[How To] Cruising The River & Canals Of Bangkok

Bangkok March 19, 2012 3:36 am

Sitting on an intricate maze of canals and waterways, Bangkok was once known as “the Venice of the East”.

While you could certainly come and go from Bangkok without spending a minute suspended above water, touring these waterways is a heck of a fun day and a fascinating glimpse into the capital as it once was.

 

Basically when it comes to touring the Chao Phraya (the main river through the city) or the canals of Bangkok, you have two options:

1. Khlong Boats (Long tail boats): The long narrow boats with the mini roofs that you see motoring about the city. They’re called “long tail” because of the long rudder that sticks off the back of the boat, the driver using it to steer.

They’re often called water taxis, and apparently there are some fixed routes that these boats do along the Chao Phraya. We however, did not see any fixed place that they stopped, or any information regarding where they went.

The only way that a tourist (different to locals) could ride these boats was to hire them privately, which is easy, almost anywhere along the river, or anywhere at all where one can be seen on a canal.

Bangkok River CruiseThey are pricey for Bangkok – hiring them costing 1000 baht for an hour (as low as 500 Baht for shorter trips if you know a spot you want to visit). That said, it’s $30 USD to be privately chauffeured around on the water for 60 minutes, taken to anywhere, in any direction you want, and guided on the scenery you pass. Particularly given how much this privilege would cost you in actual Venice, it’s still a pretty good deal.

Note that it’s the only way to really see the canals of Bangkok too. There are many options for cruising the river, but the canals are much quieter, with far fewer transport options. Locals seem to be able to make their way around the canals easily (on the Klong boats), but for tourists it’s a different story. If you want to see the canals, hiring a Khlong boat is really the only way to go.

A final note on the canals: The experience is a unique one, allowing you to see parts and sides of Bangkok you couldn’t otherwise see. Some people however, are off put by the canals as they can get a little smelly, and the water a bit… “yuck”. You’ll make your way through shanty style homes perched above the water and you’ll probably see dead things floating along the way. I don’t say this to dissuade you – since my personal view is that to skip the ride because of this would be to miss out on something special – but I did feel it worth making clear that the trip isn’t for everyone.

2. Various River Ferries: If you’re sticking to the river, there are multiple ferry options to assist you.

Note first, that as a tourist, when you ask to go on the ferry, someone will probably try to sell on you on a Khlong boat. That’s what happened to us anyway. As long as you know that there are Khlong boats AND ferries (that are much cheaper), you’ll be able to avoid that one.

Touring the river alone (no canals) is an adventure of it’s own. On your trip you’ll pass multiple temples, statues, iconic buildings, cute waterfront restaurants and more. We were lucky enough to be out on a river boat at sunset, and watched the sun reflecting off the golden roofs of the Wat Po temple. A beautiful Bangkok afternoon if ever there was one.

Anyhow, when it comes to ferries, your key is really just to find a little port terminal thing on the river, as from there you shouldn’t find it difficult to get to where you want to go.

On our relatively short voyage down the river we ended up on at least 4 different ferries – the system being multi tiered and rather complex yet effective.

– There’s a public ferry, which is 20 Baht (give or take 10 Baht), doesn’t have any signage and just pulls up at the terminals where it sees people waiting. You pay for that one when you get on – no tickets to buy before hand. This one you just ask to get off at whichever stop you like. As long as you get it going in the direction you want to go (up or down the river) you should be fine.

– There’s one called “Tourist Boat” that has ticket stands along the river. Ironically, this one is still cheap – 50 Baht one way – and is ridden by locals and tourists alike. This boat serves most terminals that you can see marked on Google maps as ferry stations (the little blue and white icons).

– There are smaller ferry boats that don’t seem to have names, that just do the 3-4 minute voyages back and forth across the river (as opposed to the long voyage up and down it). These are for stopping off at temples or other sights that happen to be on the opposite side of the river to where you end up. These ferries have little ticket booths that are on the piers, usually with a little old lady sitting in front of piles of coins and ticket stubs, controlling the little gate allowing people back and forth. These ones only cost 8-10 Baht but you’ll probably end up on one of them while on the river too.

– Then there are other commuter type ferries, a little faster, that only serve the bigger main piers that you’ll see marked on Google maps. These are the ones locals use. You’ll easily find ticket stands for these ones – also about 20 baht a ticket. The only thing you need to watch out for is your stop. They move quickly from one to the next and if you’re not there waiting at the boat’s exit when your stop comes along, you’ll be off down the river before you know where you are. These aren’t like the slow friendly tourist boats. There is no tourist mercy!

That’s mostly all you’ll need to know to have an enjoyable experience cruising the waterways of Bangkok. If you find out anything else interesting along the way, don’t be afraid to come back here and post your experience in the comments.

Best of luck!

 

3 Comments

  • retty

    Hi! Do you have any recommendations for canal tours? have been reading the rice barge tours reviews but at 850 baht it is quite pricey for a 3 hour ride up and down the river compared tot he fares that you’ve just listed. Cant find the tour operator website to do reservation as well. any suggestions?

  • This sounds like a lot of fun!

    We are also a traveling digital nomad couple and we are heading to Bangkok for the first time in June, so this guide will be very helpful. I am looking forward to cruising on the canals!

  • I’m looking forward to exploring the city’s canals. I’m so excited to be making my way to BKK in the next few months. 😀

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