This postman plies Bangkok's canals

Mr Nopadol Choihirun putting mail in a postbox by a canal in the Bang Khun Thian district on the outskirts of Bangkok. He is one of the city's last remaining postmen to deliver mail by boat to waterfront homes.
Mr Nopadol Choihirun putting mail in a postbox by a canal in the Bang Khun Thian district on the outskirts of Bangkok. He is one of the city's last remaining postmen to deliver mail by boat to waterfront homes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANG KHUN THIAN (BANGKOK) • Revving up his engine as the monsoon clouds begin to open, Mr Nopadol Choihirun steers his weathered boat under a two-lane bridge to keep his pile of envelopes and parcels dry.

Dodging the downpour is a regular challenge for the 55-year-old, one of Bangkok's last remaining postmen to deliver mail by boat to waterfront homes in low-lying parts of Thailand's capital.

"I have to be really careful and watch the clouds," he said from beneath the shelter of the bridge as the droplets began to fall.

The genial postman criss-crosses the swampy canal in Bang Khun Thian district twice a week.

Residents know their mail has arrived by the sound of his rusty engine - and the barking it provokes from the suburb's dogs.

Mr Nopadol said the work is about more than just handing out goods. "This is better than sitting at the office or riding the bikes. I meet with the people and interact with them more," he said as he called out to residents while steering his boat.

The veteran mailman is taken with the languorous charm of Thailand's canal life. "Some villagers invite me in for lunch or try to offer me a glass or bottle of water. This is the charm of my job and it makes me happy."

Yet the profession is increasingly threatened by booming development in Bangkok's sprawling metropolis, with canals paved over and waterfront homes torn down.

With an extensive network of moats and man-made canals, Bangkok is often dubbed the "Venice of the East".

The riverine landscape that snakes through the city and connects to the mighty Chaophraya River was once home to thriving communities and trade hubs, where boats played a vital role.

But rapid urbanisation has seen the capital's population explode and move into ever-higher skyscrapers and condominiums.

"Former residents in Bang Khun Thian have either moved out of the canal side or left the elders at home," said local post office assistant director Kijja Phaukmoungsri.

The need for floating postmen has steadily diminished, with only seven post offices in Bangkok still carrying the service today.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'This postman plies Bangkok's canals'. Print Edition | Subscribe