A quiet canal cruise
The beep of the horn was quite loud. It came from a flat-bottom electric-powered boat cruising along Klong Phadung Krung Kasem. The boat operator gave the signal to let passengers on the Hua Lamphong pier know of its arrival.
I raised my arm high like the way I hailed a taxi on the street. The boat gradually approached the pier.
“Please come aboard and mind your head,” said a crew member while securing the boat to the pier.
The entrance was located in the middle of the vessel. As the ceiling was low, I bent my head while taking the stairs to enter the boat. My boat operator was a woman. She wore a yellow short-sleeve polo shirt with a logo of Krungthep Thanakom, the business arm of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, that manages the service.
The seats were arranged in two rows with 12 seats in total. Each seat was designed for two passengers but one space was reserved to offer social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Thai Chana QR code was not available onboard or on the pier for passengers to check-in.
The boat had a few passengers. I picked the front row. The crew member approached me with a registration form on a clipboard. He asked me to sign my name, time of my entry, the pier that I embarked on and would disembark as well as my mobile phone number. He said the data would be used for alerting the passengers if there was an infection onboard.
The electric boat is a shuttle service between Hua Lamphong Railway Station pier and Talat Devaraj pier. The route is about 5km and has 11 stops including Yot Se, Ratchadamnoen Nok and Thewet piers. A one-way journey takes about 30 minutes.
The project was initiated in 2014 by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha whose aim was to return the city’s atmosphere of “Venice of the East” by reviving boat transportation in a network of canals. In 2016, he launched a mass transport vision to link all transportation modes including Skytrain, subway, public buses and boats together, as part of the “Smart City” theme.
The trial for the boat service at Klong Phadung Krung Kasem began in September 2016 and was powered by fuel. Four years later, the vessel was upgraded to solar-cell electric power. The project officially kicked off on Nov 27. The service is free for six more months. In June, the fare will be 10 baht per trip.
The BMA has invested in eight electric boats, each costing 6 million baht. The fibreglass boat is 10m long and 3m wide. It is powered by 12 solar panels on its rooftop. It can accommodate up to 30 seated passengers. But during the pandemic, the maximum capacity caps at 15. The maximum cruise speed is 17kph.
“Next station is Nakhon Sawan pier, or Talat Nang Loeng. Does anyone want to get off?” asked another crew member who looked like a boat conductor. I raised my hand. Then he shouted: “Docking at Nakhon Sawan Pier. Passengers, please disembark.”
The boat was slowly steering to the pier. While I was about to step off the boat, my head knocked on the ceiling. Bang. “Ouch! It hurts,” I uttered. “Be careful. Bend your head,” said the crew member. He also repeated the message to newcomers.
I wander around the Nang Loeng market before continuing my journey to my last station at Talat Devaraj pier to visit Wat Devaraj Kunchorn and Thewet plant market. When I walked back from Nang Loeng to the Nakhon Sawan pier, an employee of Krungthep Thanakom, who was stationed on the pier, checked my temperature with a temperature gun. On top of the chair with a writing pad, she had a hand sanitiser and a clipboard with a registration form. She asked me to sign the form. I waited for about 20 minutes for the boat.
I noticed that this pier and several others did not have seats for waiting passengers or a roof to offer shade or protect riders from rain. Some piers lacked proper wheelchair accessibility.
Despite the lack of those basic facilities, my journey along the waterway was quite pleasant. It was also good to see the old town of Bangkok from another point of view. You will see some old buildings including the office of the State Railway of Thailand and Government House, which is fenced by barbed wire.
Although I could smell the polluted water from time to time and spotted plastic waste floating in the canal, I saw fish and lively activities. Some people fished with nets, a rod or even a long plastic rope at some spots along the waterway.
I also liked the trip via the electric-powered boat as it was not that noisy like the diesel-engine ferries. Because of its low speed, I did not have to worry if the water will splash on me. I can sit straight and see the view, unlike the time when I took a long-tail boat plying along Klong Saen Saep. My experiences told me to cover my face with a hat or risk the splash of the smelly water. The e-ferry is not in a hurry so passengers can get on and off the boat at their own speed. In addition, the boat crew are polite.
The smooth service of the boat can be further developed. It can become a leisure cruise during the weekend with a tour guide. It is something the BMA can do to add value into its new cruise service.