Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bangkok by Boat

Viewing sights from the river barges’ perspective is the perfect way to sightsee Bangkok in a nutshell. Nothing can compare to the experience of fresh air breezing on your skin while enjoying the unique oriental attractions of Bangkok. Or enjoying a sumptuous dinner while on a slow river cruise. Life in Bangkok has always centered around the Chao Phraya River. It is on these banks where life of the city is sprouting and blooming like the unstoppable flow of river. But it also on these river where the city’s major attraction are to be found.

The Chao Phraya River and the mega-structure Bhumibol Bridge.
The Chao Phraya River is a major river in Thailand, with its low alluvial plain forming the centre of the country. It runs through Bangkok and then empties into the Gulf of Thailand. The Chao Phraya begins at the confluence of the Ping and Nan rivers at Nakhon Sawan (also called Pak Nam Pho) in Nakhon Sawan province. The major bridges that cross the Chao Phraya are in the province of Bangkok: the Rama VI rail-road bridge; Phra Pin-klao near the Grand Palace; Rama VIII, a single tower asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge; Rama IX, a semi-symmetric cable-stayed bridge; and Mega Bridge, part of the Industrial Ring Road. In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is a major transportation artery for a vast network of river buses, cross-river ferries and water taxis, also known as longtails. More than 15 boat lines operate on the rivers and canals of the city, including commuter lines. (Source)

Nineteenth-century Bangkok was laced with canals, giving the capital the designation ‘Venice of the East’ by European visitors. Surviving canals, and the Chao Phraya River provide memorable vignettes of traditional waterborne way-of-life that has remained essentially unchanged over the centuries. Nowadays, even though Bangkok has become a modern city, the Chao Phraya River as well as the canals are still charming for whoever wishes to seek the peaceful atmosphere amidst bustling Bangkok. The river and canals are now conveniently explored by chartered boat or cruise.

A Chao Phraya River cruise gives visitors an easy access to its major attractions. It offers some of the capital’s most arresting sights, particularly at night when the weather is cooler and light reflections bestow the river with flickering lights. A cruise along the legendary Chao Phraya River, and some canals on the Thonburi side is the most pleasant way to explore the city. The majestic charm of Chao Phraya is a must-experienced when in Bangkok. The Chao Phraya River makes a great way to get around, since many of the major tourist sites are easily accessible from the river. Chao Praya River Express operates a regular boat service up and down the river. They are like buses on the water. The fares are extremely cheap and you can get just about anywhere for 10 Baht or less.

The shadowed spires of Wat Arun over Chao Phraya River.
One of those attractions is Wat Arun or Temple of the Dawn. Named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn, the Wat Arun is considered one of the most well known of Thailand's many landmarks. The temple is so named because the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple with pearly iridescence. The monastery has existed for many years since the days when Ayutthaya was capital of Thailand. Walking around the temple gardens and looking at it from a distance is free, but if you want to enter the temple compound and climb the steep stairs, it costs a fee. The magnificent main prang (temple spire) is in Thai called the Phra Prang Wat Arun. Overlooking the Chao Phraya river, it is not only the symbol of Thonburi, but a world-famous landmark and one of the most photographed icons of Thailand. The prang was originally built during the Ayutthaya Period and is in a classic Ayutthayan style. It is easily accessible with a ferry boat from Wat Pho in Rattanakosin. Ferries take off about every 10 to 15 minutes and operates daily from 6:00 am to 10:00 in the evening.

The Grand Palace of Bangkok.
Imitating the guarding demon Yakhas at Grand Palace.
Another accessible attraction near the river is the Grand Palace and it much revered temple, Wat Phra Kaew or known as Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Grand Palace is a historical site of temples and palaces of Thailand as well as the former administrative seat of the government. A visit to the complex will let you appreciate the unique Thai architecture and history. I am amazed in each architectural designs of the structures inside the Grand Palace. Each seems to be laid with jewels and gold! The beautiful pattern designs are hard to duplicate. The single color that always caught your attention is gold. The only color that dominates each temple and palace. That’s why in Grand Palace, everything is gleaming in gold! This visit also lets you visit one of the most beautifully designed temple in the country, the Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The emerald buddha found inside the center throne of the temple is considered one of the most sacred Buddha image in the country. From afar it looks like a piece of treasure but for the Buddhist devotees, it is a sacred image of their faith.

The Emerald Buddha inside Wat Phra Kaew.
Another accessible attraction via river boat is River City. It is Bangkok's oldest antique mall, and still the best destination for serious Asian art lovers to go. It has a few souvenir shops and an absolutely stunning array of Asian art on display for sale. From old maps to Buddhist works to more recent everyday items from the last century, River City is a great place to browse Asian art. The easiest way to get there is to take their free boat from the Taksin Bridge pier, below the Skytrain station. Most riverside hotels will also take you to the mall in their boats.

