Chao Phraya River & Waterways

Bangkok Khlongs and Canals

The ‘Venice of the East’ nickname in fact predate Besso’s scribblings by hundreds of years. However, though it is unclear when exactly the phrase was born, it is clear that no tourist guide since (book, person or website) has been able to resist this captivating cliche. Like Burma’s ‘Mandalay’, it evokes the romance of the Orient, only Bangkok-style: of languid sampans drifting down tree-lined canals, of stoic locals living next to them in floating wooden shophouses, of city life before the advent of tuk-tuks and traffic jams. But does the Venice of the East still exist? Yes and no. Many canals were drained or filled because of the risk of cholera they posed, or to make way for badly needed roads. Unlike the city’s Chao Phraya River, little or no trade passes along those that remain. However it’s not a tale of total stagnation. In places remaining khlongs are, though pungent, still picturesque. Old bridges survive, crooked houses still crowd the waters edge. For a few measly baht you can whiz past them, engulfed in noise and heat and fumes, rancid water flying toward you as the boat surges forwards (for speed and sheer exhilaration they put Venice’s gondolas to shame!). Or take a gentle stroll along canal paths, peeking with every few steps into a new home, stepping as you go over shoes or passed elderly ladies watering potted plants. The ‘Venice of the East’ isn’t dead – but just how much is left? Which khlongs still have taxi boats? Can you use them to sightsee, shop or cheat the city’s notorious traffic? Is there much of interest along them? Read on to find out…

Exploring Bangkok River, Klongs and Canals How it works – A beginner’s guide

Exploring Bangkok by boat is a fantastic way to get a glimpse into the timeless charm of the city, as well as witness the role Bangkok’s many waterways have played in its past right up to the present day. With the wind in your hair and majestic sites and attractions lined up on both banks of the mighty Chao Phraya, most people fall for the charm of getting around Bangkok by boat. However, using the extensive network of boats and ferries might appear complicated and requires research (which is explained in detail over the following pages). But for a first-time visitor here is a list of important points taken from our Bangkok Ferry and Boat Guide:


Important points about Bangkok water travel 

Bangkok waterways are divided in 3 parts:

  1. The main Chao Phraya river
  2. Klong Saen Saeb that cuts across Bangkok city from east to west
  3. Klongs of Thonburi, the network of canals on the opposite side of the river.

There are 6 main types of boats:

  1. river taxis (also called Express Boats)
  2. long tail boats,
  3. river crossing ferry,
  4. canal boats,
  5. private river cruises
  6. hotel shuttle boats.

There are 5 different types of Express Boat River Taxis:

  1. No flag (Local Line) – Stops at every Pier
  2. Blue Flag Line (tourist boat) – Stops when you want
  3. Orange Flag Line – Stops at the main piers
  4. Yellow Flag Line – Large express boat for commuters
  5. Green Flag Line – Express boat for commuters

Long Tail Boats are like tuk-tuks on water. These yellow narrow boats can be rented privately. Cost is negotiable with the driver directly, but it is highly recommended to book a tour.

Sathorn Central Pier is directly in front of BTS Skytrain Station Saphan Taksin and provides a link from the riverside to the rest of the city.

Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

Like all urban rivers, the history of the Chao Phraya is intertwined with the city it flows through. The original site was chosen by early settlers because of its fertility and abundant fish. Later King Taksin, after the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese, located his new capital here, on the western banks today known as Thonburi. In 1782 King Rama I, finding the eastern banks more favourable, founded modern Bangkok and celebrated the occasion by building some of the world’s most beguiling temples. Later still the canals it feeds became famous, earning Bangkok its ‘Venice of the East’ epithet. And, meanwhile, eminent Western authors like Maugham, Conrad and Coward were singling out the Chao Phraya as one of their favourite spots in the Far East.

