Bangkok - The Essential Chao Phraya Express River Guide
Four Good Novels about Bangkok - It is really like this!!
Chao Phraya Express Boat
This is the Essential Chao Phraya Express River Guide.
One of the cheapest and easiest ways to get around Bangkok is by The Chao Phraya Express Boat or more simply the river taxi. This is a bargain, whatever you do don't miss out on this great experience! The easiest way to experience it is to take the BTS Silom Line to Saphan Taksin, currently the only place where the water route joins any other public transportation network, and walk down to the riverside pier. There are two versions of this service, the public one or the exclusive Tourist version. Obviously the charges differ with the public ‘orange flag’ boat costing Baht 14 per journey (you buy your ticket on board) irrespective of the number of stops one travels (there are also green and yellow flag boats with slightly different pricing but these tend to operate only during the rush hour for commuters using the river) and then there is the ‘Tourist Express Boat’ which is a hop on/hop off service which costs Baht 150 for unlimited use on any given day (it can also be used on the public boat at no extra charge), you can buy your ticket at the booth on the pier. You can check out more details on their website http://www.chaophrayaexpressboat.com/en/home/.
What is confusing for the average tourist is the fact that the routes for each service virtually overlap between Sathorn (BTS Saphan Taksin) and Phra Arthit (Khao San Road), the public boat however has a much longer total route and runs from Wat Rajsingkorn in the south, three stops further on from Sathorn, to Nonthaburi in the north. The total journey, one way, from one end to the other takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes depending on the water traffic conditions and is very reliable. It is a pleasant journey and a good way to see the different sights along the river.
By the way, as often observed, the various maps given out by hotels, tourist agencies and the like tend to be more confusing than helpful as they are not to scale and miss lots of obvious places out. Use them carefully and with a certain amount of scepticism. Also better to ask other tourists first, if in doubt!!
Sights along the route
Before we start a word of caution: not only are the various stops or piers along the route not well signed but also many of the buildings along the route have no signage at all, either in Thai or English. Note that many of the boat stops do NOT show that you get off at this stop to see such and such and such and such although the ticket conductor does make an effort to shout out Wat Pho and Grand Palace at the appropriate stops. Also some piers seem to have two names which is obviously confusing. So work out your itinerary and the names of the piers that you intend to get on and off from, the road between piers may not be straight forward! Also, on pronunciation, the Thai word Wat has an A sound like Vat not What.
We will start our Chao Phraya journey at Sathorn on the public service which runs from 6.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m., last ferry. Sathorn is adjacent to the Shangri-La Hotel and the Saphan Taksin BTS station on the Silom Line. Orange flag boats are every 20 minutes. Get on the boat that is going North or travelling from left to right! The first stop is the Oriental Pier, stop here for the Oriental Hotel, one of Bangkok’s finest, and The Peninsula Hotel across the river, accessible by the hotel’s own boat. Also here is Assumption Cathedral, well worth a visit. As you leave the pier, which is rather decrepit given it is next door to a 5 star hotel, you will find the entrance down a short road just 50m metres or so on the right hand side.You do not expect to find such an ornate Christian church in the land of so many temples! Mass in English is conducted at 10.00 a.m. every Sunday.
Continuing on from Oriental Pier the next stop is Si Phraya. Stop here for the Royal Orchid Sheraton and also for River City, an up market mall specialising in antiques In between these stops look out for the French and Portuguese embassies on the right hand side. Next is Harbour Dept, get off here for the Holy Rosary Church, built by the Portuguese in 1786, which you pass just before the stop, also note the beautiful Siam Commercial Bank building squeezed between church and pier. Directly opposite is the eight storey Chee Chin Khor Chinese pagoda. On from Harbour Dept. we next come to Ratchavongse, this is the stop for Chinatown, a great place to explore and, if you don’t mind a bit of walking, the Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit.
