AIR TRAVEL AND WATERWAYS IN THAILAND: AIRLINES, AIR CRASHES, AIRPORTS, KLONGS AND BOATS

AIR TRAVEL AND BOAT TRAVEL IN THAILAND

The flying time from New York to Bangkok is about 20 hours (with a two hour layover in Tokyo or some other place), from Los Angeles about 15 hours. Flight times going the other direction are about 1½ hours shorter. Many of the flights across the Pacific are non-stop. With the new Boeing 747s it is no longer necessary to stop in Alaska or Hawaii. Flights to Bangkok however sometimes stop in an Asian city such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila or Tokyo. Most flights arrive in Bangkok. Some arrive in Chiang Mai. Bangkok is also a gateway for Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Southern China.

Bangkok is a major hub for Asia. Most North American, European, Middle Eastern, Australian and Asian counties are well connected with Bangkok. There are far number of flights to Africa and islands in the Pacific but not so many to Latin America. From Los Angeles International Thai Airways offers nonstop service to Bangkok. ANA, JAL, Cathay, Pacific, United, EVA, China, Singapore, Qantas and Northwest offer connecting service (change of planes).

About 80 airlines provide service to the Bangkok International Airport and carry a reported 25 million passengers and 700,000 tons of cargo a year. Major Airlines that fly to Thailand include United, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Aeroflot, Air France, Alitalia, Delta, All Nippon Airlines, Japan Airline, Qantas, KLM, Korean Air, Asiana, Lufthansa, Pakistan International Airway, Royal Nepal Airlines, Air Canada, Bangladesh Biman, Cathay Pacific, Garuda, Vietnam Airlines, and Finnair.

Airports in Thailand

Thailand now has 28 airports for commercial flights, nine of them international airports. In 2006 Thailand had over 100 airports. Sixty-six of the airports had paved runways, including eight of more than 3,047 meters in length. Bangkok International Airport at Don Muang, 24 kilometers north of the capital, is an important regional hub for pass-through flights and as a destination. Thailand’s national airport is Suvarnabhumi Airport, east of Bangkok, which officially opened in September 2006. It occupies an area of about 2,000 rai, or 800 acres. Presently, Suvarnabhumi Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, and has been selected as one among the world’s 10 best airports. [Source: Library of Congress. 2007]

Airports: 103 (2012), country comparison to the world: 55. Airports - with paved runways: total: 63; over 3,047 m: 8; 2,438 to 3,047 m: 12; 1,524 to 2,437 m: 23; 914 to 1,523 m: 15; under 914 m: 5 (2012). Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 40; 1,524 to 2,437 m: 1; 914 to 1,523 m: 12; under 914 m: 27 (2012). Heliports: 6 (2012). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Airports in Thailand: 1) International airports Suvarnabhumi (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai (Songkhla), Krabi, U Taphao (Rayong), Samui (Surat Thani), Surat Thani, and Udon Thani. 2) Main airports Suvarnabhumi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket, and Songkhla. 3) Domestic airports in Northern and northwestern regions Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phitsanulok, Mae Hong Son, Pai (Mae Hong Son), Lampang, Sukhothai, Nan, and Mae Sot (Tak); 4) Domestic airports in the central and eastern regions Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, U Taphao, and Trat. 5) Domestic airports in Northeastern region Khon Kaen, Nakhon Phanom, Buri Ram, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Udon Thani, and Ubon Ratchathani 6) Southern region Krabi, Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Narathiwat, Phuket, Samui (Surat Thani), Surat Thani, and Hat Yai (Songkhla)

International Airports in Thailand

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) serves as the primary international airport in Thailand for numerous international airlines, most with direct flights from abroad landing in the Thai capital. However, some chartered flights and international service from nearby Asian nations may land at one of the other, smaller international airports within Thailand, such as Phuket (HKT), Chiang Mai (CNX), Hat Yai (HDY), and Koh Samui (USM) International Airports.Nonetheless, Suvarnabhumi Airport is Thailand’s premier international air travel gateway.