‘The River of Kings’ Truly, the River of Kings – as King Rama I named it – is the lifeblood of Bangkok. And not just because of this rich history. Around 50,000 people still use its ferries to get to each day. Slow barges bearing cargo coast upstream. Kids still frolic in the russet-brown water. Wooden shacks, mottled by the elements, still lurch over the water. Soaring hotels and condominiums hem in solemn temples, churches and civic buildings that look 19th century European, while yards away the odd wooden sampan sells noodle soup or dried squid to hungry river workers. It is this juxtaposition of calm and chaotic, modern and traditional, religious and secular, ugly and sublime, foreign and indigenous that makes the Chao Phraya so evocative.

River Boats and Ferries Five public boat lines, all operated by the Chao Phraya Express Boat company, ply the same 21km route: ‘local line’, ‘orange’, ‘yellow’, ‘blue’ and ‘green-yellow’. Operating between 06:00 and 19:30 daily, each is identifiable by the coloured flag hanging off its rear. The rush-hour only ‘local line’ stops at all 34 piers, while the other four are express lines stopping at only selected piers. Only the Orange Flag Line, with its flat fee of 15 baht, runs all day and on weekends – for most journeys this fits the bill. The others stop at around 09:00 and begin again at around 16:00. Cross-river ferries operate at most major piers and will drop you to the other bank for 3.5 baht

‘Tourist Boats’ are another option, offering unlimited trips to nine prominent piers for a 150 baht flat fee (service hours: 09.30 – 15.00 daily). Not a bad deal if you plan to do a lot of hopping on and off over one day, want more comfort and the sites to be pointed out to you. Bear in mind though – these run every 30 minutes while the public lines used by locals typically run every 15 to 20 minutes. Other options for exploring the river include hiring a long-tail boat (usually includes trips down the city’s canals), a river cruise or dinner cruise. All give a different perspective on this fascinating river.

Chao Phraya River 

Phra Arthit Road runs parallel to the Chao Phraya River, stretching from Phra Sumen fort to Thammasat Universty. Lined with quaint shop-houses, cosy hole-in-the-wall restaurants, bars and cafés with live music, this is where the artsy type convene after sundown before hitting nearby Khao San Road. The nearest river pier is Phra Arthit Pier.

Thewet is scintillating. People come here to make merit by releasing fish or to feed the school of frenzied catfish scraps of bread. There’s also a ramshackle yet photogenic wet market, and the Royal enclave of Dusit nearby. The nearest river pier is Thewet.

Oriental, the old Westerner Quarter with crumbling European architecture, antiques shops and the venerable Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where some of the 20th century’s most eminent scribes once stayed. The nearest river pier is Oriental.

Pak Khlong Flower Market, a living breathing oriental market teeming with life and colour, is one of the most pleasant places to spend an early morning. Find fresh flowers of all species, fruits and vegetables at wholesale price. The nearest river pier is Rajinee.

Chao Phraya Pier Guide

This printable guide has been designed to highlight the most interesting piers found along the 21km Chao Phraya River Express Boat route. Temples, a wet market or an unexpected enclave… if it’s something worth seeing then it’s here. Once you’ve decided which piers you want to visit, use the quick links below to familiarise yourself with the different ferry lines, namely their routes, schedules and fares. Then set off on your custom-made – and dirt cheap – adventure on the River of Kings.

A quick tip: of the five lines that ply the water the Orange Flag is your best bet – it operates all day. After the morning rush-hour, boats come every 20 minutes until around 16:00 when other lines kick into action and boats appear more frequently. If completely confused by the melee, another more comfortable option is a ‘Tourist Boat’, though these only come every 30 minutes.

Operating Hours: 06:00 – 19:30

Price: Typically between 10 to 15 baht, though long journeys at peak hours can reach 30 baht (fares paid onboard).


