The Story Of Thailand Water Transport

Thailand Water Transport


Thailand Water Transport, Thailand has a wide range of watercraft, with boats of many sizes, forms, and colors traversing the country’s numerous internal canals, beaches, and neighboring seas. As of 2011, there were 2,485 miles (3,999 km) of major waterways, with 2300 miles (3,701 km) having navigable depths of 0.9 m or greater all year. There are several tiny rivers that can be navigated by shallow-draft native vessels like long-tailed boats. The Chao Phraya River serves as a significant transit corridor in Bangkok, including ferries, water taxis, rice barges, and long-tailed boats.

Thailand Water Transport

For commuters, there are local, semi-express, and express lines, albeit due to the twisting river, journeys may be substantially longer than by bus. There’s also the Khlong Saen Saeb boat service, which offers quick and cheap transportation in central Bangkok.

Ferry service is offered between hundreds of islands in the Andaman Sea or the Gulf of Thailand and the mainland, as well as across navigable rivers including the Chao Phraya and the Mae Khong (Mekong). The great majority of Thai boats are handcrafted from wood, mainly teak, but an increasing number of tourist boats patrolling Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River are fiberglass monstrosities. Thailand’s commercial marine fleet in 2010 consisted of 363 ships (1,000 GRT or more) with a total tonnage of 1,834,809 GRT/2,949,558 tonnes deadweight (DWT).31 bulk carriers, 99 cargo ships, 28 chemical tankers, 18 container ships, 36 liquified gas boats, 1 passenger ship, 10 passenger/cargo ships, 114 petroleum tankers, 24 refrigerated cargo ships, 1 roll-on/roll-off, and 1 other passenger vessel were featured.

Thailand Post opted to recognize the smaller ship with four stamps and a souvenir sheet depicting boats on the Chao Phraya in Bangkok on September 1, 2004 (Scott #2413-2416 and #2416a). Aside from two sets depicting Royal Thai Navy boats and a 2017 set of four commemorating the Long Boat Races, I can’t think of any other Thai stamps specifically recognizing the country’s diverse watercraft. Personally, I’d like to see a collection of stamps depicting the colorful fishing boats (— kolae) that are so abundant in southern Thailand

Water Transport in Thailand
Thailand's rivers and chosen ferry routes are shown on a map
Map of Chao Phraya River ferries and water-taxi routes in Bangkok, Thailand.
Map of Chao Phraya River ferries and water-taxi routes in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Chao Phraya ( — Maenam Chao Phraya) is Thailand’s main river, with its low alluvial plain marking the country’s core. It all starts at the junction of the Ping and Nan rivers in Nakhon Sawan (also known as Pak Nam Pho) in Nakhon Sawan Province. Following that, it travels 231 miles (372 kilometers) south from the central plains to Bangkok and the Gulf of Thailand. The river then separates into the main course and the Tha Chin River, which runs parallel to the main river and discharges in the Gulf of Thailand near Samut Sakhon, approximately 22 miles (35 km) west of Bangkok. Many tiny canals (khlong) branch off the main river in the low alluvial plain that starts below the Chainat Dam. The khlongs are used to irrigate the rice fields in the area. The river’s approximate coordinates are 13 N, 100 E. This region has a rainy monsoon climate, with an annual rainfall of more than 55 inches (1,400 millimeters). Bangkok’s temperatures vary from 75 to 91 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 33 degrees Celsius).

On several ancient European maps, the river is referred to as Menam or Mae Nam (), Thai meaning “river.” Before the establishment of the Royal Survey Department, James McCarthy, F.R.G.S., who served as Director-General of the Siamese Government Surveys, wrote in his account, “Me Nam is a generic term, me signifying “mother” and Nam “water,” and the epithet Chao P’ia signifies that it is the chief river in the kingdom of Siam.”

Warrington Smyth, Director of the Department of Mines in Siam from 1891 to 1896, refers to it as “the Me Nam Chao Phraya” in his book, which was originally published in 1898. The term Chao Phraya River is often interpreted as “river of kings” in Thai English-language media.

Several man-made changes were performed to the lower Chao Phraya during the Ayutthaya dynasty. Several shortcut canals were built to circumvent significant loops in the river, reducing the journey from the capital city to the sea. The river’s channel has been modified to follow several of these canals. In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River serves as a significant transit corridor for a network of river buses, cross-river ferries, and water taxis. More than 15 boat lines, including commuter lines, operate on the city’s rivers and canals.