Don Muang International Airport (20 kilometers outside of Bangkok) became the main domestic airport for Bangkok after Suvarnabhumi opened in 2006. Formally the main international airport of Bangkok, it is a facility with a Burger King, several restaurants, exchange banks, tourist information offices, rental car offices, and hotel reservation booths. There is a hotel at the airport. Budget traveler with sleeping bag can find quiet corners to sleep in. It can be a long walk between some of the gates. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. Sometimes the traffic is so bad it can take two or three hours to get from downtown Bangkok to the airport. Don Muang was closed for four months in 2011 and 2012 as a result of the massive flooding that struck Thailand in late 2011. Many parts of the airport were inundated and $50 million was spent on rennovation costs.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport

Suvarnabhumi International Airport(25 kilometers east of downtown Bangkok) opened in September 2006 after numerous delays. The sprawling, $4.1 billion complex handles 45 million passengers a year (125,000 passengers a day) and 800 takeoffs a day, and covers 3,200 hectares, more than three times the land area covered by Tokyo’s Narita Airport. Suvarnabhumi is billed as the largest single terminal airport in the world. The total floor space of the terminal is 563,000 square meters. The control tower is 132 meters high—the world’s tallest. Of its three runways one is 4,000 meters long and another is 3,700 meters long. Suvarnabhumi means “golden land.” The name was bestowed upon the airport by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Suvarnabhumi (pronounced “sue-wanna-poom”) is the largest airport in Southeast Asia based on number of passengers. Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong is slightly busier and Changi Airport in Singapore is slightly less busy. Suvarnabhumi is regarded as an example of an “aerotroplis”—an airport with shopping malls, office buildings, hotels, hospitals, conference centers, exhibition spaces and even residential areas. Such airports have so much stuff they become destinations in their own right for business travelers, making it unnecessary to go into Bangkok.

The old international airport, Don Muang Airport, was supposed to be closed after Suvarnabhumi began operation but it reopened for domestic and budget airline flights in part to deal with overcrowding at Suvarnabhumi International Airport, which quickly reached its capacity. Don Muang Airport is now Thailand’s domestic airport.

Suvarnabhumi took more than 40 years to finish. It was initially supposed to open in 1990, then 2000. More than 30,000 workers were put to work building it on a wetlands called “Cobra Swamp” in Thai. Construction was held by the presence of cobras, monitor lizards, rats and birds, Some of the pests were caught by workers and eaten, The bird problem was handled by cutting forests around the airport to deprive them of food and shelter. Under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the early 2000s the pace of construction picked up but so did allegations of corruption.

When Suvarnabhumi opened it was criticized for flaws in the baggage handling system, water leaks and busted pipes. Some of the gates were unable to take passengers because of cracks in the runways and taxiways. There were also complaints about inadequate signs, poor lighting, mismarked baggage claim areas, aggreesive touts, lax security, noise and failure to take into consideration the needs of handicapped travelers. For a time the airport was denied an international safety certificate and long longs formed at the check in desks due to problems with the computer system. Some blamed politicians for the problem for forcing the airport to open before it was ready.

On top of this, almost immediately after it opened Suvarnabhumi began expanding to deal with overcrowding. A separate terminal was built at a cost of $17 million for budget airlines that complained the landing fees were too steep. The number of toilets was tripled after passengers complained that 100 toilets was not enough for such a huge facility . The new toilets cost $10 million and were built in 45 days. As for now, the airport has been open for more than half a dozen years. The kinks have been worked out and the airport has survived major protests and floods.

Airlines in Thailand

The national airline is Thai Airways International (THAI), which started operation in 1960, operating both domestic and international services. Other airlines in service are Bangkok Airways, Nok Air, Happy Air, Jet Asia Airways, Sunny Airways, Thai Smile, U Airlines, AirAsia, Solar Air and Orient Thai Airlines. Among those that went out of business are One-Two-Go, Angel Air, Phuket Airlines, Air Andaman, and Air Phoenix. One-Two-Go was involved in a deadly crash. Phuket Airlines was banned from flying in the European Union before it went defunct.

Budget Airlines Based in Thailand include Nok Air, Thai AirAsia (See Above), Solar Air and Orient Thai Airlines. Nok Air is the budget airline of Thai Airways. It operates domestic services out of Bangkok's Bangkok Don Mueang Airport. Solar Air based at in Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok. It flies to eight destinations: Bangkok (Don Mueang International Airport) Main Hub, Chumphon (Chumphon Airport), Hua Hin (Hua Hin Airport), Phrae (Phrae Airport), Loei (Loei Airport), Mae Sot (Mae Sot Airport), Pattaya (U-Tapao International Airport). Orient Thai Airlines operates chartered and scheduled services in Southeast Asia. Its main base is Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok.