North Route (North of Sathorn)

Sathorn (Central Pier)

Reasons to come: Saphan Taksin Skytrain (BTS) Station Silom Road Sathorn Road Eminent Riverside Hotels, including Shangri-La Bangkok and lebua at State Tower Shuttle boats to hotels like The Peninsula Bangkok, Millennium Hilton Bangkok, Menam Riverside Hotel, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok and Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa. Shuttle boat to Bangkok Night Festival Market named Asiatique the Riverfront

Lines: tourist, local, orange, yellow, green-yellow, blue

Oriental (N1)

Reasons to come: the colonial atmospheres and period architecture of the old Western quarter the venerable Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok, the perfect place for literary nostalgia and afternoon tea on the Author’s Lounge OP Place, an upmarket antiques arcade housed in a white period building French Embassy

Lines: tourist, local, orange

Oriental (N1)

Reasons to come: the colonial atmospheres and period architecture of the old Western quarter the venerable Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok, the perfect place for literary nostalgia and afternoon tea on the Author’s Lounge OP Place, an upmarket antiques arcade housed in a white period building French Embassy

Lines: tourist, local, orange

Si Phaya (N3)

Reasons to come: River City, a modern shopping complex selling pricey antiques Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers Bustling Charoen Krung Road Bangkok Folk Museum

Lines: tourist, local, orange, yellow, green-yellow

Rachawongs (N5)

Reasons to come: Chinatown, one of the city’s most evocative and historic enclaves (walk up Ratchawong Road) Offbeat shopping: used amulets, Canto pop cassettes, Guan Yin statues, gold, Chinese medical herbs, birds nest soup etc Sampeng Lane, a charismatic alley lined with cheap clothes, food and household items (walk up Ratchawong Road) Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, a Chinese temple with Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian shrines

Lines: tourist, local, orange, yellow, green-yellow

Memorial Bridge/Saphan Phut (N6)

Reasons to come: Saphan Phut Night Market King Rama I Monument Pak Khlong Talad, Bangkok’s biggest 24-hour flower/fruit market (turn left out of pier, walk for 10 minutes) Sampeng Lane, a narrow old alley lined with cheap clothes, food and household items Pahurat Road/Little India, the Indian enclave famed for its Hindu iconography and fabrics

Lines: tourist, local, orange

Tha Tien (N8)

Reasons to come: Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) cross-river ferry to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn dried seafood market found along a parade of King Rama V-era shophouses restaurants and bars overlooking Wat Arun

Lines: tourist, local, orange

Tha Chang (N9)

Reasons to come: a leafy old enclave brimming with atmosphere and King Rama V-era shophouses Maharaj Road’s pavement market selling everything from used Buddhist amulets and phallic charms to old religious texts and false teeth the city’s most venerable temples (Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Mahathat) the iconic Grand Palace National Museum Sanam Luang, the old, oval-shaped Royal park authentic local food at the pedestrianised market in front of the pier

Lines: local, orange

Maharaj Pier

Reasons to come: The iconic Grand Palace City’s most venerable temples, including Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Mahathat National Museum, Sanam Luang, the old, oval-shaped Royal park

Lines: tourist

Wang Lang (N10)

Reasons to come: a women’s clothing market selling cheap shoes, bags, dress, T-shirts and accessories (popular with teenagers) Patravadi Theatre, a riverside playhouse staging traditional/modern performing arts Wat Rakhang Khositaram, and ancient Ayutthaya temple with five bells inside Siriraj Hospital

Lines: tourist, local, orange, yellow, green-yellow, blue

Phra Pin Klao Bridge (N12)

Reasons to come: Southern Bus Terminal The Royal Barges Museum

Lines: local, orange, yellow, green-yellow

Phra Arthit (N13)

Reasons to come: Phra Athit Road’s tree-shaded atmosphere, hip shophouse boutiques and cafes nearby backpacker ghetto Khao San Road (10-minute walk) Banglamphu clothing market Wat Chana Songkram National Art Gallery early 20th Century architecture style made popular by King Rama V vintage postcards and kooky one-off blouses superb Indian food at Roti Mataba, a tiny box of a restaurant bohemian coffee shops like Coffee & More, Joy Luck Club or On Art chilled out Santiphap Park the Phra Sumen fort

Lines: tourist, local, orange

King Rama VIII Bridge (N14)

Reasons to come: to visit Bank of Thailand Museum to see up close the King Rama VIII bridge for Samsen Road – home to guesthouses and a few decent live music bars to dine at Kin Lom Chom Saphan, a relaxed open-air restaurant overlooking the river (Samsen Soi 3)

Lines: local line

Thewet (N15)

Reasons to come: to make merit by releasing fish into the river to witness the feeding frenzy as people feed catfish beneath the pier to dine at an old wooden restaurant overlooking the river to visit the lively wet market beside the canal (walk 100 metres, turn left over footbridge) to get to the nearby Royal district of Dusit (Wat Benchamabophit, Dusit Zoo, Vimanmek Mansion, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall).

