Book the Explore! Klong Toey Slums of Bangkok tour here.
Bangkok is a city of 13 million people, and a significant part of her labor pool lives in the slum neighborhood of Klong Toey. In the West, we tend to see the word “slum” in pejorative terms, but here, its encoded into the Thai language (pronounce it “sal-UM”). Klong Toey began its life as a squatter settlement lived in by laborers building Bangkok’s port. It wasn’t officially part of Bangkok’s municipal government. Today, it has a reputation for crime and poverty, but tour it, and one quickly sees that there’s far more underlying its surface. It’s not easy to tour it, though, especially as a westerner. Until now.
Klong Toey kindergarteners learning English at the Duang Prateep Foundation
The “Explore! Klong Toey Slums of Bangkok” tour takes half a day, and is probably the only way that most visitors will be able to get inside the tiny communities that lie behind the main streets. Westerners proceeding on their own though the back streets may be viewed as drug-seekers, fodder for robbery, or, at best, perhaps one of those occasional farang that actually lives there, in violation of the time allotment of their visas, living an underground existence. Such individuals typically have a Thai partner and perhaps a child, and are hosted on a permanent basis by the girlfriend’s family.
Western visitors taking the Klong Toey Slums tour are led by a known local, who will guide them safely in and out of the community. Philosophically, the tour is really two sides of a societal coin. It begins with an investigation into the solution to squatter settlement needs, and continues into the community itself. It’s the most fascinating tour we’ve ever taken in Bangkok.
The tour begins at the Duang Pradeep Foundation, an amazing non-religious, non-governmental organization, begun in 1978, that has educated thousands of Klong Toey school kids from kindergarten through high school (today, there are 210 kindergarteners at school all day, learning educational and hygienic basics and having a healthy lunch while their parents are at work).
Alley cuisine in the back streets of Bangkok’s Klong Toey district
After meeting the workers and children at Duang Prateep, the visitor walks a few blocks, makes a turn down an alley (called a “lock”), and enters the community. Here are tiny houses built of found materials, colored by paint and posters, and festooned with ribbons made out of cut-up magazine ads. Living is close, and there’s no space wasted; here are three coin operated washing machines chained together, allowing just enough space for a pedestrian to squeeze by someone doing the laundry; further on, a busy food stall grows out of someone’s living room. Everywhere is color, the entire community consisting of a riot of hues, shapes, and patterns provided by design or accident.
Upon leaving, the visitor may be faced with a number of conflicting thoughts regarding the conception of poverty. Newspapers are full of tales leading back to crimes taking place in Klong Toey. To those who haven’t been there, the slum community might seem to represent a dark urban cave into which one descends, rather than walks, to find a Casbah-like warren of alleys that allows easy entrance, but a more problematic return.
The Explore! Klong Toey Slums Of Bangkok tour unveils instead a fantastic, colorful world with its own set of truths, and falsities, a vibrant, yet still developing community adjacent to, yet completely hidden from “tourist Bangkok.” This is, in the opinion of those of us here at WoWasis, the one tour you can’t afford to miss. Book the Explore! Klong Toey Slums of Bangkok tour here.