Bangkok by river boat

By Kirsty Turner

Some of the best views are seen from riverboats

Some of the best views are seen from riverboats

There’s so much to see and do in the capital city of Bangkok that most people don’t know where to start. Although it’s impossible to see everything in one day, a large number of major attractions can be seen by taking a ferry along the Chao Phraya River.

To get to the mighty Chao Phraya River, simply walk to the Gulliver’s end of Khaosan Road in Banglampu and cross the road. Take the short cut through Wat Chana Songkram and you will be in Soi Rambhutri. Follow the narrow lane ahead, cross the road and turn left. After about 50 meters you will come to a narrow alley leading to the pier. Should you get lost, simply ask any Thai: mare naam yu nai (where is the river?).

You are now on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, which is the preferred route of transport for many people. The river runs 372kms from north to south and next to some of the city’s most interesting attractions. The closest pier toKhao San Road accommodation is Tha Phra Athit – pier 13. From here, you can take a ferry down the river to the central pier. The journey takes about 30 minutes and is worth it just for the unexpected and intriguing sights on both sides, even if you don’t feel like getting out and exploring.

The Chao Phraya Tourist Boat is a good option if you are new to the city. Much larger and more comfortable than the regular passenger ferries, the tourist boats often come with a guide who will tell you facts about each site as you chug past. Once everyone is aboard, the conductor indicates to the driver through a system of high-pitched whistles and the journey is away. First, the ferry crosses the river to pier 12, Phra Pinklao Bridge. This is the closest stop to the Royal Barge Museum, which is worth a look.

By boat you get a different perspective of the city

By boat you get a different perspective of the city

Carrying on down the river, pier 11 is next to Bangkok Noi (Thonburi) Railway Station, convenient if you’re catching a train out of Bangkok, while pier 10 is near Siriraj hospital and Patravadi Theatre, home to Bangkok’s independent modern theatre company. After pier 10, the ferry crosses the river once more and arrives at Tha Chang, from where you can explore the Grand Palace.

Next, the ferry rounds a bend in the river and you are faced with one of the route’s most arresting sites. The bell-shaped pagoda of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) sits on the right-hand river bank. To visit the temple, get off at pier 8 and take a small ferry across the river. Wat Po, home of the Reclining Buddha, is also just a short walk from pier 8. At Pier 8 you can also hire longtail boats to take you across to the Royal Barge Museum and for a spin through the canals of Thon Buri.

Further down the river, you come to Memorial Bridge - also known as Saphan Phut – at pier 6. Across the bridge you will find Wat Prayoon (Turtle Temple) and the Princess Mother Memorial Park. Next to the pier is Pak Klong Market, Bangkok’s largest wet market and flower distribution center. Pier 5 is named Tha Rachawongs. This is the best place to stop if you want to explore Chinatown in all its colourful chaos.

At pier 3, or Tha Si Phraya, you’ll find an interesting antiques market and the Portuguese Embassy. Pier 1 is largely dedicated to the Oriental Hotel, which is a great place for a cup of tea. You can also visit the Assumption Cathedral and the recently renovated French Embassy.

The next stop is the journey’s end. The Central pier – also known as Saphan Taksin - connects with the BTS, also known as the Skytrain. The BTS offers an aerial view of much of Bangkok and is also the best way to get into the centre of Bangkok.

The average BTS journey costs 10 to 30 baht, which is much cheaper than travelling by taxi ortuk-tuk. The automatic ticket machines only take 5 and 10 baht coins so take plenty of change if you want to avoid queuing at the change counter. You can also purchase a day ticket, which offers unlimited trips for just 120 baht.

As you travel you will pass over the large Lumpini Park, which includes a huge large and an outdoor gym. Those wanting to visit Jim Thompson’s House should get off at National Stadium.

Change lines at the Central station at Siam to do some shopping. There are a large number of trendy western shops here such as Body Shop and the food court on the ground floor of the Paragon shopping centre is a great place to eat on a budget.

Of course, if you’re staying in the Sukhumwit or Silom areas you can always do the whole journey backwards and take a taxi home from the Khao San road accommodation, after rush hour of course!

A good place to stay in Bangkok is the Khao San road, since it is close to the starting point on the river and other sites. It also has many guesthouses and hostels for budget travellers. Although you can often 'walk-in', it's advisable to book rooms in advance with a site like Hostel bookers, where there are the best deals for good value affordable accommodation.

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