Lines: local, orange, yellow, green-yellow

Nonthaburi (N30)

Reasons to come: Nonthaburi, a charming provincial town with old fashioned clock tower, cyclos (bicycle taxis), a clothing market and early 20th Century European-style civic buildings Koh Kret, the nearby Mon tribe island and daytripper favourite

Lines: local, orange, yellow, green-yellow, blue

Kiak Kai (N21)

Reasons to come: interesting temple short taxi ride from Soi Ari, a hip road popular with the city’s arty urban youth Krung Thon Bridge River Side Bangkok Hotel

Lines: local, orange

South Route (South of Sathorn)

Wat Worachanyawas (S2) and Wat Rajsingkorn (S3) Reasons to come: low-key temple complexes serving local communities

Lines: local, orange

River Boats & Ferries in Bangkok Getting around Bangkok
Boats are a great way to get around the famous Riverside area with its many historical attractions, temples and architecture, and also to explore the ‘klongs’ (canals) for a glimpse of Bangkok from yesteryear. Several kinds of boats (express boats, river taxis and tail-boats) run up and down the Chao Phraya River, connecting with the local suburbs on the Thonburi side and along the river, while ferries can be used to cross the river at various points. There are different types of boats offering different services, and some of the express boats only stop at the main piers. If you simply want to cross the river, there are ferries which cost 3 baht, available at several boat landings. River taxis operate up and down the river and cost from around 10 baht, depending on the length of the journey. The Chao Phraya Express Boat Company has many boat lines but the tourist boat is probably your best option: it stops wherever you request and provides access to attractions like Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) the Grand Palace, Wat Po and the Royal Barge Museum. Great value, considering that it includes a guide! The Sathorn Pier can be reached easily as it is located directly in front of Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain Station. Get the rundown of all the different types of boats and ferries in Bangkok below…

1. Express Boat River Taxis

There are five different types of Express Boat River Taxis:

  1. No flag (Local Line)
  2. Blue Flag Line (tourist boat)
  3. Orange Flag Line
  4. Yellow Flag Line
  5. Green Flag Line

Boats with No Flag (Local Line) Stops at every pier 06:00 – 18:30, Monday to Friday 10-20 baht This boat has no flag and stops at every pier from Wat Rajsingkorn (Pier S1) in the south to Nonthaburi (Pier N30) in the north. It only runs on weekdays only. Departures are scheduled every 20 minutes. As with all types of boat, you can pay at the ticket kiosk or directly to the staff on the boat.

Blue Flag (Tourist Boat) Stops when you want 09:00 – 19:00, daily 40 baht/trip or 100 baht for all-day pass Operating between Nonthaburi in the far north of Bangkok to Sathorn Central Pier from 07:00 to 18:25. The fare is 40 baht per trip or 100 baht for an all-day pass with unlimited journeys allowed. English speaking staff will call out every stop clearly over a microphone and ask if anyone wants to alight at that stop. If there are no passengers to get on or off the boat will not stop. In between stops, staff explain the sights lining the river on either side.

Orange Flag Stops at the main piers 05:50 – 19:00, daily 15 baht per journey Orange flag boats operate between Wat Rajsinkorn (Pier S3) and Nonthaburi (Pier N 30). Fares are set at 15 baht per journey. It stops at all the most popular piers along the route from 5:50 to 19:00.

Yellow Flag Large express boat for commuters Morning 06:15 – 07:00, Afternoon 16:45 – 20:00, Monday to Friday 20-29 baht Running only during rush hours, yellow flag boats are the larger type also used by the Tourist boat. It can fit more passengers on, has better quality seats and is faster in the water. Stopping at only 10 piers, it is an express boat designed primarily to service commuters coming to and from work from the northern outskirts of Bangkok. Fares range between 20-29 baht.

