Every great city has a river, and Bangkok’s is the Chao Phraya (Mae Nam Chao Phraya). Alive with traditional long-tail boats, passenger ferries, and cargo boats, the Chao Phraya River is the lifeblood of the city. It winds past both ancient temples and modern high-rises, offering a unique, local perspective on the Thai capital.
Traveling via the Chao Phraya River is a great way to tour Bangkok while escaping thick city traffic. Most of Bangkok’s main attractions—including the Grand Palace, Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun), Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew)—are easily accessible from various points along the river. Both Chao Phraya Express boats and converted rice barges ferry visitors to popular city sights. Dinner cruise options abound, complete with live bands and traditional Thai meals, while some small-group boat tours explore the more remote klongs (canal ways) in Thonburi. In addition to traditional sightseeing tours, visitors can tour the night market and the floating market, or try one of many food-based tour options. All offer unique vantages from which to see the city and help visitors avoid the stress of navigating ferry and boat schedules. You can also stay on land and see the river on a tuk-tuk or bicycle tour.
Things to Know Before You Go
- If you’re exploring by day, bring sun protection and plenty of water.
- Chao Phraya Express boats can be identified by their orange, green, or yellow flags. Only the orange boat is open every day.
- The Chao Phraya Tourist Boat, which can be identified by its blue flag, is usually less crowded—albeit more expensive—than the express boats.
- Some boats leave every five minutes, while others leave every 25 minutes; be sure to check the timetable of your boat before arriving.
How to Get There
The Chao Phraya splits Bangkok vertically into two areas and is a popular way to navigate the city. You can get to the river by taking the BTS Skytrain to Central Pier or Sathorn Bridge Pier. River City Pier, located on the eastern side of the river roughly 20 minutes by road or ferry from the Grand Palace, is also a popular jumping-off point for city tours and dinner cruises. To save the hassle of transportation, opt for a dinner cruise with hotel pickup and drop-off.
When to Get There
Bangkok is most crowded in November and March due to soccer tourism. March, April, and May are the hottest months, while the rainy season lasts from the end of May through October. The Chao Phraya River is a popular thoroughfare morning, noon, and night. For spectacular city views and the best temperatures, consider early morning or evening sunset cruises.
Exploring Bangkok’s Klongs
When the capital of Thailand moved to Bangkok at the beginning of the Rattanakosin period, European visitors dubbed the new capital “the Venice of the East” for its many canals. Choose a cruise that navigates some of the city’s more remote klongs to see wooden, riverside stilt houses, kids splashing in the river, and some of the city’s colorful and chaotic floating markets.