Thai Airways

Thai Airways is the government-owed national carrier of Thailand. Offering both domestic and worldwide service, it has 91 planes that fly around 900 flights a week to 70 destinations in 35 countries, including New York, Los Angeles (daily service), Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Munich, Frankfurt, Moscow, Tokyo, Kathmandu, Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bali, Hanoi, Shanghai, Phnom Penh, Beijing, Manila, Saigon, Dhaka, Jakarta, and Surubaya (Indonesia), and other cities in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Thai Airways uses Boeing 747-400s, 777-300s, 737-300s, 737-400s, and Airbus 300-600R and 330-300 jets. It has one of the massive Airbus 30-800 planes.

The Thai Airways International (THAI) started operation in 1960 and is Thailand’s biggest carrier. It began business at exactly noon on the first day of May, 1960, an auspicious date. Since 1977, Thai Airways has been fully owned by the Thai government. It carried nearly 13 million passengers in 1995 and a profit of $135 million on $3.1 billion in revenues in fiscal 1996.

In 2012, Thai Airways ranked No. 10 in Travel and Leisure reading rankings of airlines. In 2006 it was No. 6. In 2002, it was ranked No. 2. Thai Airlines attendants wear silk scarves over long silk sarongs. On some flight they offer orchids to all female passengers.

Thai Airways was hurt in the mid 2000s by hikes in fuel prices and a fall in tourism as a result of the December 2004 tsunami. In early 2006 Thai Air’s CEO Kanok Abhiradee was fired by the Thai prime minister after Thai stock dropped so quickly trading of it was suspended on Bangkok stock market.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra once commented that Thai Airways so was so terrible he was “very happy” when he does not get a seat. “If I were not a public figure, I wouldn’t fly with Thai, it sucks,” he told the Bangkok Post. He seemed particularly upset with the seating in first class, which he complained was worse than business class in most other airlines.

In June 2011, Thai Airways said it would spend $3.9 billion to acquire 23 Airbus and 14 Boeing airplanes as part of an effort to modernize its fleet. The airline placed orders for six Boeing 777-300ER planes, four Airbus A350-900s and five A320-200s for $1.6 billion and lease 22 aircraft, including eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Bangkok Air

Bangkok Air flies to more than 20 destinations including Luang Prabang in Laos, Siem Reap in Cambodia, Pagan in Myanmar and Xian and Jinghong in China. There are plans to offer service to Pagan and Mandalay in Myanmar, Bangkok Airway used its airport in Sukhotai as a kind of hub for northeast Thailand and Southeast Asia. Flights on their way to Laos and China stop there. Bangkok Airways is a privately owned company founded in 1968 as an air taxi company; since 1986, it has served primarily as a domestic carrier. It has won a number of awards for their service, including the the “best regional airway in Southeast Asia.” It uses Airbus A320, A319, Boeing 717 and ATR-72 aircraft and has three hub airports: in Sukhothai, Samui and Trat. In the mid 2000s it began billing itself as a boutique airlines. Their airports look like a Thai temples and serve free drinks and snacks and even allows passengers to check their e-mail.

Bangkok Airways has been very successful. Launched by former surgeon Prasert Prasarttng-Osoth, it was originally barred from competing domestically with Thai Airways. It solution was to build an airport on Koh Samui and offer flights there from Bangkok. The airport opened on 1989 and help transform the island from a backpacker hang out to a major tourist destination. In 1996, it opened another airport in Sukhothai. A third airport was opened in Trat in 2002.

Bangkok Airways strategy has been to build airports and develop routes that no one else uses. It offers good service and charges relatively high ticket prices. In 2001, it made profits of $2.7 million on revenues of $85 million.

Air Asia

Thai AirAsia is a joint venture of Malaysian low-fare airline AirAsi and Thailand's Asia Aviation. It serves AirAsia's regularly scheduled domestic and international flights from Bangkok and other cities in Thailand. Thai AirAsia was the only low-cost airline operating both domestic and international flights from the Suvarnabhumi Airport. The airline shifted all operations from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Don Mueang International Airport in October 2012.

At one time Thai Air Asia was 50 percent Prime Minister Thaksin’s Shin Corporation and his daughters. It easily won government approval for plum routes between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai and Khon Kaen, and was given choice locations for its service at the airports it used.