Origin of the Chao Phraya River Thailand
Origin of the Chao Phraya River, Nakhon Sawan, Thailand, with small boats visible along the shoreline. Photo taken in June 2003

The Pa Sak River, the Sakae Krang River, the Nan River (together with its chief confluent, the Yom River), the Ping River (along with its principal confluent, the Wang River), and the Tha Chin River are the main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River. Each of these tributaries (as well as the Chao Phraya itself) is supplemented by lesser tributaries known as khwae. All of the tributaries, including the smaller khwae, create a large tree-like pattern, with branches running through practically every province in central and northern Thailand. None of the Chao Phraya’s tributaries flow beyond the country’s boundaries. The Nan and Yom rivers run roughly parallel from Phitsanulok to Chumsaeng in Nakhon Sawan Province’s northwestern corner. Near Sam Ngao district in Tak Province, the Wang River joins the Ping River.

Kawthaung, Myanmar
Approaching Thai Immigration checkpoint by long-tailed boat following a visit to Kawthaung, Myanmar, on American Independence Day. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on July 4, 2006.
Phuket Island
Long-tailed boats in Chalong Bay on the southern coast of Phuket Island, Thailand. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on July 20, 2006.

The long-tail boat ( — ruea hang yao) is powered by a conventional automobile engine, which is reported to have been utilized for the first time by Sanong Thitapura in 1933. A rivercraft meant to transport people may contain a lightweight long canoe hull up to 95 feet (30 meters) long, as well as a canopy. There is a lot of difference among these boats; some have grown from conventional ship forms, while others have a more improvised appearance – the only unifying feature is a used car or truck engine.

This engine is almost often placed on an inboard turret-like pole that can rotate through 180 degrees, providing thrust vectoring steering. There is no extra gearing or transmission since the propeller is positioned directly on the driveshaft. Typically, the engine swivels up and down to give a “neutral gear” in which the propeller does not make contact with the water. To correctly place the propeller, the driveshaft must be stretched by many feet of metal rod, giving the boat its name and striking look. The inboard engine with a long driveshaft has the advantage of keeping the engine reasonably dry. Following the fundamental design, the pattern enables a wide range of engines to be fitted to a wide range of hulls. This adaptability facilitates construction and maintenance but compromises the efficiency and comfort that a normal mass-produced product would provide.

A metal pipe under the rear running board serves as a makeshift heat exchanger, cooling the engine. This is then connected to the engine through hoses made of rubber or plastic. The coolant is then replaced with clean water. The engine is controlled by sliding a lever linked to the inboard side. The ignition and throttle controls make it easy to operate the craft. Larger boats may have many “tails,” with multiple operators navigating in tandem.

Long-tail boats are increasingly being utilized to convey visitors. Competitions using long-tail boats are also held in various Thai provinces.

Thai fishing boat off Cape Panwa
Thai fishing boat off Cape Panwa in southeastern Phuket Island, Thailand. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on August 24, 2006.
Thai fishing boats moored at Ranong
Thai fishing boats moored at Ranong, Thailand. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on July 4, 2006.

Kolae is a tiny coastal boat that is between 32 and 41 feet (10 and 12.5 meters) long, with the bow and stern being higher than the hull with a blend of Malay, Javanese, and Thai style features such as a flowing scroll design. In literature, they may feature lotus, serpents, magical monkeys, and bird heads, such as Burong Si-ngo or Singhapaksi (a monster with the body of a lion and the head of a bird carrying a fish in its mouth) at the bow. The monster possesses sharp teeth and claws, is strong, and is an excellent diver. As a result, it has long been a favorite among kolae fishers. The art on the boat is like an “artistic masterpiece on waves,” and it is regarded as life art since the kolae boat not only displays the brilliance of its design, but it is also the major tool used by fishermen to earn a livelihood. A Bang Nara villager without a kolae fishing boat is considered to be like a person without clothing.

Thai junk in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand.
Thai junk in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand.

A Thai junk-rigged sailing boat (—ruea sampao thai). The use of Thai wood, mostly teak, as opposed to the softwoods such as pine used by Chinese boat builders, is a significant distinction. Thai junks were mostly employed to convey goods and had on-deck constructions, most notably at the high long stern. The trading route between China and Japan was often used by a Chinese crew under the direction of a Thai commander who was in charge of the king’s possessions. Most junks in Thai seas are now utilized for tourism, with at least one offering diving tours to the Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea off Thailand’s west coast. For a lot more information about the junk rig boats.

