One of the best ways to explore Bangkok is by boat. The winding Chao Phraya River takes you on a leisurely tour past a whole host of beautiful Bangkok sights and attractions. Sitting on a boat with the wind in your hair and relaxing as you sightsee is one of the best ways to experience the hectic capital city. But the network of ferries, boats, and cruises can be hard to navigate, particularly if it is your first visit. Follow our guide to the Chao Phraya River and get on the water with ease.
Image via Mike Behnken/ Flickr
Bangkok River Travel Explained
The waterways in Bangkok are divided up three ways: the main Chao Phraya River, the Klong Saen Saeb which goes from east to west across the city, and the Klongs of Thonburi, a canal network that extends off the main river. Six different types of boat travel on the river: river taxis (also known as Express Boats), long tail boats, river ferry, canal boats, river cruise boats, and hotel shuttle boats. These different types of boats will be explained in more detail below.
The Mighty Chao Phraya River
The Chao Phraya River is still very much in use, and is the lifeblood of the city. Thousands of people use the river boats every day to get to work, to go shopping, and to get around the city. Cargo boats rely on the river to transport goods around the city. Children play in the river and people live beside it. You’ll find practically everything on the banks of the river from temples to high-rise hotels, churches to markets. The river is truly at the heart of all things Bangkok.
Taking an Express River Boat or Ferry
There are five different lines that are operated by the Chao Phraya Express Boat company – this can be confusing for visitors. Each has a different color – you can see the colored flag at the end of each boat. The boat with no flag is the Local Line, and it stops at every one of the 34 piers on the main river. The other four lines are express lines that do not stop at every pier. The No Flag line operates from Monday to Friday and between the hours of 6am and 6.30pm.
The Blue Flag Line is the tourist boat and it stops on demand. The Orange Flag Line stops at the main piers. The Yellow Flag Line (which stops at only 10 piers) and the Green Flag Line are for commuters and they only run in the early mornings and in the evenings. The Orange Line runs all day and all weekend. At every major pier you can get a cross-river ferry that will take you across to the other side of the river and will also return.
The Tourist Boat
The Tourist Boat offers unlimited trips between the major piers and you can get on and off when you like. You may have to wait a while for a boat, however, as they run every 30 minutes as opposed to 15 or 20 minutes for the commuter boats. By taking the tourist boat you can access major attractions like the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and the Royal Barge Museum. The boat also has a tour guide pointing out the places of interest, and will clearly announce the stops and ask if anyone wants to get off. Considering the low price and that it also has a guide, the tourist boat is a good way to see the city while also getting between different places.
Long Tail Boat/ Image via Jason Cartwright/ Flickr
If you want to schedule a more private and personal journey along the river you can hire a long tail boat. There is no set price list and you negotiate based on how many people you have and where you want to go. It can be difficult to know how much to pay, but hiring a long tail boat can be an interesting and fun way to see the river and also the network of canals on the Thonburi side of the river. You can pick up a long tail boat from practically any of the major piers on the river. Booking a tour before you get to the pier can save time and stress.
Hotel Shuttle Boats
Most of the big hotels next to the river have free shuttle boats for guests that take you to the main piers and you can connect with public transport. Check if you can take one of these shuttles even when you are not a guest – it is a quick, clean and convenient way to get around the river.
Chao Phraya River Cruises
One of the best ways to spend an evening in Bangkok is on a special river cruise. These dinner cruises include a full-course meal and a trip along the river to see the best sights of the city as the sun sets. You can also opt for a large boat with a show included, or a disco.
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