AirAsia is Asia's largest low-fare, no-frills airline and a pioneer of low-cost travel in Asia. Based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it operates scheduled domestic and international flights to over 400 destinations spanning 25 countries. Its main hub is the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Its affiliate airlines Thai AirAsia, Indonesia AirAsia, AirAsia Philippines and AirAsia Japan have hubs in Suvarnabhumi Airport, Soekarno–Hatta International Airport, Clark International Airport and Narita International Airport respectively.

As of 2012, Air Asia had a 101 planes, with 279 on order. It has offered flights for fares as little as $2.60. It operates under the Ryanair model and get cheap fuel from Malaysia. Its Thai subsidiary is partly owned by former Prime Minister Thaksin and his daughters. Among the destinations its serves in Thailand are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai and Khon Kaen. Flights between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are $70 on Air Asia.

Air Accidents in Thailand

In May, 1991 a Lauda Air Boeing 767, on it way from Hong Kong to Vienna, crash over Thailand, killing all 223 people on board. The crash occurred after the reverse thrusters began operating while the plane was in mid air. The thrusters may have been activated by an electronic device used by a passenger that disrupted instruments on the plane.

In December 1998, 101 of 146 people on board a Thai Airways Airbus 310-200 were killed when the plane crashed into a swamp and burst into flames while trying to land in heavy rain in Surat Thani. The crash was blamed on pilot error. The pilot tried to land twice but aborted the landing because he couldn't see the runway. On his third try he crashed.

In March 2001, a Thai Airways Boeing 737-400 exploded, caught fire and was destroyed while sitting at a gate at Bangkok airport, 35 minutes before Thai Prime Minister Thaksin was scheduled to board the plane for a flight. One cabin crew member died and seven airline employees on the ground were injured. Some thought the explosion was caused by a bomb set by drug dealers with the intent of killing Thaksin. Later investigators concluded the explosion was caused by an exploding fuel tank ignited by an adjacent air conditioning unit that had kept running while the plane was on the ground.

In August 2009, a pilot was killed and 10 passengers were injured when a Bangkok Airways passenger jet skidded off the runway as it landed on the island of Ko Samui and hit the control tower during heavy rain. A policeman told Thai TV: “the accident occurred around 2:00pm...The plane just pinched the control tower but there was no fire. There were 68 people aboard the 70 seat plane which took off from the town of Krabi. . Some of the injured suffered broken legs. [Source: AFP-Jiji]

Plane Crash in 2007 in Phuket

In September 2007, a budget airlines— One-Two-Go—plane, carrying 123 passengers and seven crew, crashed on the island of Phuket, killing 89 people, and injuring 42. The plane skidded off a runway while landing in a heavy rain storm and burst into flames. It was the worst plane disaster in Thailand in more than a decade. Wind shear—a sudden change in wind speed or direction that can destabilize a plane—may have been a cause of the accident. Many of those who died were burned to death. Others managed to escape by kicking out the windows. Among the dead were Israelis, Americans. Iranians, a Swede, Briton, French and Australian and the Indonesian pilot and Thai co-pilot. Some blamed the pilot who had been warned of potential wind shear. Others blamed Phuket airport. The wind-shear system there was not working at the time of the crash.

AP reported: “Officials said the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 was attempting to land in driving wind and rain but skidded off the runaway, ran though a low retaining wall and broke into two parts. Survivors said they escaped from emergency exits as the plane caught fire. About 60 bodies were retrieved quickly, but it took hours to get the other bodies out. Three bodies remained in the wreckage about nine hours after the accident, said Deputy Transport Minister Sansern Wongcha-um. [Source: AP, September 16, 2007~]

“Officials said it was too early to establish the cause of the crash, but some said the weather was likely a factor. "The visibility was poor as the pilot attempted to land. He decided to make a go-around (make another landing attempt) but the plane lost balance and crashed," said Chaisak Angsuwan, director general of the Air Transport Authority of Thailand. "It was torn into two parts." ~

“Parts of the twisted plane lay smoking at the side of the runway. Searchers in masks converged on the plane, carrying bodies wrapped in white sheets to an airport storage building. Dr. Charnsilp Wacharajira, who carried out autopsies on some of those killed, said they died of traumatic injuries to the head, indicating that the impact of the crash rather than the fire killed them. ~

“Piyanooch Ananpakdee, a coordinator at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, where 30 of the survivors were taken, said they told her passengers had stepped on each other as they tried to flee the aircraft as it filled with black smoke. Many of those injured had broken legs and similar injuries from jumping from the burning plane, she said. Piyanooch said there were five people in critical condition at her hospital, including a British woman with burns over 60 percent of her body and another person with broken ribs.” ~