The sampan ( — ruea sampan) is one of the numerous kinds used in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia. Some sampans are equipped with a tiny shelter and may be utilized as a permanent residence on inland waterways. Sampans are often utilized for transportation in coastal or river settings, and they are also popular as traditional fishing boats. It is rare for a sampan to sail far from shore since they cannot withstand heavy weather. The stern is normally higher than the bow in Thailand.

The name “sampan” is derived from the ancient Cantonese phrase for the boats, (sampan), which means “three planks.” The name alludes to the hull’s construction, which comprises a flat bottom (made of one board) linked to two sides (the other two planks). The design is reminiscent of Western hard chine boats such as the scow or punt. Sampans may be powered by poles, oars (especially a single, long sculling oar known as a yuloh), or outboard motors. Monks utilize a tiny, single-rowed vessel called ruea sampan pieu to collect food offerings in the morning.

In Thailand, sampans are mostly utilized as market boats, particularly in different floating marketplaces. Gardeners use these boats to transport their produce to markets and sell straight from them. It is a sampan-style plank-built boat, with large planks set on deep frames. The frames play a vital role in supporting the towering wash strakes. Teak is often used in the construction of such boats. Most floating markets in operation today, such as Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi, Thailand, originated in eras and locations when water transit played a significant part in everyday life.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is about 62 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of Bangkok, Thailand. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on January 10, 2006.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Vendors selling fruit from sampans at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on January 10, 2006

The Damnoen Saduak Canal was built between 1866 and 1868 by order of King Rama IV to link the Mae Klong and Tha Chin rivers.

Many floating markets sprung up as a result of the canal, and communities created roughly 200 auxiliary canals.

The major floating market was named Lad Plee market (), and it was located next to a Buddhist temple. It was functioning until 1967 when the construction of roads eliminated the necessity for water transportation. This trend was observed with other historic floating marketplaces, which vanished by the mid-twentieth century as modern land infrastructure developed. The Tourism Organization of Thailand (formerly Tourism Authority of Thailand) designated the Lad Plee market as a tourist site for international visitors in 1971. On the canal banks, there were boat merchants and businesses. A new route to the Ton Khem canal was created in 1981, and private businesses developed the contemporary Damnoen Saduak Floating Market along this canal.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a network of narrow khlongs (canals) that can only be accessed by boat. Female merchants, generally dressed in traditional mo hom attire (blue farmers’ shirts) and wide-brimmed straw hats (ngob), utilize sampans to market their items, which are often farm-fresh vegetables. These boats are often loaded with beautiful veggies and vivid fruits, and the photographs are used to promote tourism. The market is usually busiest in the morning between 7 and 9 a.m., and it is open until noon.

Ton Khem, Hia Kui, and Khun Phitak are the three smaller marketplaces that make up the floating market. Ton Khem, located on Khlong Damnoen Saduak, is the biggest market. Hia Kui runs parallel to Khlong Damnoen Saduak and features souvenir stores on the canal banks for bigger tour groups. Khun Phitak is the smallest and least congested market, located approximately 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) south of Hia Kui.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market 3
Just about everything you can find in a regular land-based village market in Thailand, you can find at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market at higher prices but with a better ambiance. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on January 10, 2006.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market 4
Crowded klong in the main portion of the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on January 10, 2006.

The floating market is a tourist trap and is filled with visitors.’ As a result, the goods are often expensive. Bargaining is widespread, however, the prices of souvenirs and meals are normally regulated within a few Thai baht. Boat noodles are prepared and sold by canoe chefs. The floating market has also been criticized for its lack of cultural authenticity while being a popular attraction for both international and local visitors.

Several films have included the Damnoen Saduak bazaar. The market was used to shoot a canal pursuit scene in The Man with the Golden Gun, featuring Roger Moore as James Bond, and a scene in the 2008 film Bangkok Dangerous, starring Nicolas Cage.

The sampans’ long overhanging square bow enables for easy boarding and loading/unloading over the bow onto a wharf or other walkway, and the metal strips would protect it, particularly if the walkway was made of stone or concrete. Over-the-bow loading is a more efficient use of limited dock space than tying up along the sides, given the busy circumstances in the floating marketplaces. An underhung transom rudder with an appealing form steers the boat.

