The Chao Phraya River twists through Bangkok on its course to the Bay of Thailand and its muddy waters churn with boat traffic as residents use ferries to bypass the tangled lanes on land. This is one side of Bangkok you won’t want to miss. Guided boat tours offer a great angle on the city, but for the independent or budget traveler, the public ferry system itself is a ticket to many of Bangkok’s best sights and the fares are merely pocket change.
Just a ride upriver offers views of Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and the Grand Palace as well as the colors of long-tail boats and the hardscrabble life of the poor along the edge of the river. But travelers can make an entire day of this passage by hopping off at numerous piers along the way to visit many of the best tourist sites.
Access to the river couldn’t be easier. The BTS SkyTrain stops right above Central Pier at the Saphan Taksin station. Chao Phraya Express boats roar up to each pier with a boatman blowing a shrill whistle to signal the captain’s maneuvers to merely push up against the free-floating platform. Passengers hop on and hop off and the boat is gone. Boats fly colored flags for different routes: orange and yellow for standard boats, a blue one for a tourist boat that rides a bit slower and gives some basic narration in English, and no flag for the local non-express ride. Tickets are either purchased on the pier before the boat arrives or on board depending on the time of day. (Usually after 3 p.m. one pre-purchases the ticket on the pier.) Fares range from 9 to 20 baht depending on distance of destination and which boat you take.
At the Chao Phraya Express office or the Tourist Information office inside Saphan Taksin station you can purchase a full-day pass for all Chao Phraya boats for just 150 baht. Hop on and off any Chao Phraya Express boats all you want and just flash the pass. But start early – it expires at around 3 p.m.!
Note: From Khao San Road the closest pier is number 13 Tha (Pier) Phra Arthit.
What can you see along the river? Check out our Exploring Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River guide.