Bangkok by Boat
Taking a Boat in Bangkok
In the days before Bangkok got paved over with concrete, it was known as the "Venice of the East" because of its vast network of canals or klongs throughout, and the mighty Chao Phraya River snaked through the city. Boats and barges were common transport and today Bangkok still uses boats to get around and surprisingly quickly! You will appreciate the exhilarating experience of the river taxi and take in the passing river/city scenery. Be sure to take a longtail boat klong tour when you first arrive and you're in the midst of exploring the city.
If you need to get from the Grand Palace area to the Silom district, going by taxi can take an hour on bad days, but taking the river taxi will get you to your destination in a fraction of the time. These boats are all about efficiency!
This lens is about taking the canal boats, river taxis and a special section on dinner cruises all taking in the sights of Bangkok from the water.
Chao Phraya Express Boats
Also known as River Taxis
The daily standard express boats go from 6:00 AM to 6:40 PM and arrive every 20 minutes. I used to always catch a river taxi at the Sathorn pier, which is the terminal station for the Skytrain's Silom line. I'd usually head up and get off at Tha Chang Pier for the Grand Palace area or Tha Ratchawong to visit Chinatown. When you get on and off these boats, do so quickly and be ready at the back of the boat when you know your stop is coming up. The boat operators waste no time. You can buy a ticket either at the pier, or a conductor will come by and take your money just like they do on the buses.
Now when you are waiting at the pier, you will also see another pier, usually to the right of the express boat taxi landing. This is for the boat that crosses the river. For 2-3 baht you can get across, and you'll need to when you go to see Wat Arun. So make sure you're on the correct landing -- do you want to go across, up or down the river.
Once you're on board though, it's a sight to see. From high rise luxury hotels to shacks on stilts with laundry flapping in the sun, you'll see those and all of it in between. Near the tall glass-walled office towers, you'll see ornate traditional temples, some of Chinese origin. The modern living next to the ancient is such a contrast and traveling by a mode of transportation that is out of the norm provides a memorable experience.
This convenient link shows you a map of the piers along the Chao Phraya River and gives you additional details about each stop within their site. .
Express Boat River Taxi in Action
Thonburi Canal Tours
Get an unusual glimpse of Bangkok from the water
Before Bangkok's canals were paved over with streets, traveling by boat was the norm. Across the river in the Thonburi district there are still a few canals in use and tours are available via chartered longtail boat.
Along the various piers on the Chao Phraya River, you will be able to charter a boat; any pier between Tha Oriental and Tha Chang should have places to do this, though Tha Si Phraya, Tha Chang and Tha Saphan Phut are the best. Another place is the River City complex near to Tha Si Phraya, although the touts at these piers are paid commissions so bargain carefully and avoid any "free guided tours" as these are scams. Typical rates are about 400 baht per hour, although you may book a day trip for about 3,000 baht, which includes air conditioned transport from your hotel, and English speaking guide and lunch.
Your tour will probably include stops at several temples and a small floating market, which is basically some Thai people in their boats selling souvenirs and snacks. Another highlight is the orchid farm with many varieties of orchids in stunning, brilliant colors. You might get to stop at the Royal Barges Museum, which houses 50 ornately carved and painted long boats used during royal processions. Admission to the museum is 30 baht (about 84 cents USD) however, it's an extra 100 baht if you wish to take photos.
Its fascinating to see the houses on stilts with their hanging gardens along the roof eaves and balconies. You might see monks on their alms rounds making their way in boats, or even the postman making deliveries in his boat! You'll get a look at what life was like before Bangkok was paved over.
For saving an enormous amount of time
Many of the khlong taxi (or canal boat) routes have no signs nor do many guidebooks list them, so it can be challenging finding where they stop to get off.
Getting on and off is tricky as the boat sometimes is still in motion and you must step over the side of the boat right into the seating area. Be very careful not to lose your balance as you certainly don't want to fall into the dirty canal water!
Once you're on board, you may have trouble sitting if you're tall. The benches have very little space between them. If you're sitting at the side and the blue tarp isn't pulled up, you may get splashed with nasty khlong water, so bring a handkerchief just in case.
At one point the roof collapses when the boat goes underneath a very low lying bridge; it freaked me out the first time it happened when the top of the boat was nearly resting on my head! The ticket takers, who also moor the boat, wear bike helmets in case they aren't paying attention when the boat goes under said bridge.
The canal route that I'm familiar with is Klong Saen Saep. Across the street from the Siam Discovery Center is the beautiful new Bangkok Art and Culture Centre building. On that side of the street, head north on Phaya Thai Road and you will see the Saphan Hua Chang (Elephant Head Bridge). If you go underneath that bridge, there is a canal (klong) taxi stop. There aren't any signs, nor is there anything else to show that there is any sort of transport service. I used to take this boat up to Wat Saket (The Golden Mount) and it saved substantial time in traffic and it was far more interesting to take a boat than a bus.
The full route of Khlong Saen Sap runs from Banglamphu all the way across the city to the Ramkhamhaeng University area. Other popular stops for visitors are Tha Banglamphu / Tha Phanfa, Tha Saphan Hua Chang,(mentioned in the previous paragraph) near Jim Thompson's House and MBK shopping center. Tha Pratunam, off Ratchprarop road near CentralWolrd is convenient. Tha Asok, off Asok road (Sukhumvit Soi 21) and off Soi Ekkamai off Sukhumvit road are also convenient stops that save you loads of time when traffic is otherwise heavy.
Fares for khlong taxis are between 5-15 baht, depending on the distance.
Off and On at a Khlong Taxi Stop
Enjoying a traditional Thai dinner, international buffet or seafood while taking in the sights of the river at night is a stunning experience. Glittering skyscrapers and the lit temples and Grand Palace are spectacular to behold. Experience first class hospitality on board a variety of vessels, from restored converted antique rice barges to modern luxury cruisers.
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- Wan Fah Dinner Cruise
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Your Experience with Boats in Bangkok
Which boat trip have you taken?