Next stop after Ratchavongse is Yodpiman, a recently renovated fish market building attempting to be a tourist attraction. You can get off here for the Flower Market at nearby Memorial Bridge but watch out as it is pretty much all over by 10.00 a.m. There is also a night market nearby. Following on from Yodpiman is Tha Tien, get off here for Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), on the other side of the river accessible by another small ferry (3 baht one way). From Wat Pho you do not have to get back on the ferry to get to the Grand Palace, instead you have a very pleasant walk around the Palace compound where Wat Pho is on one side of the square and the main entrance is on the opposite side. As you walk around on the side furthest from the river you will find, heading away from the Grand Palace, a road called Bamrung Muang, down here you will find the Giant Swing and Wat Suthat, one of Bangkok’s most beautiful temples and yet strangely off most people’s itinerary and then keep on the same side of the road and in the same direction for about 500m further on down and to the left you will find Golden Mount or Wat Saket, climb to the top there are good views from the top on a clear day.
The next stop, Tha Chang, is the main stop for the Grand Palace with Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, inside the compound. Exiting the pier the entrance to the Grand Palace is directly in front, down the road about 250m, you do not need to take a taxi and it is open virtually every day of the year from 8.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. Do not listen to anyone, particularly tuk tuk drivers, telling you it is closed!! You also need to dress appropriately with legs covered and shoulders too. They do have a selection of old clothes for you to borrow if you do not meet the requirements. Next stop is Thamaharaj, virtually next door as Wang Lang is being renovated And then on to Thonburi Railway Station on the other side of the river close to Wang Lang. Located here is the Royal hospital, Siriraj and the Royal Barges Museum just a short walk away. The Council of State building and Thammasat University are on the opposite side of the river. Carrying on from Wang Lang and on the same side of the river the next stop is Pinklao.
From here we now cross back over to the other side of the river and the next stop is Phra Arthit. This stop is the end of the Tourist Boat route and is close by to Khao San Road, famous as the backpackers’ area. Leave the ferry pier and turn right, walk about 50m and then cross the road where you will find an alley leading away from the river. Go down here, you will find guest houses and restaurants leading on to a larger walkway with stalls selling any number of things from T-shirts and jewellery to books and mobile phone accessories. Follow the walkway down to the left and carry on until you reach the main road with Bank of Ayudhya on your left. Turn right here, past Wat Chana Songkram and the actual Khao San Road is about 50m down on the other side of the road. All the people milling around will be the give away!!
Leaving Phra Arthit we immediately pass Sumen Fort on the right and carry on to Thewes. This Pier is popular for making merit by releasing fish. Also at Thewes you will find a flower and plant market literally just outside the pier and just a short walk away, down to the main road and then off to you're right about 500m away from the river, Wat Indrawiharn with the large standing Buddha, but note that this is very much a funerary temple. Next stop is Krung Thon Bridge close by the Royal River Hotel and Wat Thepnahree and from there on to Payap, look out for the Boon Rawd Singha Beer Brewery on the right hand side recognisable only by the Singha Beer logo and, if you look carefully, you can see three bronze vats through the window. Past the brewery you will see a large construction site which used to be the location of army barracks.
Following the river further north our next stop is Kiak Kai , look out for the fish, and then the newly renovated Wat Soi Tong with Wat Wimuttayaram across the river just before Rama 7 Bridge. We pass under the bridge and the new huge North Bangkok Power Plant on our left. Note all the houses built on stilts along both sides of the river now. Wat Khemat is on the right after a mosque and then we pass the deluxe riverside condo, Riverine Place on the right with the next stop, Wat Kian, almost exactly opposite before the last but one stop at Rama 5 Bridge.
Next and last stop is the end of the line, Nonthaburi. On leaving the pier immediately off to the right about 100m is a large, new Chinese temple. In front of the pier is a small roundabout but on the other side of this, to the right, is a day market selling all sorts of goods leading on to a vegetable and wet market. The market is vibrant and full of interesting sights and, if you are interested in daily life, well worth a look. However besides this there is nothing much else to see right here but you can either take a long tailed boat or a bus (No.32) to Ko Kret, an island further up river where they make Mon style pottery or just hop across to the other side of the river to see Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat. Alternatively you can take a taxi and go over Rama 5 Bridge to Wat Sanghatham, about a 10 minute ride, where there is a large meditation centre and an interesting wooden structure carved with images of various countries around the world. To get back to Nonthaburi Pier just get in a taxi and ask for Tanam Non.