Self-Guided Khlong Tour

When you get to a new place, get lost. Wander in space, wander in time. I adhere to the words of Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost and often find myself in the moment in a new city.
I finally had some free time during the American Arts Incubator program and set out the other day to the Thonburi district to see one of the temples. There, I would have been amongst tourists snapping digital photos. Instead, I distracted myself on a self-guided khlong tour.
The khlongs are the canals in Bangkok, a city which used to be called the Venice of the East. Centuries ago, they were used for transportation, irrigation, and flood relief. But this was before concrete and pavement redefined the city.
Interior Khlong View
Interior khlong view, June 5, 2017. Photo: Scott Kildall.
Floods are now a huge problem as rainwater has little place to go except into storm drains which quickly overflow. The drains often end up emptying into the khlongs.
The khlongs do have mechanisms to contain the water, which appear to be mini-dams that can be raised to open into the Chao Phraya. This stormwater, which is not clean water at all, then flows out to the sea.
Khlong Gate, June 5, 2017. Photo: Scott Kildall
Khlong gate, June 5, 2017. Photo: Scott Kildall.
The khlongs are mostly stagnant and filled with garbage. Of course, they could be beautiful waterways and a source of community pride. Garbage cleanup would help, but ultimately a better drainage system would be needed.
Water needs to flow to be healthy. I’m not at all trained in civil engineering projects, but this seems pretty basic. When we control the water and confine it, its health suffers.
Strangely, there is still a lot of fish in these mucky waters, which I believe is mostly catfish. And where there is edible fish, people will try to catch them, despite the health risks.
Leafy Interior
Leafy interior, June 5, 2017. Photo: Scott Kildall.
I saw many little things. Here are “soi dogs” (not those kinds!), but since soi is the Thai word for street, these are street dogs or strays. They are skinny, though not malnourished. Mostly, they seem to want love. Don’t we all?
Soi Dog
Soi dog, June 5, 2017. Photo: Scott Kildall.
The narrow khlongs have small bridges to various houses. They were just…there, a neglected feature of this urban space. No tourists were in sight.
Then, I came across a hole in a corrugated steel fence with an offering in it.
Offering, June 5, 2017. Photo: Scott Kildall.
And street art, like in every city.
Street Art
Street art, June 5, 2017. Photo: Scott Kildall.
Why would a tourist come here when the temple was prettier? Still, I made the right choice. I noticed more in my walk than I would have in a temple. At tourist sites, you are supposed to look at certain things but when you wander through the landscape, your gaze is free.


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