This post tells you how to explore Bangkok by river boat, practical tips and Bangkok ferry map included. As Bangkok’s sights are by the river this is the best way to get around the city.
We will travel along Chao Praya river and first take a boat to Chinatown. After Chinatown we will hop on another ferry and see temples: Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaeo are all by the river. After the temples and the old town we will see Bangkok’s Flower Market and the Big Buddha.
Bangkok by river boat
Chao Praya river boats are the ideal way to get around Bangkok. And if you don’t get somewhere by river boat you can just take a tuk-tuk or maybe the metro. Try to avoid using cars. Car traffic in Bangkok is very slow.
We spent three days in Bangkok and most of the time by the river. Here are my travel tips for exploring Bangkok by river boat. But before that I will tell a few words about Bangkok public transport system.
Using Bangkok Public Transport
How to get from Bangkok Airport to Bangkok City
In big cities I always try to find a hotel close to the subway line. What also matters is that my hotel should be at an easy distance from the airport, at least if I am traveling with checked in baggage.
Knowing that Bangkok is a huge city with 10 Million inhabitants these rules are more important than ever. Bangkok is so large that it’s a challenge to get anywhere at all by car, the traffic is SO slow. We booked our room in a hotel that was a short walking-distance to 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, at least 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 was that there was no lift or escalator at Phaya Thai metro station, at least we didn’t find one. We had to carry our overseas baggage the long stairs down from the station.
How to Travel around in Bangkok
Bangkok has a public metro system that’s not underground. Bangkok has an elevated train network built on bridges.
Like airport trains the Bangkok metro is clean and shining. It is super easy to learn how to use the metro, all texts are in English and you can understand station names when they are announced. Just think about that you will need small 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 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 the train plus ferry option is by far the better as it takes much less time. Bangkok car traffic is unbearable. With taxi it took us an hour to travel 3 km so it would be better to walk.
The picture shows Bangkok late afternoon traffic. 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 Chao Praya river take the train to Sathorn Taksin station. Walk down the stairs and there are ferry piers on both sides. Sellers will come to you and offer river boat cruises (1,2 or 3 hours).
These cruises are OK but they are higher priced than regular Bangkok river ferries. Yet the good thing about them is that they take you to smaller side canals west of Chao Praya where bigger river ferries don’t go.
Bangkok by river boat
But since most of Bangkok’s sights are on Chao Praya you can just use regular river boats. The regular boats are also called Express boat river taxis but they are not private water taxis. They take many passengers.
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 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.
Bangkok river boat map, Chao Praya boats
At the time we visited it was crowded on boats at all times. Bangkok is a popular tourist city and in addition millions of locals also use river boats for getting around.
But in Bangkok’s round the year tropical heat the river is a treasure. There is always a fresh breeze that makes it easier to stand out the heat. And you will meet locals on board and around piers which is nice too.
There’s one more way to see Bangkok by river boat, you can hire a so called long-tail boat. They also take you to your pier for a small fee.
So we once took a long-tail boat but our driver maybe was stressed since he was driving with a terrible speed. All drivers are doing that. The boat was jumping on the waves and we got lots of dirty river water on us (Chao Praya river water really is dirty!). So we didn’t want to use long-tail boats a second time. This is what Bangkok long-tail boats look like:
And now the main Bangkok sights. All these sights are just a short walk from Chao Praya ferry piers. The sights begin at Pier 5 and end at Pier 9. First the Chinatown.
Touring Bangkok by river boat: Chinatown
Bangkok Chinatown begins at Pier 5. It’s a busy area. Chinatown is the place where Chinese immigrants first settled in Thailand’s capital and it still is the center of the Chinese community of Bangkok.
There are lots of market stalls right on the pier and they all sell different kinds of exotic fruit – like smelly durians. There were two things strictly prohibited in our hotel, that was smoking and durians. Then there were many other fruits that I didn’t know what they are. Street sellers didn’t speak any English so we couldn’t talk.
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.
A Chinatown temple
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.
Wat Pho Reclining Buddha
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.
Bangkok by river boat: Wat Pho
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
Bangkok by river boat: 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!
Bangkok by river boat: the temple of Wat Arun
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.
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.
North of Wat Arun is another beautiful temple area, you walk past as you walk from the ferry pier and theese pictures are from that temple. There were some men building the temple roof.
Wat Arun roof repairers
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.
Bangkok by river boat: the Grand Palace
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.
Bangkok street life
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.