A Day on the River
The Chao Phraya River is a wonderful way to get a different perspective of Thailand.
An iconic symbol of Bangkok's rich trade history, the Chao Phraya River still has the reminiscent feeling of times gone by, regardless of the modern luxury hotels lining her banks. Teeming with riverside culture and leading to sparkling city sights and pockets of local life, the Mae Nam, or mother water, is a wonderful way to get a different perspective of Thailand's magnificent capital. And what better way to spend a hot day in the city than a day on the river?
All Aboard the Tourist Boat
Boats run from Central Pier by Saphan Taksin skytrain station right up to Nonthaburi. You can hop on the Tourist Boat for 40 baht for a one-stop trip or for 150 baht for a day ticket, letting you jump on and off at the eight different piers as you explore some of the city's famous sights. There is commentary on board in English and because you're not stopping at every pier it can be faster than the regular Express Boats too. Check out the route here.
Or the Local Express Boats
However, if you want to stop at a pier not on the Tourist Boat route and explore, or don't mind what might be a slightly longer journey, then the local water taxi Express Boats are cheaper. They can get really crowded but working out where each goes is quite straightforward, so look out for the orange, blue and yellow flags and pay onboard. As a visitor, you will always be sold the Tourist Boat ticket at the piers unless you specify. Check out the routes here.
What to See Along the Way
From Central Pier you can get the free shuttle to the outdoor dining and night market complex, Asiatique, which really comes to life after the sun goes down. While the trip is short there are often queues, so don't be afraid to wait for the next boat if you feel that it's a bit too crowded. There are also boat shuttles to the big-name 5-star hotels too, such as the Hilton, the Shangri-La and The Peninsula, as well as The Marriott and Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa. You are right near to Lebua too, a grand hotel with the must-visit Sky bar at Sirocco.
One stop along from Central Pier, is the Oriental, home to the grand Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where you can dine on the terrace and relax by the river with afternoon tea in the renowned Author's Lounge.
Rachawong Pier takes you to the edge of Chinatown mayhem and the frenetic chaos of Khlong Thom market.
Tha Tien Pier is your main stopping point where you can visit Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. You can also get a boat across the river from here for a few baht to visit Wat Arun (The Temple of the Dawn), which stands out as a classic Chao Phraya landmark.
At Phra Arthit Pier you pull up to the old quarter of Banglamphu; a quirky, eclectic backpacker and tourist friendly area with the mellow pedestrianized Rambutri with its bars, hotels and market stalls leads to the more famous and certainly far busier Khao San Road.
While sightseeing along the river can be a great way to get about, it is the view from the boat of a modern-day city dotted with shining temple roofs and architecture from old Siam that really makes a day on the river appeal. Taking one of the Express Boats up to the outskirts of Bangkok and beyond really gives you a fascinating insight into the changing landscape of the city; with a chance to see the busy city thin out to a more relaxed, rural style, not that far away.
If you want to travel further afield then take a trip to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital.
Grab a bag of fish food and marvel at just how big the catfish are; stop off at a non-tourist area and explore the markets and authentic street food; enjoy a drink by the river as the sun sets over another glorious day in the city.
Exploring the Khlongs
To really see a slice of life by the river, leave the main Chao Phraya and head down into the communities via the canals, or khlongs. While there are a couple of canals in the city where water taxis hurtle past, the best way to explore the khlongs is to hire a long tail boat that can take you down the narrow waterways across the river from the main city. At around 800-1,000 baht, you will spend an hour gliding through the water to see another side of Bangkok that seems a million miles away from the buzz of the city streets.
Have your camera at the ready as you see temples and old wooden teak houses perched on the side of the khlongs around Thonburi, a Thai neighborhood that invites you to see a way of life untouched by the tourist world. You can stop to feed the fish and you might want to see various attractions along the way, such as the impressive boats at the Royal Barges Museum. However, the best part of this experience is just taking it all in from your James Bond-style long tail.
River Dinner Cruise
When the sun goes down the lights twinkle along the Chao Phraya giving the river a magical feeling; perfect for a dinner cruise. Dining on the deck, with delicious Thai dishes and a gentle river breeze, makes for a unique experience. There are several renowned river dinner cruises which are well-established, including Grand Pearl, Mahora Cruises and Loy Nava. For a more Thai-style river and dinner cruise that sets off from the other side of the river there's also Yok Yor.
Bangkok's Chao Phraya River makes for an interesting day out; where you can see rural style riverside life, stunning temples and Thailand's grand cultural heritage, as well as relax by the water with a sundowner at a high-end hotel or an early evening beer at a chilled-out bar.