"The first part of the plane is dug into the ground. The tail section is stuck on the runway," Chaisak Chai-arkad, a senior airport official in Bangkok, told Thai radio. Reuters reported: “TV images showed the crumpled and smoking fuselage of the One-Two-Go flight from Bangkok surrounded by fire trucks and emergency workers. Part of the plane could be seen in trees alongside the runway. [Source: Reuters, September 17, 2007]

Survivors of 2007 Plane Crash in Phuket

Survivors told AP the plane landed hard and out of control. "Our plane was landing, you can tell it was in trouble, because it kind of landed then came up again the second time," said John Gerard O'Donnell of Ireland, speaking from his hospital bed. "I came out on the wing of the plane ... the exit door, it was kind of crushed and I had to squeeze through. And saw my friend, he was outside. He just got out before me. And next thing, it really caught fire, then I just got badly burned, my face, my legs, my arms." [Source: AP, September 16, 2007~]

"As soon as we hit, everything went dark and everything fell," said Mildred Furlong, 23, a waitress from Prince George, British Columbia, in Canada. The plane started filling with smoke and fires broke out, she said. A passenger in front of her caught fire, while one in the back kicked out a plane window. "I saw passengers engulfed in fire as I stepped over them on the way out of the plane," Parinwit Chusaeng, who was slightly burned, said on The Nation TV channel. "I was afraid that the airplane was going to explode, so I ran away." ~

Reuters reported: “Flight manifests at Phuket airport suggested well over half the 123 passengers and five crew on board were foreign. Eight Britons, seven Thais and two Australians were among 43 known survivors, hospital workers said. said. "The plane looks as though it veered off the runway into the side of a hill," said Leslie Quahe, a Singaporean pastor who arrived at the scene about an hour after the crash. "I was coming down the hill and saw smoke coming from the plane. It had broken into several parts," Quahe told Reuters. [Source: Reuters, September 17, 2007 =]

Nong Khaonual, a Thai who survived the crash with his wife, said he believed the plane had descended too quickly. "The airplane was landing in heavy rain. It landed too fast. I have never seen anything like this. It descended very fast," he told Nation Television in hospital. "Just before we touched the runway we felt the plane try to lift up, and it skidded off the runway," he said. "My wife was half conscious and I dragged her out of the emergency exit. There was a man behind us and he was on fire." =

Another survivor, an Irishman named John, described the attempts to land in atrocious conditions. "You could tell there was a problem. The plane was flying around trying to land. It was making some noises and it was bad rain," John, who was travelling with a friend who also survived, told Thailand's ITV television channel. "The plane was on fire, but I managed to get through. I might have come out on the wing," he said. =

Phuket Plane Crash Raises Questions About Budget Airlines

The accident raised questions about the safety of budget airlines in Southeast Asia, which have burgeoned in the past few years. None of Thailand's budget airlines, including One-Two-Go, had previously suffered a major accident, but there have been several calamitous crashes in Indonesia.

Many budget airlines use older planes that have been leased or purchased after years of use by other airlines. According to Thai and U.S. aviation registration data, the plane that crashed in Phuket was manufactured and first put into service in 1983, and began flying in Thailand in March, 2007. year. [Source: AP, September 16, 2007]

One-Two-Go Airlines began operations in December 2003 and is the domestic subsidiary of Orient-Thai Airlines, a regional charter carrier based in Thailand. It went out of business not long after the crash.

Thai Airways Skids off Runway; 14 Passengers Hurt

In September 2013, Associated Press reported: “A Thai Airways Airbus 330-300 skidded off the runway while landing at Bangkok's main airport after its landing gear malfunctioned, the airline said. Fourteen people were injured while evacuating the plane, it said. It was the second mishap in less than two weeks for Thailand's national carrier. After the accident, workers on a crane blacked out the Thai Airways logo on the tail and body of the aircraft in an apparent effort to protect the airline's image. An airline official, Samud Poom-On, said the move was normal practice for Thai Airways after an accident. Samud initially said the practice was mandated by Star Alliance, but later said that was not the case. The global airline grouping also said it had no such policy. [Source: Thanyarat Doksone, Associated Press, September 9, 2013]

The flight from Guangzhou, China, was carrying 288 passengers and 14 crew members. "After touchdown at Suvarnabhumi Airport, the landing gear malfunctioned and caused the aircraft to skid off the runway," Thai Airways President Sorajak Kasemsuvan said in a statement. "Sparks were noticed from the vicinity of the right landing gear near the engine.”

