Known as the «Venice of the East,» Bangkok is a city that truly beats to the rhythm of the Chao Phraya River. Named by King Rama I as «The River of Kings,» the Chao Phraya River cuts through the heart of Bangkok. It is here that you can visit some of the most extraordinary temples in all of Southeast Asia.
Taking to the water when visiting the city is a must. Each time we return to Bangkok we always discover something new along the water’s edge. There are hidden tributaries, known as «klhongs,» that you can discover by hiring a long-tail boat for a day. Within minutes you’ll be transformed from the hustle and bustle of the busy thoroughfare of the Chao Phraya River to a quiet community where time stands still and people live as they have for centuries in stilt houses surrounded by mangrove trees.
This is rural Bangkok. It’s almost impossible to imagine that beyond the mangroves, skyscrapers surround us. As we float through the quiet communities, I wonder if these families ever make it out of their little corner of the river to explore any of their own city.
It is here in the canals that you will see the famous floating markets of Bangkok, where you can buy your lunch for a few cents. You will see fishermen zipping through the narrow passageways, and if you time it right, you may be able to stop and buy some bread from an old woman to feed the frenzy of catfish waiting nearby to scoop up their regular treats.
It’s a beautiful scene and the further you get from the Chao Phraya River, the more the vegetation grows thicker as the people thin out. It’s wonderful to escape the chaos of the city for a tour of the canals, but that’s not to say that a trip along the main thoroughfare of the Chao Phraya isn’t worth doing too. It is one of the best day trip river tours in the world.
Things to See
Along the Chao Phraya River you will be able to visit the Grand Palace. Once the residence of the Kings of Siam, this is certainly Bangkok’s most famous landmark. It’s here that you will see the Emerald Buddha, which dates back to the 14th century.
There are two must-see wats (temples) along the Chao Phraya River. The first is Wat Arun («Temple of the Dawn»), followed by Wat Pho, where you can view the gigantic Reclining Golden Buddha. Chinatown is located just off the Chao Phraya and if you hop off the boat at Rajawongse Pier, be prepared to explore one of the busiest areas of the city, where crowds and congestion add to the charm of the street stalls and Chinese temples. For a quiet splurge, be sure to stop in for a drink at the Mandarin Bangkok. Formerly the Oriental Hotel, this luxurious hotel was built in 1879 and is regularly deemed as one of the best hotels in the world.
Chao Phraya River Boats
When traveling down the Chao Phraya River, there are several boats to choose from. Regulars to Bangkok will hop on the commuter boats ranging from 10 – 30 Thai baht per ride (30 cents – $1 U.S.), while first-time visitors will want to take the tourist boat for added comfort. The tourist boat is more expensive, at 150 Baht ($5 U.S.) for unlimited day use, but by Western standards, it’s an affordable way to explore the river. You can even hire a long-tail boat for the day for 1,000 baht ($30 U.S.) and have your own private tour, giving you freedom to explore wherever you please.
The best place to start your tour is at Banglamphu, the pier near the famous backpacker street of Khao San Road. From here, make your way north on the river to Taksin Bridge and hop off at any monument or attraction you want to see. When you are finished sightseeing, just hop back on the next tourist boat that comes your way. They stop regularly all day long.
There is so much to see and do on the Chao Phraya River that even if you don’t make it to anywhere else in Bangkok, you will feel satisfied that you have truly seen all the premier attractions and architecture and experienced the culture and heart of this massive Asian city of 8.2 million people.