Many visitors to Bangkok find the city hard to navigate, often overwhelmed by the pollution, hustle and bustle and traffic volume. However, there is an easy and relaxing way to take in many of the city’s highlights just a short stroll from Khaosan Road.
To get to the mighty Chao Phraya River, simply walk to the Gulliver’s end of Khaosan Road and cross the road. Take the short cut through Wat Chana Songkram and you will be in Soi Rambhutri. Follow the narrow lane ahead, cross the road and turn left. After about 50 meters you will come to a narrow alley leading to the pier. Should you get lost, simply ask any Thai ‘meanam unai’ (may-nam u-nigh) where is the river?
You are now on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, which is the preferred form of transport for many people. The river runs 372 kms from North to South and runs next to some of the city’s most interesting attractions. The closest pier to Khaosan Road is Tha (pier) Phra Athit – pier 13. From here, you can take a ferry down the river to the central pier. The journey takes about 30 minutes and is worth it just for the unexpected and intriguing sights on both sides, even if you don’t feel like exploring.
Finding the correct ferry is easy if you know what you’re looking for. The ferry will come from your right and have Nonthamburi written on the side. I prefer to catch the orange flag Express boats as they stop at all piers and come every 20 minutes. Yellow flag ferries stop at 10 piers, whilst those with a blue flag stop at just 3. The white Local Line Boat runs from 6-8:40 and 15:00-18:00. This ferry is mainly for commuters and very crowded. A trip along the river in an orange flag boat costs around 13 baht and tickets can be bought on board. I prefer to stand near the back, but be careful to avoid the area reserved for monks.
Alternatively, you may choose the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat, which is much larger and comfortable, if a little more expensive. The tourist boats often come with a guide, who will tell you the facts about each site as you chug past.
Once everyone is aboard, the conductor indicates to the driver through a system of high-pitched whistles and the journey is away. First, the ferry crosses the river to pier 12, Phra Pinklao Bridge. This is the closest stop to the Royal Barge Museum, which is worth a look.
Carrying on down the river, pier 11 is next to the Bangkok Noi (Thonburi) Railway Station, convenient if you’re catching a train out of Bangkok, whilst pier 10 is near Siriraj hospital and the Patravadi Theatre, home to Bangkok’s independent modern theatre company. After pier 10 the ferry crosses the river once more and arrives at Tha Chang, from where you can explore the Grand Palace.
Next, the ferry rounds a bend in the river and you are faced with one of the route’s most arresting sites. The bell-shaped pagoda of Wat Arun – temple of dawn – sits on the right-hand river bank. To visit the temple, get off at pier 8 and take a small ferry across the river. Wat Po – home of the Reclining Buddha – is also just a short walk from pier 8. Further down the river, we come to Memorial Bridge – also known as Saphan Phut – at pier 6. Across the bridge you will find Wat Prayoon (the turtle temple) and the Princess Mother Memorial Park. Next to the pier is Pak Klong Market, Bangkok’s largest wet market and flower distribution center. Pier 5 is named Tha Rachawongs. This is the best place to stop if you want to explore China Town in all its colourful chaos.
The Chao Phraya Express Boat Co., Ltd (CPEX) was established by Khunying Supatra Singhulaka in September 1971. The company reports that around 35,000 to 40,000 passengers use its ferries each day, totaling around 14.6 million passengers every year!
Further down the river we come to pier 3, Tha Si Phraya. Here you will find an interesting antiques market and the Portuguese Embassy. Pier 1 is largely dedicated to the Oriental Hotel, which is a great place for a cup of tea. You can also visit the Assumption Cathedral and the recently renovated French Embassy.