Green Flag Express boat for commuters Morning 06.10 – 08.10, Afternoon 16.05, Monday – Friday 13-32 baht This is an express boat and the only route which stretches all the way to the northernmost pier of the Bangkok river taxi route (Pakkret, N33). Boats with a green flag on the front and rear will only stop at 13 out of 33 piers and is the fastest boat for passengers heading up to Koh Kret for the day. The route was designed primarily to service commuters coming to and from work from the northern outskirts of Bangkok. A single journey costs from 13-32 baht.

2. Long Tail Boat Long Tail Boats are available for private hire for a more personalized and fun journey along the Chao Phraya River and around the klongs (canals) on the Thonburi side of the side of the city. Sathorn Central Pier has a large gathering of private hire long tail boats, although the drivers hang around all of the major piers including Tha Chang Pier near The Grand Palace and River City Shopping Complex Pier. There is no set price for a trip on a long tail with many people tailoring a journey to their needs and negotiating for a price based on time or distance. Due to the lack of clear pricing many people are put off from taking a long tail boat, but if you reserve your journey you can save yourself the hassle. Book a half day long tail boat klong tour here. A small number of con artists posing as long tail boat drivers became infamous in Bangkok for approaching unsuspecting tourists and offering them a lovely half day tour at a drastically reduced rate. The journey turned out to be a quick up and down the river before the tourists were held to ransom and told to pay an inflated fee if they wanted to get back to dry land. Although rare, be careful when approached and offered a tour, especially if they speak excellent English. Again, if you book a tour you can save yourself time and stress.

3. River Crossing Ferry Operating at 32 separate ferry crossings, these large flat boats resemble a raft with a roof on it. Simply transporting people from one side of the river to the other a journey only costs 3 baht. The most popular ferry crossing for sightseers is the crossing between Wat Pho Temple and Wat Arun at Tha Tien Pier.

4. Hotel Shuttle Boats All of the top five-star hotels along the riverside have dedicated, free shuttle boats that ferry guests to and from their hotel and Sathorn Central Pier (which connects to the BTS Skytrain at Saphan Taksin). Convenient and relaxing, most guests will choose this form of transport over a private taxi due to the intense traffic, particularly at rush hours. Even if you are not staying at any of these particular hotels the shuttle service is still available free of charge and it makes a lovely prelude to a romantic riverside meal.

5. Canal Boats These large, loud, spluttering boats can be found chugging up and down Bangkok’s largest canals (referred to as ‘klongs’ in Thai), the largest of which is the Saen Seab Canal which dissects Bangkok, from the Old City in the west to Ramkamheng in the far east of the city. Canal taxi boats have exclusive use of this large artery of water so traffic is never a problem but the frequency of boats change throughout the day, generally ranging from 5-20 minutes between boats. One journey costs between 9 baht and 19 baht depending on distance. Find out all about canal boats in Bangkok and the Saen Seab Canal here. In the early morning and late afternoon these canal boats are a vital transport link for office workers travelling from downtown Bangkok to the eastern suburbs. Seating becomes scarce around these times but it also offers a intriguing glimpse into the lives of day-to-day life in the urban jungle.

6. River Cruises The most romantic way to experience Bangkok from the water is to opt for a dinner cruise. Following roughly the same route, typically starting from River City Shopping Complex and sailing upstream past Bangkok’s most iconic sites, such as The Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Santa Cruz Church, there are boats operating every night of the week from around 19:00. There is a multitude of companies offering different types of experiences: some companies offer a large buffet dinner with live shows, cover bands and discos upon cruise ships (Chao Phraya, Grand Pearl), while others are more subdued and sophisticated with a six course meal by candlelight on an antique converted barge (Apsara, Manohra). Either way, this is a very popular activity for visitors to Bangkok and the best way to capture the majesty of Bangkok Riverside by night.