A rice barge with canopy (— reua krachaeng), which is extremely often utilized as tourist shuttles and sightseeing boats in Bangkok these days, but in considerably bigger proportions than portrayed on the stamp. Rua krachaeng are watermelon-shaped boats made of teak wood and topped with a canopy. The canopy that runs nearly the whole length of the boat is referred to as krachaeng. Currently, this style of boat accounts for more than 80% of all boats on the Chao Phraya. These deep-hulled wooden canoes were formerly the major means of transit on the river, especially during Thailand’s Thonburi era in the mid-18th century, when King Taksin supported commerce with China and surrounding countries.

Krachaeng boats were traditionally composed of bamboo leaves, pandan palm leaves, or toei (a water plant) leaves. A needle was used to stitch the leaves together to make a sheet. The canopy was constructed by sewing the sheets together. As a result, krachaeng built of such materials became prohibitively costly. Today, most are made of galvanized iron sheets, and natural-material canopies are exceedingly uncommon.

Modern krachaeng boat
Modern krachaeng boat for tourists on the Chao Phraya near Ayutthaya, Thailand. The photo was taken on December 22, 2007.
Elaborately-carved kraachaeng-type boat
Elaborately-carved kraachaeng-type boat used to shuttle hotel guests on the Chao Phraya in Bangkok. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on November 18, 2007

Krachaeng boats can carry many different types of cargo, be they rocks, soil, sand, firewood, paddy, rice, etc. If used for carrying paddy or rice, the vessel is simply called a “rice boat.” When loading goods, particularly paddy or rice, the krachaeng canopies would be shifted to one side to facilitate loading. When there was nothing to carry, the canopies were sometimes opened to offer sunlight and fresh air to the inside of the boat. The size of the krachaeng boat is determined by the greatest quantity of paddy or rice it can carry, such as 700 sacks, 1600 sacks, and so on.

Krachaeng boats had wood ribs that were tightly spaced and fastened along the keel. The gunwales were composed of hardwood and secured with a rosewood bolt. There is a solid shed on the deck with wooden dividers at the bow and stern. For extended travels, the boat may be driven by an engine, although for short excursions, a pole is commonly utilized. A small boat is normally on board for rowing to the beach.

A “packet boat,” however I couldn’t discover any references or photographs of one as it pertains to Thai watercraft. Of course, stamp collectors are familiar with packet boats as medium-sized vessels meant for domestic mail, passenger, and freight transit throughout European nations and their colonies, including rivers and canals in North America. Since the 17th century, packet vessels have been widely utilized in European coastal mail services, progressively adding cramped passenger accommodation.

They were widely employed in the 18th and 19th centuries and provided regularly scheduled service. When similar ships were used on the Atlantic Ocean between Great Britain and its colonies in the 18th century, the services were known as the packet trade. Postal delivered by mail steamers in the nineteenth century is often referred to as paquebot mail and is subject to numerous laws imposed by the states involved as well as the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) regulations enshrined in the UPU Vienna Conference of 1891.

Bangkok water transportation
The Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, looking north from the top floor of Sheraton Grande Hotel. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on November 18, 2017.
The Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
The Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, lookThai boats pulled onto the khlong (canal) bank in Saphan Hin, Phuket, Thailand. My home is at the base of the hills seen in the far right of this photo. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on August 24, north from the top floor of Sheraton Grande Hotel. The photo was taken by Mark Joseph Jochim on November 18, 2017.

One of the things I enjoy about living on Phuket island in southern Thailand is the opportunity to see a wide range of watercraft, from traditional wooden long-tailed boats, sampans, and colorful fishing boats to all manner of Royal Thai Navy and United States Navy ships (including the largest aircraft carriers) and an endless stream of merchant’s vessels, including rusty garbage scows and the longest passenger liners. I like going to the beach (any beach) or to a fishing port simply to watch the boats go by. While I don’t visit Bangkok very frequently, I make great use of the water-taxi system when I do (much faster than any taxi or bus and the boat piers are often near a train or subway station).

I have yet to visit the Royal Thai Barge Museum in Thonburi, the Royal Thai Navy Museum in Sattahip (there are two tiny RTN museums here in Phuket), or the Thai Boat Museum in Ayutthaya.

Read more: Bangkok water transportation: Express boat, taxi, pricing, and routes


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