Touring Bangkok canals and river

Bangkok canals are also bustling marketplaces

Bangkok canals are also bustling marketplaces

Most tourists skip over Bangkok's canals and river, which is a shame as a tour along the city's ancient waterways gives a totally different perspective of the Thai capital. The large network of canals in 19th century Bangkok led to the city being touted as the ‘Venice of the East’.

Although many of the old canals have made way for roads and highways, several miles worth still remain to the west of the city in Thonburi, and, to a lesser extent, through old Bangkok. The best thing is that many lesser Bangkok attractions lie along the canals, including an array of floating markets, while big sights, like Wat Arun on the river, are also apparent.

Tourists can tour these canals via long-tail boats and escape the heat of the concrete jungle at any time of day by heading for one of the piers along the canals, or, indeed, on the river. The Tha Chang pier near the Grand Palace is the best known and one of the most accessible piers and trips go from here for 90 minutes or so.

The best of it is you get to sit back with the wind in your face and see something that most others never get to see; even the majority of Bangkokians, who would consider these ancient waterways dirty and not worth their time.

Thonburi canals

Thonburi is a district in the west of Bangkok, across the Chao Phraya River from Silom, and is strewn with ancient canals that are still a way of life there. In fact, the best way to get around Thonburi is by boat as this form of travel is invariably more direct, plus the area is quite large and getting about on foot is a pain.

Blasting along the canals on a longtail is fun

Blasting along the canals on a longtail is fun

Thonburi also gets badly congested through the best part of the day and there is a lack of foot bridges. Thus, getting on a tour of the canals around this area is the best bet. You can pick up Thonburi canal tours from the east side of the Chao Phraya River at Tha Chang pier, which is the easiest one as it is near to the Grand Palace. Tha Tien pier and the pier at the Oriental Hotel (Silom) are also possible.

These trips go for up to two hours and take in all the major sights of Thonburi, including along the Bangkok Noi (small) Canal, Bangkok Yai (big) Canal, Chakphra Canal, and the Daan Canal. The cheapest way is to do a trip without any stops and always be sure to bargain.

Mitchaophraya Travel Service is one such service that takes in parts of Thonburi, leaving from Tha Chang pier. There are two tours available, with the one-hour one doing Bangkok Noi Canal and Mon Canal, and the 90-minute one inclusive of Bangkok Yai Canal. You also get to visit a floating market - Thonburi Floating Market during the week and the better Taling Chan Floating Market on the weekends – as well as the Royal Barge National Museum and Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) on the river. For more on museums in Bangkok.

A much cheaper option is to take the public boat service that goes from Tha Chang pier every 30 minutes between 06:30 and 11:00. Trip price is very reasonable and you get to see one of the floating markets and an orchard.

Chao Phraya River

If you just fancy a blast down the Chao Phraya River, the best bet is to get on the Chao Phraya Express Boat, which is essentially a public river bus that goes up and down the river all day long. You can go from Wat Rajsingkorn down to Nonthaburi, taking in many of the main attractions in the Rattanakosin area, including the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun.

In addition to this service are ferries that just go across the river and back; say, from the Grand Palace over to Wat Arun or to Thonburi. These cross-river services operate from most piers on either side and they go every five minutes or so throughout the day and cost peanuts.

There are also tourist boats that cost a fair bit more but include English commentary for eager beavers. These boats are a bit more comfortable and less crowded than your typical ferry-style boat and they use different piers. They run every 30 minutes to 15:00 and you can buy single tickets or an all-day pass. For more on sightseeing in Bangkok.

Another option for touring Bangkok's canals and river, and one which often gives the most pleasure, is aboard a long-tail boat. You can charter these from any pier and can often negotiate good deals directly with the captain for a longer trip. Trips usually go via Wat Arun, then onto the Royal Barge Museum, and a floating market. Going from Tha Chang pier or Si Phraya pier (Silom) are the best bets.

Popular tours go from Si Phraya pier either along the Chao Phraya River or into Thonburi, the latter of which is a two-hour tour and includes a visit to an orchid farm and Wat Sai Floating Market. The Boat Tour Centre runs these trips out of Si Phraya pier.

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