Wild and frightening fishing on the Chao Phraya
I boarded a narrow, wooden craft in Khet Khlong San, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The engine coughed, and we chugged forward, ploughing through the glossy, black water; marine waste and plastic garbage floating on the surface.
Thailand may be famous for its tropical Isles and aquamarine seas, but select rivers and canals—“klongs” here—in the country’s core offer opportunities for some extraordinary adventures as well. Several major rivers like the Chao Phraya and the Mae Klong course south into the Gulf of Thailand, with dozens of tributaries and klongs connecting along the way, and it was there I was hoping to explore.
I had boarded the river here for the first time with the promise of visiting the Wat Pho and Wat Arun Temples and feeding bread to the fish. Bangkok is a city best discovered on foot, yet a journey on the Chao Phraya should not be overlooked. You gain a much better understanding of a place from the water, and you see the land and the curve of the architecture from an entirely different perspective.
Snaking through this land of ornate temples with golden Buddhas, spiralling condo towers and endless street markets, the Chao Phraya remains the beating heart of Bangkok—a pulsating vein and the city’s original highway. People have lived along the waterfront and its tributaries for centuries, the river powering Bangkok’s evolution from a small settlement in the 1400s to the nation’s capital in 1782 and to one of Southeast Asia’s dominant economic centres today.
We pulled out from the slipway. I was on the lookout for black-eared catfish and perhaps barramundi, after hearing that plenty of people fish and find sustinence in these waters, although having seen the waste, pollution and floating scum, I’m not sure I’d eat anything that calls this river home. I’m better off at 7-ELEVEN.
I attached crankbait as angler candy to lure potential prey and in the hope of catching more than just plastic bottles or a dead hooker’s dress. After an hour, nothing. Then, I spotted several swimming, scaly beasts. One was a paddling monitor lizard, who exited the water via some steps after escaping from Lumpini Park.
The river was alive with activity and had I fallen overboard or capsized, the creatures would surely have shredded my body. Some monsters were so prehistoric-looking that I was gobsmacked no one else appeared alarmed. The Captain just grinned. Another hour dangling the line, and nothing. I slumped off home empty-handed.
At home and without dinner, I Googled “Animals in the Chao Phraya River” and woah, let me give you some advice: don’t. Here are what the results showed: Dog-faced Water Snakes, Goggle-eyed Gobies, Giant Mudskippers, Mangrove Pit Vipers and Crab-Eating Frogs.
Dog-faced Water Snakes are seen in the mangrove mudflats. Well, plenty of those here and Mangrove Pit Vipers are more common in Phuket Province, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to stumble upon one here. Anyway, that’s not all that far for a hungry snake to swim. The Pit Vipers are sometimes spotted along Bangkok riverbeds, feeding on lizards, wading birds and probably toddlers of the klongs. And the Crab-Eating Frogs make their way down from the coastal stream in Borneo into Thailand, but none are yet to get a reservation at Jay Fai.