Guide to Bangkok's river ferries

The express boat makes quite a splash

The express boat makes quite a splash

The Chao Phraya River was the lifeblood of the newly appointed capital of Thailand, Bangkok, in the 18th and 19th centuries and cruising the river today adds another dimension to a visit. Options are traditional river ferries, express ferries, and long-tail boats and you can also take in the network of canals to boot.

There are piers up and down the river where you can get on a ferry or charter a boat. Tha Chang pier, near the Grand Palace, is the main one. Tha Si Phraya pier is another major stop, located at the River City Shopping Complex farther north.

Chao Phraya Express

The Chao Phraya Express is the most popular ferry on the river. It is a public river bus that plies the length of the river from Wat Rajsingkorn (south of town) to Nonthaburi (to the north), going by way of many of old Bangkok’s highlights. It is a good way to go between parts of the Rattanakosin area (where the Grand Palace is at) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) across the river.

Prices for transport on the Chao Phraya Express service are very reasonable and you simply pay the conductor onboard. Piers that the service stops at are well marked and show the routing and pricing. Some of the larger stops allow you to buy a ticket, which you show the conductor.

The Chao Phraya Express also offers an express service that will only take in major, pre-selected stops. The BTS Saphan Taksin pier is one such stop, allowing for an interchange to the subway. The express services are marked by yellow or orange flags. Services for all Chao Phraya Express boats go between 06:00 and 19:00 daily.

While the Chao Phraya Express goes up and down the river, often encompassing both banks, it is not a to-and-fro service, so bear this in mind if you simply want to cross the river. There are dedicated cross-river ferries for this purpose, say, if you want to go from Tha Tien pier (below the Grand Palace) across to Wat Arun.

The main piers generally have a cross-river service, but not all do; so be sure to check as you may end up going in the wrong direction and spend half the day getting to where you want to go. Cross-river ferries run very frequently and cost just a few baht. For more on getting around Bangkok.

Tourist Boat

Along with the Chao Phraya Express is the Tourist Boat, which takes in a different set of piers and provides English commentary. Prices are about double that of the Chao Phraya Express, but they are much more comfy and less crowded and you can also buy a day pass. Services take in the main parts of the river and run every 30 minutes, stopping at 15:00.

Bangkok canals are also bustling marketplaces

Bangkok canals are also bustling marketplaces

Long-tail charter

The other option for cruising the Chao Phraya is to go the local long-tail route. These skinny boats have huge motors and provide the most fun with a fast and furious ride. You will see them near most piers and negotiate with the captain for a price and route. They are an especially good option for families or small groups and can go where you like: up and down the river taking in the main sights, or within the Thonburi canal system, for example.

A popular trip takes in the old Wat Arun, followed by the Royal Barge Museum and one of the many floating markets. There are usually plenty of options at Tha Chang (central) and Si Phraya (south, Silom) piers. The standard Thonburi tour takes in Way Sai Floating Market and an orchid farm from Si Phraya pier. Long-tail boat tours of the Thonburi canals also go from Tha Chang and Tha Tien piers. For more on shopping.

Thonburi canals

Thonburi occupies a bend in the river on the west bank, below Wat Arun and southwest of the Grand Palace, and is criss-crossed with canals. The best way to get around is, without doubt, by boat and there is plenty to see. Trips from the main piers on the Bangkok side go for around two hours and there are several main canals, including: Bangkok Yai and Bangkok Noi, and Daan, Chakphra, and the Mon.

Mitchaophraya Travel takes in various parts of Thonburi, including Bangkok Noi Canal, Bangkok Yai Canal, and Mon Canal. The larger canal (Bangkok Yai) is a 90-minute tour that includes Taling Chan Floating Market (weekends) and Thonburi Floating Market (during the week), along with Wat Arun and the Royal Barge Museum. The shorter, one-hour tour takes in Bangkok Noi Canal and Mon Canal.

You can forego these relatively expensive services and take the public boat, which departs Tha Chang pier every half hour. You also get to see an orchard and floating market and services run between 06:30 and 11:00. Note. The floating markets in Thonburi are not to be confused with the well known Damnoen Saduak Floating market, which is much farther out.

Sunset over Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn)

The best way to see the Temple of Dawn is during one of Bangkok’s famous dusty, humid, orange sunsets from the river. To do this, take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin and catch the northbound river service. You get to take in the best part of the river as the sun is going down and can alight at Tha Chang pier, or carry on to Banglamphu pier for Khao San Road. Getting the last service at around 18:00 will ensure you have the best chance of seeing the sun setting over Wat Arun.

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