Bangkok’s River of Kings … and Tourists

Bangkok is a major transportation hub for Southeast Asia, so just about every traveler in the region eventually passes through. But it would be a serious mistake to think that convenient transport is the only reason to stop. Bangkok is one of the most vibrant destinations in SEA, and with its rich heritage, there are iconic sights and astounding experiences all over this splendid megacity.

But like all huge cities, it suffers from severe traffic problems and getting around town is a challenge. Tuk-tuks can be fun under the right circumstances, but sitting in a jam of smog-belching sedans is not one of them. The Metro and elevated Skytrain ease the pain somewhat, but they too can be very crowded, and for the uninitiated, confusing to use. So what’s a traveler to do?

This is our third trip to Bangkok, so this time we decided to do something different. We booked a hotel on the Chao Phraya River, bought a cheap, all-day pass for the hop-on-hop-off tourist water taxi, and pushed the easy button to see the sights.

And this is an important tip for other tourists because all of the top four must-see sights are easily accessible from the river. There’s too much to see in a day of course, but in a couple of days you can see Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), and Wat Arun.

The Chao Phraya River is also known as the River of Kings, which might help explain why all these important religious and royal buildings are located on its banks. In every country’s history the advantages of a large river have made it a focus of community development and activity, particularly when it comes to building temples, palaces, and moving VIPs around the countryside.

Another benefit for making the river taxi your primary mode of transport, for at least a part of your visit, is the opportunity to see the river’s importance for the Thais who live and work there. Barges, tiny to humongous move goods up and down the river, not-so-touristy river taxis ferry commuters from one bank to the other, rust-crusted work boats rumble along, gleaming white luxury yachts motor through, and colorful longtail boats roar by at breakneck speeds to stir the whole pot. The Chao Phraya is a busy river and a marvel to behold.

Bangkok is a city of 11 million people spread out over a huge area, and it comes with all the energetic and sometimes annoying hustle and bustle you’d expect. Rubbing elbows and squeezing your way through a crowded street market is part of the enjoyable experience that is Bangkok, but sitting in a time-wasting traffic jam or haggling with a tuk-tuk driver doesn’t have to be.

So when your tourist agenda includes the premier sights, do yourself a favor and make your way over to the Chao Phraya River, get a ticket for the river taxi, sit back in the cool breeze, and enjoy the sights.

Happy Trails,

James & Terri

P.S. The pier for the start/end point for the Hop-on-Hop-off water taxi is at the Saphan Taksin Skytrain stop on the Silom Line. It costs Baht 150 (about USD 4.50 – a major bargain) for an all-day ticket. Just flash your ticket and the helpful attendants will make sure you get on the right boat going the right direction; good peace of mind with so many different water taxis buzzing around. Also, there are tons of YouTube videos on the water taxi.

Photo Credits: 3. Mos Sukjaroenkraisri


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

24 thoughts

    1. Jo, other than a few popular spots, we haven’t had too many issues with tourists – except of course in Bangkok. But, that’s to be expected there as it’s a popular city in a very populous part of the world. And of course, Rome is another tourist magnet. However, the river was nice tourists and all. ~James

    1. Maggie, our hotel was a few hundred meters from the pier, so it was perfect. As you know, Bangkok can be a trial to get around, so pushing the easy button was a good deal. Also, when we visited SEA was having a record heat wave so being on the river with the breeze was an added benefit. ~James

  1. Such a great idea! This last trip for me was the first time I’d stayed on the river (but not for your excellent reasons), and I really enjoyed it. Did you by chance get to the Icon Siam area? I am most decidedly not a mall person, but that place was incredible, especially the souk in the basement. I ferried over there twice! The back “alleys” (the little offshoots of the Chao Phraya) were also fascinating ways to see some local life.

    1. Lexie, it’s funny what you say about the Iconsiam mall because, like you, we aren’t mall people either. And like you, we ferried over there a couple of times as well and really enjoyed it. It’s an amazing place for sure, and when we were there, it was absolutely packed, so it’s obviously a success. I can’t imagine how much it must have cost to build, or maintain.

      The river ferry was perfect for us on this trip. We’d been on the road a while, so pushing the easy button was just what we needed. Also, as you can tell from our post, I got a kick out of watching the river traffic: a slice of life. ~James

  2. Think the Hop-on must be new but I haven’t been to BKK for a while. I agree about using river transport but I just took the regular ferries. I also stayed on the river several times. Were you there for the election? Hope things stay peaceful, but….

    1. Kathy, things were quiet while we were in Bangkok, at least where we were. We pretty much stayed close to the river, and everything was normal. However, we had planned to stop in Israel for a week on our way west, and then everything blew up there. We had to cancel flights, hotels, etc. It was a pain, but given how things have gone there, it was a blessing in disguise. ~James

  3. We enjoyed Bangkok. Perhaps we were there at a quieter time of year, and only travelled by the metro, and occasionally taxi. Somehow it worked, but I do wish we’d thought to take a river trip – it sounds lovely!

    1. Alison, when you return you might want to try the river side of town. We’ve been to Bangkok a couple of times, and this is the first time by the river. It really was considerably more convenient, and the river is so busy it really is fun to watch all the action. ~James

    1. Anita, thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. I also enjoyed the Reclining Buddha. It’s truly unique, unlike anything I’ve seen before, and also very photogenic. I’ve never understood the significance of a figure reclining, but like other religions, Buddhist art is full of symbolism. ~James

  4. In the 1980s we used to go to Bangkok regularly from Burma. On one visit I took my mother on a water taxi. In those days the river was quite the dumping ground. I tried to distract her from seeing some of the worst of it, but after we landed she said ‘Don’t think for a minute that I’d didn’t see the dead pig in the water.’ Ah memories.

    1. Interesting that you mention that Peggy because we were commenting on how clean the river was. And coincidentally, about an hour later we saw a clean-up crew in a boat scooping debris out of the water. So the moral to the story is that lots of trash still finds its way into the river, but city government pays more attention to keeping it clean. Of course, this was right across the river from the fancy Icon-siam mall. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see the river clean. ~James

    1. Darlene, this is our third visit to Thailand, and we’ve visited other areas in the past, so we spent all our time in Bangkok. And because it is our third trip, we can high grade, which is how we ended up staying on the river. Not sure why we haven’t done it before, but there’s lots to see in Bangkok, no matter where you stay. ~James

  5. Thank you Terri and James for sharing your beautiful photos of Bangkok. I enjoyed Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River when I was there. The floating market where vendors sell vegetables, fruits and flowers from their boats was quite fun, too. I loved the food and fresh flower arrangements in Thailand, especially orchids.

    1. Natalie, all that weather that makes it so miserable for humans makes the flowers especially happy, the orchids in particular. When we were there they were having record heat, and even the locals were complaining. So being on a boat on the river, with a cool breeze was particularly nice. ~James

  6. One of the greatest things about Bangkok is indeed the Chao Phraya River which, as you said, is dotted with interesting sites to visit on both of its banks. I always envy cities that can make the most out of their rivers because the same thing can’t be said about cities in Indonesia (at least the ones I’ve been to). Some have really great potential, but development often happens further inland.

    1. Bama, I’m pleased to hear that an experienced traveler like you agrees with us on the Chao Phraya River. We saw a couple of cleaning crews working which shows that city government recognizes its assets and importance for the tourist trade.

      And I agree with you on river development. It seems like a terrible waste to let river land sit idle and not be developed for city parks, shopping areas, bars and restaurants and walking/biking trails. It seems like a no-brainer for quality of life improvements. ~James

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