Chao, Bankgok: Life on the river

The Chao Phraya is dirty. There is no doubt about that. The brown, murky water is not something I’m keen to swim in and even getting splashed by it while on the ferries is not particularly pleasant. Still, curling through the heart of Bangkok, there is no doubt that the Chao Phraya holds the pulse of the city. It is a transportation conduit for people and goods at all hours of the day and night.


For our visit to the palace we chose the cheapest – and one of the fastest – means of travel, the commuter ferries. Yes, there is a tourist ferry that runs a bit faster but it is not for me. The price – THB 150 (~ USD$5) for the day – is roughly 10x the going rate for a single ride on the regular ferries. It doesn’t stop at nearly as many places, which can be good if it goes where you want to be but it also cuts down on your options. And you lose the color and flavor of riding with the locals. That’s the biggest downside. There aren’t nearly as many monks riding the tourist ferry, for instance.

Of course, there’s also the challenge of making sure you’re on the correct ferry. Fortunately they all fly flags on the back with the different colors indicating whether it is a local or express. It is also important to make sure that the ferry you are riding is one that goes up and down the river rather than just a shuttle across (unless, of course, you want to just shuttle across). On my first trip to Bangkok five years ago I made that mistake and the ticket-taker was quite confused when we didn’t get off after the quick ride. I nearly made the same mistake this time as well, though I knew to ask and we quickly got off that ferry and into the correct queue. Once you’ve figured out the flag colors riding with the locals is phenomenally easy and generally quite pleasant.


On the return trip we decided to splurge. Partly because we didn’t want to wait for the ferry, partly because there were six of us to split the costs, and partly because we were just silly. We hired a long tail boat for the ride back to the BTS station. At THB 500 (~USD$16) for the trip I’m sure we overpaid and I’m sure it didn’t really matter. We had fun. Well, some of us did.


The long tail boats, so named because of the long drive shaft that comes straight out of the oversized engine to drive the propeller, are loud, not particularly clean, and even lower in the water than the ferries. This means that crossing the wake of other boats or really just being in one is likely to result in getting splashed. Remember how I mentioned above that the river is dirty. Yeah, it is.


Riding towards the front limited the splash effect for me, while some folks in the back resorted to using their umbrella to keep the river water at bay. Sucking down a cold beer and rolling through a pretty awesome bout of jetlag probably didn’t hurt my mood either. The net effect for me was a rather enjoyable ride, though I’m quite certain that others in the group disagree. Definitely worth it for the experience, so long as you don’t mind the dirty and paying a couple bucks more than you should for the privilege.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.