In the heart of bustling Bangkok, long heavily laden cargo barges pulled by tug-boats chug slowly upriver. Speedy water taxies and long tail boats zip across the river from dock to dock. Every day, jam-packed ferries transport thousands of passengers including school children, commuters, monks, visitors, and families. The strong tide is evident from the islands of green water hyacinth floating up and downstream. In small canals (“khlongs”) that break off from the main river body, a less-hurried way of life exists, reflecting a more traditional Siam. It is in these streams where you are likely to see floating kitchens overflowing with an abundance of snacks and goodies, laundry lines hung over the water to dry in the sun, and children bathing on the banks of the River.

Along the river we can see people of different races who have different religious beliefs an cultural background living together in peace. The buddhist temples, Christian churches, Muslim mosques and other spirit shrines standing right next to each other are a testimony to this.

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The Chao Phraya river is formed by four major tributaries; the Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan Rivers, which flow for 379 kilometres through the central pain of Thailand- from the northern watershed of Thailand to its end at the Gulf of Siam. While the waterways in Bangkok are known for their littered appearance, these canals are more than a way of life for some, as they have a deep and important history for Thailand.

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The intricate system of canals became the most important trade routes for people and they formed an important communication system that brought about social integration and prosperity to the kingdom.

For example, the river helped the city of Ayutthaya become an international trading hub and allowed the country to start to build relationships with other merchants from around the world. The greatest amount of trade was with China but other merchants ventured to the Kingdom from as far as Spain, the Netherlands, and France.

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The journey from the sea to Ayutthaya took a few days to complete, and so canals were created in the 16th century to ensure a speedier voyage for foreign merchants. The city was split into a few main canals- Taling Chan, Bangkok Noi, Bangkok Yai, and Bang Ramat- and eventually earned the nickname Venice of the East. After the Burmese destroyed and burned the city of Ayutthaya to the ground in the 18th century, canals were built as a means of protection.

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The canals became the major form of transportation in the 19th century. Though many of them remain in the capital today, most were filled to make way for Bangkok’s ever-expanding urban landscapes. Despite this, two main and historical canals- Khlong Saen Saeb and Khlong Phasing Krung Kasem- are still found in the city today. Thonburi, an area located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, is one area where waterways continue to be one of the best ways to explore the district.