Photos taken after the incident showed deep furrows from skid marks on the runway and in a grassy area off the runway, and the aircraft resting with its nose down and emergency slides inflated. "The captain took control of the aircraft until it came to a complete stop and passengers were evacuated from the aircraft emergency exits," the Thai Airways president said. A Thai Airways official said 13 passengers were injured, but an airline statement later said 14 passengers had been hurt during the evacuation. It said two of those injured remained at a Bangkok hospital. The incident occurred less than two weeks after 20 passengers were injured when a Thai Airways Airbus A380 hit severe turbulence as it was descending to Hong Kong's airport.

Water Travel in Thailand

Until recently rivers and canals served as the primary means of transport for many Thais. In the past, rivers and canals were the most convenient channels of transportation for people and goods. They are also an important source of water for farming. All ancient Thai cities were located near water sources and when cities were expanded inland, people dug up canals, mainly to get water for their farm and use them as transportation channels. They were designed specifically for people to live on or to use in making a living. During the reign of King Rama V, the number of rafts along the canals and rivers was substantial. Now only a few remain in provinces like Uthai Thani. [Source:Wattana Boonjub, The Study of Thai Traditional Architecture as a Resource for Contemporary Building Design in Thailand , a Thesis for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy, Program of Architectural Heritage Management and Tourism (International Program), Silpakorn University]

Describing the 16th century Thai capital of Ayutthaya, the historian David Wyatt wrote: “[The] princes and officials constructed homes along the network of canals radiating eastward from the palace and Chinese and Indian merchants built their shops and warehouses along the river to the south.... [Outside the main walls of the city,]... the Chams attached to the army; there are a group of Malays who manned naval vessels, clustered around an Islamic house of worship; north of the city, [there was] a settlement of Roman Catholics descended from Portuguese and Japanese Christians.

Until Bangkok’s canals started to be filled to pave the way for roads in the 1950s, water transportation was the main travelling mode for people and traders who directly sold from boats. Traders normally set up riverside stalls and shop houses. When the transport shifted to land, rows of shops sprouted along the roads instead of the waterways. Today, roads throughout Thailand, even deep in the countryside, are lined with wooden stalls and shop houses selling local produce, handmade items and packaged goods. [Op. Cit, Wattana Boonjub]

Shipping, Waterways and Ports in Thailand

Thailand’s ports in order of size are Bangkok Port (Khlong Toei), Laem Chabang, Pattani, Phuket, Sattahip, Si Racha, and Songkhla. There are also major ports in Thailand at Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong, Ranong, and Map Ta Phut. The Thai merchant fleet comprises 400 ships of 1,000 gross registered tons or more, including 145 cargo carriers, 91 petroleum tankers, 60 bulk carriers, 32 refrigerated cargo ships, 29 liquefied gas ships, 21 container ships, 14 chemical tankers, 6 passenger/cargo ships, 1 passenger ship, and 1 specialized tanker. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007]

Thailand has some 4,000 kilometers of navigable inland waterways, 92 percent of which, or 3,701 kilometers, are navigable by boats with drafts up to 0.9 meters. Thailand’s long coastlines lend themselves to intercoastal trade. The waterway transport system in Thailand is in two types, for travel and for freight. The most important port for freight is the Laem Chabang Deep Sea Port, which is a gateway to the Asia-Pacific region. Next is the Bangkok Port, for the Central Region. Chiang Saen Port is significant for the North, as a gateway to trade with southern China, while Ranong Port is important for the Andaman coastal area.

Moreover, waterway journeys for visitors and everyday people are common in Thailand, in various forms and for every purpose, such as commuting to and from work, cruising along rivers and canals, or crossing to popular islands such as Ko Samet and Ko Lipe, and shuttle boats across canals or rivers, particularly the Mekong River, the Chao Phraya River, or Saen Saep canal in Bangkok.

