The main river that flows through Bangkok, capital of Thailand, is the Chao Phraya River. It has been the City's life blood for many years. It was the main transport route for the importation of raw materials and food to feed the city inhabitants. Finished manufactured products and processed foods used the river to gain access to the worldwide sea lanes.
The Chao Phraya River is a wide river. It has not been hemmed in with artificial manmade embankments like the river Thames in London or the river Seine in Paris. The river is fed from the jungle mountains in the north. Broken off branches and green foliage can often be seen floating past the city sky scrappers.
The muddly complexion of the river water gives the impression that it is a polluted dirty river. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is teaming with life. Near the river side temples you will see large freshwater fish begging for food from the monks and the faithful.
A trip on the river is a must for any visitor to Bangkok. There are many 'tourist' boats that offer river trips with a meal. These are very expensive. The cheaper option is to use the official Bangkok 'Chao Phraya Express Boat' River Water buses. There are over thirty stops on its route along the river on both banks. It is a great way to see the city sights at an incredibly cheap price. On a hot day you get a cool breeze coming across the bow of the ship. Purchase a ticket and travel down river until the end of the line then catch a boat back up river.
A good idea is to sit facing the east bank on the trip down river and then facing the west bank on the trip back up river. Concentrate on looking at the sights on just one bank at a time. Remember to set your camera to 'sports' setting as you are in a moving boat and need a fast shutter speed. It is a get way to escape the madness of the city for a couple of hours.
Every seat has an inflatable raft if needed in emergency. The boats have different coloured flags on them to show customers what route they cover. Boats with green-yellow flags cover the longest route nearly 21 km. Each boat pier that juts out into the river has a sign on it showing the Pier number and name. On the boat and on most tourist maps you can get free from your hotel these numbers are shown on the river edge so you can work out where you are. If you are going to use the Chao Phraya Express Boat a lot during the day and hop on and off to the see the sights it is a good idea to ask for an unlimited all day river pass that is also ridiculously cheap
The boats come quite frequently so you do not have to wait long. If you do have to wait there is always something to see navigating the river. It gets dark in Bangkok about 7pm. A river trip at night is very romantic. Be careful you do not get stranded at the end of the river bus line. The water busses stop early so check the times of the last water boat back. Expect the Water busses to be busy during the morning and evening commute as many Thai workers use this form of transport to get to work.
The maps at the piers are relatively easy to use and each is named and numbered. Wait on the pier for your boat. You have to wait for people to get off and then you must hop on quickly before the whistle is blown. When the boat pulls up alongside the piers look out for the sign and the number painted on it. They are not announced on the boat. You have to be quick if you want to get off as they do not hang around. They have a schedule to keep.
Keep the river boat tickets handy as conductors regularly board boats to inspect tickets. You do not want to be issued with a fine. The Chao Phraya Express Boat can be a hectic ride but lots of fun. If you are travelling with children they will love waving at all the other boats as they pass trying to get a wave back. It is a good game trying to get a wave from the workers on the slow moving barges and the fast long tailed boats that blast by creating large bow waves.
Bangkok Chao Phraya River Water Taxi service
Bangkok Water Taxi is the most expensive form of water transportation if there is only a few of you in your group. The more of you the cheaper it is as the fare is split. These boats are much smaller that the Chao Phraya Express Boat Busses. They are also a lot faster as they are powered by a large car engine at the back attached to a long prop with a propeller at the end. The Bangkok Water Taxi is an exhilarating ride. Unless you have money to splash out I would use the regular Chao Phraya Express Boat Busses for sight seeing along the Chao Phraya river.
A trip to the Royal Thai Boat House and a tour along the canal system are the only times I would use a Bangkok Water Taxi. Hail the water taxi from one of the many piers. You will see them waiting for fares. Tell them where you want to go and ask the price. Haggle. If there is more than one taxi ask the other one his price for the same location. Agree a price, write it down if possible, before you depart so that you do not get any nasty surprises when you arrive at the venue.
Bangkok Chao Phraya River Ferries
Chao Phraya River ferries provide point-to-point crossings at various piers to help you get to the other side. They are very very cheap. One of the ferries makes the 2 minute crossing of the Chao Phraya river every few minutes throughout the day, connecting the Temple Wat Pho on one side of the river with the Temple Wat Arun on the other side. You pay for a ticket at the turnstile. Not all the ferry piers are used by the Chao Phraya River Express Busses. You may have to walk up the river bank to find the next pier.
The Bangkok Tropical Monsoon
Bangkok lies about six and a half feet (2m) above sea level. This causes problems during the monsoon season for the protection of the city against floods. During a Bangkok tropical monsoon downpour, water in canals and the main Bangkok Chao Phraya River river overflows the banks, resulting in massive floods. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has recently installed higher banks alongside some canals to keep water levels from reaching street level. There are however some downsides for Bangkok's extensive canal routes, as the city is rumoured to be sinking an average of two inches a year as it lies entirely on a swamp.