Fast and malodorous: Bangkok's "khlong" boat network

Fast and malodorous: Bangkok's "khlong" boat network

BANGKOK - Every morning, tens of thousands of Bangkok's most rushed, reckless or cash-strapped commuters hop onto its "khlong" boats - plying the main canal in a speedy, if not fragrant, bid to avoid the city's notorious road congestion.

"I take the boat because it goes much faster," 18-year-old university student, Pam Olanthanyawat, told AFP before she leapt blithely onto one of the crowded shuttles on the Saen Saeb canal.

As the city of 12 million grinds to a virtual standstill at peak times, many commuters have turned to the 30 kilometre (19 mile) long canal, or khlong in Thai.

But the boats are not for the faint-hearted.

Passengers are overwhelmingly the young and able bodied - few older people or families with children dare board the vessels, which often pull in to dock for just seconds during rush hour.

Agile men and women - many of whom manage the feat despite perilous high heels - leap aboard the narrow vessels and cling onto a system of ropes inside as they speed off to the next stop.

The online video sharing site YouTube abounds with footage of unfortunate passengers who are not quick or deft enough when boarding and so plunge into the foul-smelling khlongs.

One clip shows what it calls a khlong "tsunami" - waiting passengers getting drenched as giant waves, caused by passing boats, wash over a pontoon - and has notched up several hundred thousand hits.

The boats' waterproof canvas roofs are controlled by passengers themselves, who move them up and down to allow others to board and keep everyone protected from khlong water.

But it is not always entirely effective.

"My mother never takes the boat because she is too scared," said Pam as grey spray thrown up by boats travelling in the opposite direction, dripped through the canvas.

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