This post tells you how to explore Bangkok by river boat and I also included a Bangkok ferry map. Bangkok’s top sights and old town are all located by the Chao Praya river that has very good boat connections. That makes Bangkok’s river boats the best way to see the city.
In this post we will first take a Chao Praya river boat to Chinatown. Then we will continue with river ferries to the most famous Bangkok temples Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaeo. At the end of our Bangkok boat tour we will visit the Flower Market and the Big Buddha.
Chao Praya river boats make a great way to get around in Bangkok. And if it happens that you don’t get somewhere by river boat you can take a tuk-tuk or use the efficient metro trains.
We spent three days in Bangkok and most of the time by the Chao Praya river. Here are my travel tips for exploring Bangkok by river boat. But before the ferries a few words you about Bangkok public transport in general.
Bangkok Airport to Bangkok
In big cities I always try to find a hotel that is a short walk from the subway line. Another important thing is that the hotel should be at an easy distance from the airport, at least if I am traveling with a lot of baggage.
Knowing that Bangkok is a huge city with its 10 Million inhabitants, these principles are in Bangkok more important than ever. As Bangkok is so large it’s hard to get anywhere at all by car, the traffic is SO slow. We booked at one of the hotels at walking-distance from Phaya Thai metro station. Phaya Thai is the end station of the airport train line.
Airport train is by far the quickest way to get to Bangkok from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
The train is easy to find at the airport, just take the escalator down. The train is clean, modern and above all it is quick.
The only problem for us was that there was no lift or escalator at Phaya Thai metro station, at least we didn’t find one. We were forced to carry our overseas baggage in the long stairs from the station down to street level.
How to Move around in Bangkok
Bangkok has a public metro system that is not in a tunnel. It is an elevated train network.
Like airport trains the Bangkok metro is clean and efficient. It is very easy to learn how to use the Bangkok metro, all texts are in English and you can understand station names when they are announced. The key is to reserve coins to pay for the tickets.
You can get to the business and shopping areas with the subway but there is no subway line going to the Old Town where the biggest tourist sights are.
Getting to Bangkok Old Town
To get to the old town you either have to take the elevated metro train to Sathorn Taksin station and at Sakhorn Taksin catch a Chao Praya river ferry, or take a bus or taxi from your hotel. Of these two alternative ways the train plus ferry option is the better alternative and takes much less time. Bangkok car traffic is unbearably slow. With taxi a distance of 3 km took us an hour so it’s a slower way of travel than walking.
The picture shows Bangkok late afternoon traffic jam. The metro line is to the right, on the bridge.
Bangkok by River Boat: Bangkok Sights on the Map
Using Chao Praya River Boats
To get to the Chao Praya river take the train to Sathorn Taksin station. Walk down the stairs and there are ferry piers on both sides. Sellers will approach you and offer river boat cruises (1,2 or 3 hours).
These cruises are ok but they cost a lot more than tickets to regular Bangkok river ferries. The good thing with them is that they bring you to smaller side canals west of Chao Praya where bigger river ferries don’t go.
But since most of Bangkok’s main sights are on the Chao Praya river you can just use the regular river boats, at least if you only stay a short time in Bangkok.
Chao Praya River Boat Tickets
We bought river ferry day tickets (150 BHT, about 5 EUR in 2015). Day ticket gives you one day’s unlimited travel on Chao Praya Tourist Boats and you are also free to use all other regular boats. Alternatively you can buy single tickets each time you travel (40 BHT each).
Here are some views of Chao Praya and different models of Bangkok river boats.
Bangkok River Boat Map
Now you have a river boat ticket. Now hop on and join the crowd and start exploring. It’s super easy.
The piers are marked with both names and numbers which is very tourist friendly. And it’s good to know that the most interesting sights are between piers 1 and 10. On the map you can see them in the southern part.
The only thing that may cause you minor problems is that not all ferry lines stop at every pier. There are many different ferry lines marked with different colors on the Bangkok boat map which at first is a bit confusing.
We sometimes missed a pier since the ferry didn’t stop where we thought but we took the next ferry back.
In this Bangkok river boat map you can see where the piers are and and where the different lines (marked with colors) stop.
At the time we visited it was always very crowded on the boats. Bangkok is a popular tourist city and of course millions of locals also use river ferries for getting around in the city.
But in the tropical heat of Thailand the river really is the way to travel. There is a fresh breeze and you meet locals on board and around piers.
There’s one more way to see Bangkok by river boat, you can hire a long-tail boat. They bring you to your pier for a small fee.
So we once took a long-tail boat but like many other drivers our driver was in a hurry and he was driving with a horrible speed which was too extreme for us. The boat was jumping on the rocky waves and we got lots of dirty river water (it’s really dirty!) on us. So we didn’t use long-tail boats a second time.
Here follows a list of the main Bangkok sights. They all are just a short walk from Chao Praya ferry piers. The sights begin at Pier 5 and end at Pier 9.
Bangkok Chinatown begins at Pier 5. Chinatown is a busy area. It’s the place where Chinese immigrants started to settle in Thailand’s capital and it still is the center of the Chinese in Bangkok.
There are lots of market stalls right on the pier and that sell many kinds of exotic fruit like smelly durians. Two things were strictly prohibited in our hotel, smoking and durians. Then there were other fruits I didn’t know what they are. The street sellers didn’t speak any English at all.
We walked south along the first street, Songwat Road and later turned to narrow backstreets. The small Chinatown alleys were packed with all kinds of shops, bakeries and food stalls.