The Royal Barges Museum is also accessible via Chao Phra River. On the mouth of the Bangkok Noi canal, this museum displays several Royal Barges used for state ceremonies on the Chao Phraya River. The ornately carved barges take the form of famous mythical creatures from the Ramayana epic. The most impressive is the Suppanahong (or Golden Swan), which was built in 1911 during the reign of King Rama IV. This 46-metre craft was carved from one single piece of teakwood. The bow resembles a mythical swan and is adorned with gold lacquer and glass jewels.  The best way to get to the museum is by boat. If you take the regular Express Boat service, the nearest stop is Pinklao Bridge Pier, although this involves a long winding walk along a narrow concrete walkway over the swampy land.

One of the Royal Barges in the museum.
A cruise along the Chao Phraya River might let you see one of the most beautiful bridge and a real architectural wonder in Bangkok. This mega-structure is the Bhumibol Bridge also known as the Industrial Ring Road Bridge. It is part of the 13 km long Industrial Ring Road connecting southern Bangkok with Samut Prakan Province. The bridge crosses the Chao Phraya River twice, with two striking cable-stayed spans of lengths of 702 meters and 582 meters supported by two diamond-shaped pylons 173 meters and 164 meters high. Where the two spans meet, another road rises to join them at a free-flowing interchange suspended 50 metres above the ground. According to tradition, all the bridges over the Chao Phraya in Bangkok are named after a member of the Royal Family.  In October 2009, it was announced that both bridges would be named after King Bhumibol Adulyadej, with the northern bridge officially named "Bhumibol 1 Bridge" and the southern bridge "Bhumibol 2 Bridge".  The unofficial name "Mega Bridge" was also widely used. (Source)

Bhumibol Bridge over Chao Phraya River.
Life is so alive in Chao Phraya River.  It is in the river one will see Bangkok’s different side as a vibrant oriental city. It is in the banks of the river one will see how it plays a major role in urban and modern life of the city. Be it for for transportation or for livelihood. But for me, nothing beats the experience of the breeze of fresh air while enjoying the scenic sights of Bangkok on a river cruise. It could be romantic. Yes. But it can also be fun and way for discovery. The water of Chao Phraya may not be crystal clear or murky-free and sometimes it overflows causing floods in its surroundings but a lot of Thai and visitors benefit from its life-bringing tide and flow.

Bangkok by Boat is part of my Thailand's Amazing Smiles series where I share my wonderful trip to the land of amazing smiles last October 25-28, 2011. I made this article out of a vision of experiencing Chao Phraya River cruise because during my visit I haven't try a river cruise because of the flood in Chao Phraya that authorities suspend cruising on it for safety measures. For a helpful trip to Bangkok visit Bangkok for Visitors website for more information. You might also like the other parts of the series: 


  1. you seemed to enjoy this trip in bangkok...thanks for the visit Ian!

    best regards,

  2. Hi Ian! :)

    Nice entry. When I went to Thailand before, I have;'t tried to travel through river boat. Your post makes me feel like I am there experiencing Chao Phraya River. I also love the design of the royal barges. It reminds me of the characters in Siam Niramit.

    Take care and looking forward to more of your travel posts. :)

  3. Wow - you've learned so much about the place and it's culture. Most people just come and look, and that's a valid way of experiencing a trip, but the fact that you've obviously prepared yourself so well for the trip is impressive.
    Btw. one of the reasons why the decorations in the Grand Palace are so colorful is to display the richness of the kingdom in terms of minerals and gemstones, so the fact that you wrote that it seems like it's laid with jewels and gold is exactly the impression they wanted to create :-)

  4. @RedRuby: every moment I enjoyed it. Thanks for the good feedbacks.

    @Karla: Too bad I miss both the cruise and the museum... but seeing the serene river made up for that lost. It was charming.

    @Ta: Grand Palace's designs certainly conveyed what it really wants to show - richness of the kingdom like no other! I didn't know that. That's why I'm almost submerge in gold during the visit! Thanks for the info and thanks for reading my story.

  5. buti sa bangkok interesting ang boat tour, yung nasubukan ko sa the netherlands medyo naantok ako hehe

  6. waaaah!!!bangkok!!!"pangarap kanalang ba, o magiging katotohanan pa"----huhuhu

  7. Hello Ian! Thailand is an awesome place. No wonder, it`s one of the top-selling destinations in the world. And very impressive ang tourism campaign ng Thailand. I`m just wondering if they`re still using their 14 year old tagline "Amazing Thailand". Nabasa ko kasi last year, pinalitan nila ng Miracle Thailand. Is this true?

    Sana may mga chartered boats na rin sa Ilog Pasig. Pero parang di naman magiging mabenta `cos di naman ganun kaganda ang mga views - puro factories and slums.

  8. @Christian: Ang dami kasing mapupuntahan via Chao Phraya River cruise. Ganon ba sa Netherlands?

    @Anton: Make it your target this year as your first international trip... Fiesta sa pictures at scenic shots ang Thailand.

    @Hoobert: I agree! Yup papalitan na nila ang Amazing Thailand slogan. The new slogan will kick-off in April. I think charter boats in Pasig River won't work until is it is fully restore to its glory even the slums and factories are there. I mean the cleanliness of the river. Thanks for dropping by!

  9. i suddenly missed bangkok and the thai massage too :)

  10. @Lawstude: Haven't experience yet the Thai massage...


All comments and reactions are highly appreciated.

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