Transformed Klong Ong Ang is a hit with urbanites
On a Friday evening, walking down from Damrong Sathit Bridge (Saphan Lek) on a newly constructed walkway lining the Ong Ang Canal, it’s hard to imagine that this used to be a smelly drain-cum-sewer avoided by the residents.
Once Bangkok’s dirtiest canal and a haven for pirate game CDs and porn movie enthusiasts, the Ong Ang Canal is now a new recreational oasis – a far cry from its dirty past.
The beautiful Ong Ang Canal shows just how successful the city fathers and waterfront communities have been in reclaiming a historic waterway from illegal merchants and squatters and transforming it into a new city landmark.
“I was born and bred here along the waterfront of the Ong Ang Canal, but I had never seen the water in Ong Ang Canal,” says 50-something Charoen Saetang, who owns a kitchenware store alongside the canal. “Looking out from the second floor of my store, there was never a day when I could see a water body. All I could make out were the endless rusty tin roofs covering the waterway.”
A town within a town
Part of the secondary city moat, the Ong Ang Canal is as old as Bangkok itself. Constructed in 1783 at the order of King Rama I, the Ong Ang Canal runs North-South for a little less than two kilometres from the Phan Fa Lilat Bridge (next to the Temple of the Golden Mount), and sweeps its way through the bustling Chinese and Indian neighbourhoods of Yaowarat and Phahurat.
The historic waterway then flows into the Chao Phraya River at the Chao Phraya Sky Park – another new pedestrian walkway and landmark bridging both sides of the Chao Phraya River.
In the early days, the Ong Ang Canal was a lifeline of trade and travel – a place where boats offloaded goods brought in from the countryside. The canal was also noted for a pottery market, and was in fact named for it –
“Ong Ang” meaning pottery. Like many urban canals, the Ong Ang suffered devastating pollution, as the neighbourhoods dumped raw sewage and trash into it.
For the past 30 years, the very last section of the canal (little less than one kilometre from the Saphan Lek to Saphan Han bridges) was completely occupied by illegal hawkers – who put up small stores all over the waterbody. Their presence made the Ong Ang Canal seem like a long, ramshackle shantytown in between the bustling Chinese and Indian neighbourhoods.
Reclaiming the waterfront
In 2014, under the National Council for Peace and Order led by Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Ong Ang Canal revitalization project was initiated. Hundreds of illegal hawkers were asked to leave the canal. In 2018, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) stepped in to clean up the water before making the surrounding neighbourhoods more accessible. The project took two years to complete and cost 275 million baht.
The work included dredging the canal, cleaning the water, paving the canal banks with concrete, landscaping the waterfronts and renovating the historical bridges. The key enhancement is the urban walkways – which run on both sides of the waterfront from the Damrong Sathit Bridge (Saphan Lek) to the Osathanon Bridge – and which bring a bustling excitement to the neighbourhood.
“I now make it a point to stroll along the beautiful canal every day,” adds Ong Ang Canal resident Charoen.
Getting close to the water
The congestion on the streets of Bangkok makes many people want to escape and be near the water too.
On the weekend, the waterfront transforms into a walking street from 4pm to midnight, and draws urbanites for the cooling river breeze and a range of activities. This is the first time in 30 years that people can get close to the water and they celebrate in different ways. The brass band blasts out tunes on the walkway, while a lone saxophonist busk against the backdrop of the graffitied wall. Many young urbanites take photos with their smartphones. Some old folk take a long, hard look at the waterbody. The clean canal seems shocking to Bangkok’s urbanites, especially those who grew up seeing and smelling everything from raw sewage to trash in the waterway
“If you visit the canal in the morning, you will see a lot fish swimming in the water. The fish – which haven’t been seen in the Ong Ang Canal for many years – are now visible,” says Bandit, another Ong Ang Canal resident.
Apparently, it’s not just the fish that are enjoying new, clean water. Some kayak and stand up paddleboarding (SUP) enthusiasts have made the canal their own.
How to get there
Take the MRT Blue Line to the Sam Yot Station. The Ong Ang Canal waterfront is a short walk from Exit 1.