Bangkok used to be known as the Venice of the east, being so run through with canals (klongs or khlongs in Thai). In the modern city of Bangkok those that remain but are mostly hidden from view, others are filled in or no longer maintained.
However, this is not true of Thonburi which lies on the west side of the Chaopraya river; whilst not exactly a hidden world, it is much less visited by tourists and well worth an afternoon or mornings’ exploration.
You can hire a long tail boat at several of the piers on the east side (Sapan Taksin, Ta Thien, Ta Chang) and then go off for 2 or 3 hours of exploring in Thonburi. The most picturesque klong is Klong Mon starting just behind Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), this klong is lined with houses and some small businesses, as well as having some floating vendors – mostly tourist tat. Further in to Thonburi is the Artists House: a canal side residence converted into a craft centre where you can buy prints, paintings and some pottery. In the hundred meters or so after the Artists House, other houses have latched on to the passing trade and made the canal facing rooms into retail with lots of other artefacts are available – garden decorations, mobiles etc. Much of this seems original and unique.
Its hard to say how long this part of Bangkok will retain its charm, there is a lot of development in the area and as the BTS stretches further access will improve. Many old houses along the canal have collapsed and maybe the owners are waiting for a development offer… Better go soon.
The Golden Triangle is the area where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet – on the banks of the Mekong. Long seen as a byword for drug production and associated criminality, the area is now being transformed into a tourist and gambling ‘Special Economic Zone’.
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Burma (Myanmar) and Laos own casinos, the Thai side does not – so far. You will need a passport to enter the other countries (from Thailand) and will need to subject yourself to immigration formalities; for quick trips this can be daunting and probably not worth the bother.
It is possible to take a Mekong boat trip from the pier near the big Buddha on the Thai side, this will take you up past the Myanmar casino (called Paradise) and then down river past the Lao Casino to a Lao island that has a market. It’s 30 Bht to enter the island and you will find Lao products like Whisky (with snakes) along side the usual fake hand bags and T-shirts. You don’t need a passport for this trip, although the boat operator may ask to see it before setting off. The speed boat (long tail) for this costs around 500 – 600 Bht and takes about an hour.
Just out of town on the Mae Sai road is the Hall of Opium, this is somewhat undersold, and well worth a visit. After entering via a long tunnel lined with nightmare scenarios (presumably to reflect the use of opium), there are displays and films showing the spread of opium use along with history and associated paraphernalia – well worth the hour or so that a visit will take.
About 100 km south east of Chiang Mai lies the town of Lampang. Well known for its pottery industry (there are large Kaolin deposits in the area), less well known for the huge open cast mine to the east of the town.
The mine is lignite and being a poor quality coal, most is used on site at an enormous power plant, generating electricity for northern Thailand. Whilst not an obvious tourist attraction, the area is very well landscaped and parks, golf courses and lakes have been built near the mine. They must be getting it right as the air was full of butterflies on the latest visit, a start contrast to the memories of the North Nottinghamshire/ South Yorkshire coal fields I remember from my youth.