Trucks with loads of rice were unloaded and all kind of daily tasks performed on Songwat Road. Songwat Road is a basic Bangkok street, but I mainly tend to find some beauty in simple streets like this.
These pictures are from one of the Chinese temples in Chinatown, this is the pretty little Li Thi Miew Temple a short walk south from the ferry pier. The temple garden also serves as a paid car park.
Narrow Streets and Shops
Bangkok Chinatown is a maze of narrow side streets. Shops and markets and more shops and markets.
Chinatown has two main streets, Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road. Yaowarat Road is a busy street with lots of shops and street stalls.
As you can see all you might ever need in your daily life is sold here. Different kinds of food, clothes, paper lamps, healing herbs and traditional medicine. And at night the road closes for traffic after 5 pm and becomes a huge night market and food court.
After Chinatown take a river boat to Pier 8 and cross the street. There is the Wat Pho temple complex, Bangkok’s oldest and largest temple.
The main sight of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha, a stunning 46-meter-long statue in a decorated chapel. The Reclining Buddha fills the whole chapel and even if you try it doesn’t fit in any photo. As you can imagine the Buddha has enormous feet.
Here are some more pictures of the Reclining Buddha and the hall decorations. The temple also contains many more chapels with much smaller Buddhas.
The decorations of all Wat Pho temple buildings are amazing. I haven’t seen anything like this before.
Some of the buildings have a blue roof and in other temples the roof is yellow. And all colors in temples look equally pretty.
Wat Pho is also famous for its many old Khmer-style towers, called prangs.
Here are some children at the temple school. What Pho is a traditional medicine center and school.
Bangkok Flower Market
Between Wat Pho and the Ferry Pier is a market hall. If you walk further south, almost to ferry pier 7, there is the Pak Khlong Talat flower market. It is a big area and the biggest wholesale and retail flower market in all Bangkok.
The market is open 24 hours and most crowded after midnight and in the early morning. In Thailand they just love flowers and colors!
Wat Arun is the landmark of Bangkok that is widely used in pictures and postcards.
Arun means morning and the temple is also called the Temple of Dawn.
The main prang (tower) is as high as 79 m and has steep steps that you can climb when there’s no restoration work going on.
In addition to the high main prang there are lower prangs at each corner of the Wat.
All Wat Arun towers have a very special ornamentation created with broken pieces of Chinese porcelain and seashells. There are decorative pictures of monkeys and demons.
To get to Wat Arun you have to take a cross-river ferry from Pier 8. Wat Arun is on the opposite river bank.
On the north of Wat Arun is a beautiful temple area that you pass as you walk from the ferry pier. These pictures are from that temple. These men are building the temple roof.
There’s also a pretty garden cafe where you can sit in the shade. Many monks, most of which were young boys, were walking around in the temple garden.
So many beautiful temple buildings again, Bangkok seems to be full of temples, but some of the temples here were under restoration.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo starts at Pier 8 where Wat Arun is, but the closest Pier to the entrance is Pier 9.
This is Thailand’s holiest temple and has also been the residence of the king. We wanted to see both Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace, but there was no success whenever we tried.
The first day our clothing was not proper; you’re supposed to wear long pants. The second day we came it was already closing time and the third day happened to be a Buddha day and the temple opened for visitors first later, in the afternoon. We spent time and came back, and when the temple opened there was a massive queue when all the big tourist groups came at the same time.
So we didn’t see Wat Phra Kaeo. Maybe next time. This is what it looks like from the outside.
Other sights nearby in Bangkok Old Town are the National Museum, the National Gallery, the University and the giant statue of the Big Buddha, a sight that we visited instead. We hired a tuk-tuk to see more of the Old Town and the Big Buddha.
Sometimes the distances were too long to walk and in those cases we used tuk-tuks. We discussed the price first and then hopped on. In the temperature of 34 Celcius the fresh breeze in an open vehicle in a big bonus compared to cars.
Tuk-tuks are common everywhere in Bangkok and since they are smaller they are mostly a quicker way of transport than a taxi. I’m not sure if they are cheaper than taxis, they both are pretty cheap if you come from Europe.
The tuk-tuks took us to small side streets that were full of local life. These pictures are taken on a tuk-tuk journey.
There are street sellers and street food stalls everywhere, even in daytime, but people come from work the real street life seems to begin. People live their life outdoors.
Tailor: James Design
Quite unexpectedly one of our tuk-tuk drivers brought us to a tailor shop on Sukhotai Road. He said we should go in and see if we like what they make. Unwillingly we walked in – with the result that we bought a suit, high quality, Cashmir wool, perfect cutting, a matching shirt and a tie. And everything at a good price. How could this happen, to us?
The staff was professional, they could guess what we liked and what not. They made the suit in two days since we only stayed a short time in Bangkok.
The first day we came to fit the suit and the second day they delivered it to our hotel, just before our departure, ready to be used the next day in a business meeting in Australia.
Afterwards I happened to see that James Fashion was listed in the National Geographic book The 10 Best of Everything.
So the tuk-tuk driver knew where to bring us, and of course this was a very clever way of marketing. But never mind, the suit is so good, perhaps we want one more.
My Bangkok by river boat tour ends here. Now you know how to use Bangkok river ferries and can use them for sightseeing in the city. Hope to be able to write more about Bangkok later on, I would have a lot to tell about the busy Asian city.
Trip from Bangkok: Ko Samet
Most beach resorts of Thailand are in the south and a long way from Bangkok and if you are in a lack of time it may be a too long way to travel. But no problem, we found a paradise island that is close enough to Bangkok to visit on a short trip: the Ko Samet Island.