the smell – so I’m glad to see someone else likes it!

  • Grace

    10 years ago

    Looks like a fun alternative tour. Did not realize Bangkok has a central canal!

    • Mark Wiens

      10 years ago

      Hey Grace,
      It’s one of the main canals that runs through the heart of Bangkok – that’s why I call it one of the central canals of Bangkok – though I’m not sure if that’s official.