Waterways: 4,000 kilometers (3,701 kilometers navigable by boats with drafts up to 0.9 m) (2011), country comparison to the world: 27. Merchant marine: total: 363, country comparison to the world: 28. By type: bulk carrier 31, cargo 99, chemical tanker 28, container 18, liquefied gas 36, passenger 1, passenger/cargo 10, petroleum tanker 114, refrigerated cargo 24, roll on/roll off 1, vehicle carrier 1. Foreign-owned: 13 (China 1, Hong Kong 1, Malaysia 3, Singapore 1, Taiwan 1, UK 6). Registered in other countries: 46 (Bahamas 4, Belize 1, Honduras 2, Panama 6, Singapore 33) (2010). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Long-tailed boats (named after drive shaft which extend beyond the back of the boat and connects the an automobile engine on the boat to a propeller) are used by locals and tourists to get around the rivers and canals of Thailand.

Klongs

Bangkok’s canals are known as klongs. Bangkok used to be laced with them. They followed streets, ducked under superstructures and were crossed by bridges. By one estimate a third of the city’s residents in the mid 19th century lived in stilted or floating houses along the canals or the river. Until a few decades ago they were so were so crowded and full of boats that policeman were used to direct traffic. Over the years many of Bangkok’s klongs have been paved over to widen streets and make room for houses and other buildings. Many of remaining klongs are foul and dirty. Some are filled with black oily water. Others are stagnant pools covered by smelly green scum and filled with garbage.

But not all the klongs are a mess. Ones visited by tourists have floating hyacinths and lotus flowers, small houses with garden and fluttering laundry. In some places you can still find monks floating in the water in inner tubes, women in broad woven hats and sarongs using sampans to buy groceries and, floating shopkeepers and deliverymen. In recent years there has been a campaign to free the paved over klongs to attract tourists to places they otherwise wouldn’t go and provide better drainage.

Khlong Mon in Thornburi features weathered teak homes and orchards and interspersed with modern houses, crumbling shacks and the odd temple. Saffron-robed monks can be seen among and stretches of morning glory or water hyacinth. Small boat's travel up and down river. People scrub clothes, take naps and throws scraps to fish, smiling and waving at passers by. Boats leave every 30 minutes from the Tha Tian Pier behind Wat Pro . The fare is minimal. Khlong Bangkok Noi is wider and bolder – more river than canal. It is lined with factories, temples and navy installations as well as homes. Where it meets the Chao Phraya river is the Royal Barges National Museum, where the elaborately gilded barges used in solemn Royal ceremonies can be seen up close.

Boat Accidents in Thailand

In January 2005, seven people were killed, including four foreign tourists (including an American and an Israeli) and 23 were injured, and 17 were missing after an overloaded speedboat capsized off Koh Samui. The boat was returning to Samui from an all-night party on Koh Phangan. Forty people were on the boat when it capsized a few kilometers from Koh Samui. The boat was not allowed to carry more than 30 people.

In July 2010, forty-two people were injured after two boats carrying Thai and foreign tourists collided near Pha-ngam island. The boats were ferrying tourist too and from the island’s “full moon” parties. The boats collided around midnight in rough seas during a rain storm.

Six Tourists Killed in Thai Ferry Accident

In November 2013, Associated Press reported: “An overcrowded tourist ferry capsized and sank near a popular Thai seaside town, killing six tourists, including two Russians and a Chinese, police said. The rest of the roughly 200 people aboard were rescued. The double-decker ferry, carrying Thai and foreign tourists, left Lan island for the 30-minute trip to the resort town of Pattaya on Sunday evening, said police Col. Suwan Cheawnavinthavat. Shortly after the boat departed, an engine problem sent the passengers on the first deck rushing to the second floor, causing the ferry to flip on its side and eventually sink. [Source: Associated Press, November 3, 2013]

"Witnesses said there were neither enough tubes nor life vests on the ferry. Some of those who cannot swim had to cling onto coolers or ice containers until rescuers came," Suwan said by phone. He said the foreigners who died were a Russian man, a Russian woman and a Chinese man. Three Thais — two women and a man — also were killed. The rest of the passengers were rescued, including a 12-year-old Russian boy who was in intensive care at a hospital. None of the others were hospitalized. Suwan said the ferry was operating over its capacity of about 130 to 150 passengers. He said police were looking for the ferry driver to investigate the cause of the accident.

Lan island is a popular daytrip destination among tourists near Pattaya. Pattaya, which is about 60 miles southeast of Bangkok, has had several fatal boat accidents in 2013. In October, an Indian tourist celebrating her wedding anniversary was killed in a parasailing accident off the town's coast. In August, two Chinese tourists were killed in a speed boat accident near Pattaya's main pier.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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