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DAY 2: BANGKOK

 
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BACKWATER CANALS & A SILK MERCHANT’S HOUSE

You’ll still be recovering from your long-haul flight today, so take it easy this morning with a putter along the canals (or khlongs) of THONBURI on a long-tail boat. The trip offers a very different side to BANGKOK life – and some refreshing river breezes to boot. You can organise a half-day tour through your hotel, though these generally have fixed departure times and are more expensive than the trips that leave regularly from Tha Chang, the pier near the Grand Palace. Mitchaopaya Travel Service (they’re on the right as you face the Grand Palace, at the river end of the pier) are a very reliable operator; quoted prices for their LONG-TAIL BOAT TRIPS are ฿900 per person (children are free) for 1 hour 30min, but you can probably barter them down to around ฿1350 for the boat.

Once across the Chao Phraya river, you’ll dip down a side canal and will soon be lost amongst the tranquil waterways, chugging past stilt houses and low-key temples and vendors selling neatly presented piles of exotic fruit from their dugout canoes. At a couple of points along the way, huge catfish gather in the murky shallows, waiting for handouts (฿20 for a bag of bread). If you’re here at the weekend, you’ll have the option of visiting TALING CHAN FLOATING MARKET; otherwise, there’s enough time in the hour-and-half tour to make a stop at either Wat Arun or the Royal Barge Museum. Covered in broken porcelain, to startling effect, WAT ARUN [daily 8am–5.30pm | ฿50, children under 120cm free] is many people’s favourite wat in Bangkok, and you can climb the steep steps of its central prang (tower) for views over the Chao Praya. With Bangkok’s Big Two temples on the agenda tomorrow, you may prefer to opt for the ROYAL BARGES MUSEUM [daily 9am–5pm | ฿100, children free; ฿100 for photography permit] instead; the elaborately decorated boats here, some of them up to 50m long, are used every few years to carry the King of Thailand down the river in a prestigious procession.

After lunch, take a tuk-tuk to Tha Phan Fa pier – buzzing through the traffic in one of these ubiquitous three-wheeled vehicles is a great experience and something you should try at least once whilst you’re in Bangkok, but make sure you agree on the fare beforehand. The pier is behind the 7-11 on Soi Damrong Rak and is the starting point for the journey along the narrow KHLONG SAEN SAEP CANAL to the Jim Thompson House [express boats depart every 20 minutes from 5.30am to 8.30pm, Sat & Sun till 7pm | ฿10]; get off at Tha Saphan Hua Chang (4 stops along), then follow signs along the canal path for about 200m.

THE JIM THOMPSON HOUSE [daily 9am–7pm, last tour at 6pm; ฿150, under-22s ฿100, under-9s free; entry fee includes 35min compulsory guided tour] is the beautiful former home of the American entrepreneur who pretty much singlehandedly saved Thailand's silk industry in the 1950s. The kids might be fading a bit by now, so this is a pleasant, low-key way to spend the afternoon, away from Bangkok’s bustle. Tours offer a rare chance to see inside a traditional Thai residence, albeit one stuffed with rare Thai art and antiques, though children will probably appreciate the stories about the house and the man himself more – Thompson’s disappearance in Malaysia in 1967 is still clouded in mystery, thanks largely to his past life as a CIA operative. You can bookend your tour with silk demonstrations in the peaceful tropical gardens and a bite to eat in the restaurant that overlooks a turtle-filled pond. Afterwards, a free shuttle will run you to the BTS National Stadium Station, a short walk up the road.


TOP TIP The most exciting way of getting around Bangkok is on one of the EXPRESS BOATS that run up and down the Chao Praya. The river is buzzing and busy, and you’ll see long tails and water taxis ferrying passengers between the piers, and tugs and cargo boats stacked high with rice and other goods. Express boats carrying an orange flag are the most useful, calling at Tha Chang (for the Grand Palace), Tha Thien (for Wat Pho and the cross-river ferry to Wat Arun) and Central (for the BTS Skytrain); services run from 6am to 7pm and cost just ฿15.





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