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Treat Yourself to the Chao Phraya River’s Delights


You can’t visit Bangkok without experiencing life on the river, and there are many options when it comes to seeing the Chao Phraya River firsthand. In Thai, Mae Nam is the word for river, which directly translated means “mother water,” a fitting name for one of the most ancient lifelines in the city. Fundamental to Bangkok’s rich history, the Chao Phraya River is both a highway for trade and a unique tourist attraction where you can see ancient family homes right next to the luxury hotels that line the river’s bank. Explore a little deeper and you’ll come across quaint little pockets of local life, the sparkling sights of the big city, and a mass of riverside culture that will give you a new perspective of Thailand’s capital city. Oh, and there’s definitely no better way to beat the heat than to enjoy a cruise along the river.

Treat yourself to the delights of Thailand's Chao Phraya River

The aptly named “Tourist Boat”

Your first option to get on the water is the Tourist Boat, and it’s easy to find via the Central Pier at the Saphan Taksin Sky-train station. Personally, this is one of my favorite ways to explore the city, as a full day ticket (9:30am to 7:30pm) will only set you back 150 baht. The Tourist Boat stops at eight select piers along the river, so you can jump on-and-off at your convenience, and go explore some of the coolest sights in Bangkok. Plus, there is English commentary on the boat, so you can learn a little about the attractions you are passing, and you can’t miss Wat Pho or the Temple of the Dawn. For more details on the route, check out their official site.

Chao Phraya Express Boats

For the more explorative, the Express Boats will take you to any of the piers along the river, just be sure to check the colored flags so you know the boat you’re jumping on will take you to the right pier. An added bonus is that these boats are far cheaper, and fares range from 10-20 baht for a single trip, but if you’re planning to use these boats be sure to ask specifically when you buy your ticket, tourists are usually sold the Tourist Boat tickets by default. To see a little more information on the stops available, check out their official site.

Time to eat

The Thai’s have dining down to an art, and the range of restaurants in Bangkok stretches from the affordable to the extravagant, with a wide range of selections from every continent. Even just sitting and watching a street vendor cooking up a fresh local dish can be a novelty, as they are experts with the wok. Cute and quirky are two attributes the Thai’s love, and you can find many different restaurants that appeal to both children and the young at heart alike. Try Hajime Robot Restaurant for a Japanese and Thai selection, where you’re served your meals by a robot. Teddy’s House Kitchen is also worth a visit, with a menu of pancakes that come out shaped like teddy bears, and a workshop where you can build your own soft toys. If your child is a fussy eater or wants a little more interaction with each meal, you have to try one of the many barbecue or hotpot restaurants. Your kids can help to grill the food or throw their choice into a bubbling hotpot, perfect if your little ones like to be in control.

Don’t miss these riverside attractions

Oriental Pier. Just one stop down from where you boarded the Tourist Boat, you’ll find the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which has a fantastic terrace to grab lunch, or to stop in for traditional afternoon tea in their Author’s Lounge.

Si Phraya Pier. This area is the antique center of Bangkok, and you’ll find all the handicrafts, artworks and unique presents for back home that you could ever need.

Rachawong Pier. Perched on the outskirts of Chinatown, you can get a glimpse into the Chinese heritage of Thailand, as well as explore countless stalls serving up delicious street food. It’s the place if you’re looking for Chinese herbs and medicine, and not too far away you can wander into the frantic chaos of the Khlong Thom “thieves” market.

Tha Tien Pier. You have to get off at this stop and see Wat Pho, the oldest temple in Bangkok and the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand, as well as Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, one of the most famous landmarks in the city.

Maharaj Pier. Here you’ll find the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the lovely renaissance-inspired Anantasamakom Throne Hall Palace.

Wang Lang (Siriraj) Pier. This pier juts onto the Siriraj Hospital and Museum, or head to the more relaxed Patravadi Theatre to see traditional Thai poetry readings and theater. If you’re feeling hungry stop in at Supatra River House, a beautiful riverfront property that has been restored and now serves delicious local Thai dishes.

Phra Arthit Pier. The last stop leads you to Banglamphu, a lively commercial area filled with every trader imaginable, that leads into Koh San Road, a favorite of younger travellers and backpackers.

As you’re enjoying your trip along the river, grab a bag of fish food to stir up the local catfish that like to live around the temple piers, and don’t be afraid to wander into the non-tourist areas so you can enjoy the traditional markets and authentic street food Thailand is famous for. Top it off with an ice-cold drink by the riverfront and relax as you watch the sun set over another day in the city.

Navigating the Khlongs

To really get an insight into what the local life is about, you need to get off the main river and head into the Khlongs, a series of canals that thread their way through the city. These waterways are too narrow for the larger boats to enter, so you’ll have to book a seat on one of the long-tail boats you see at many of the piers around the city. Prices range from 700-1500 baht for an hour exploring the canals, and will give you a glimpse into a side of Bangkok that’s a million miles away from its bustling city streets. Keep your camera handy as you navigate these, as you’ll pass ancient wooden teak houses that are perched precariously above the water, as well as smaller temples and the smiling locals who are seemingly untouched by the trappings of tourism.

Enjoying the Asiatique Riverside

One of the best evening destinations along the Chao Phraya River is Asiatique, a massive outdoor dining location and marketplace that starts to get busy once the sun goes down. You can get a free shuttle from Central Pier to Asiatique, and many of the five star hotels along the river have their own private shuttles to run guests to this market.

Dining on the Chao Phraya River

For a truly unforgettable experience, jump on one of the dinner cruises and enjoy a magical evening on the water. Once the sun dips below the horizon the city starts to sparkle, and there are many operators who can take you on a dinner cruise, including the Grand Pearl, Loy Nava, and Mahora Cruises, or if you want something a little more Thai-style, Yok Yor is an amazing experience.

There’s no doubt that the Chao Phraya River makes for a fascinating day out, where you can see the rural side of riverside life, the stunning temples which demonstrate the grand cultural heritage of Thailand, and simply the chance to relax by the water enjoying an evening drink or a dinner cruise.