Travelling along the Chao Phraya River is both a relaxing way to get around Bangkok and a good way to see the city’s sights. Many of Bangkok’s famous attractions such as the Grand Palace, Chinatown, Wat Po and Wat Arun are situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and feature their own ferry stops.
Choosing your Trip
To reach the mighty Chao Phraya River, take the skytrain to the Saphan Taksin station and follow the signs to the river. The skytrain connects with the first stop on the river, which runs all the way north to the suburb of Nonthaburi. Finding the right ferry is simple if you know what you’re looking for. The ferry will come from your left and I prefer to catch the orange flag Express boats, as they stop at all of the main piers and arrive every 20 minutes.
Yellow flag ferries stop at 10 piers, while the ferries that fly a blue flag stop at just three piers. Riding along the river in an orange flag boat costs around 13 baht and tickets can be bought on board. Alternatively, you can choose to take the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat, which is much larger and more comfortable, if a little more expensive than the public ferry. The tourist boats usually come with a guide, who will tell you the facts about each site as you sail slowly past.
When all the passengers are aboard, the conductor indicates to the driver through a system of high-pitched whistles and the journey starts. The first stop is pier 1, which is mainly dedicated to the Oriental Hotel. This stop also serves the Assumption Cathedral and the French Embassy.
The next stop is pier 3, Tha Si Phraya. Passengers who choose to explore this area will find the Portuguese Embassy as well as an interesting antiques market. Next, the ferry rounds a bend in the river and you are faced with one of the route’s most arresting sites. The bell-shaped pagoda of Wat Arun – temple of dawn – sits on the left-hand river bank. To visit the temple, get off at pier 8 and take a small ferry across the river. Wat Po, the home of the Reclining Buddha, is also situated just a short stroll from pier 8.
Further down the river we come to Memorial Bridge, also known as Saphan Phut, at pier 6. Across the bridge you will find Wat Prayoon and the Princess Mother Memorial Park. Next to the pier is Pak Klong Market, which is Bangkok’s largest wet market and flower distribution centre. Pier 5 is named Tha Rachawong. This is the best place to stop if you want to explore Chinatown in all its colourful chaos.
Carrying on down the river, pier 11 is situated next to Bangkok Noi (Thonburi) Railway Station, while pier 10 is near Siriraj hospital and the Patravadi Theatre, home to Bangkok’s independent modern theatre company. After pier 10 the ferry crosses the river and arrives at Tha Chang, from where you can explore the Grand Palace. After pausing to pick up passengers, the ferry crosses the river to pier 12, Phra Pinklao Bridge. This is the closest stop to the Royal Barge Museum, which is worth checking out.
Pier 13 is located just a short walk away from Khaosan Road, and this is a good place to pause to enjoy a spot of shopping and perhaps have a drink or two. It takes around half an hour to travel from Saphan Taksin to pier 13 and after completing the journey passengers can either head back down the river or continue onwards to explore Nonthaburi.
By Kirsty Turner