My Bangkok: On the Chao Phraya

Pick the correct flag color on the ferry to get a local or express ride

A shrill whistle calls out over the roar of a ferry engine. For me that can mean only one thing: Welcome to the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok.

The Chao Phraya is, in many ways, the heart of Bangkok. The river winds through the center of the city and offers many options for visitors to explore. Some choose the larger tourist ferries and other take the tiny long tail boats for a private ride. My money, however, is on the local ferry. Thousands of locals every day – and an increasing number of tourists – pay their 15 Baht (~$0.50) to ride the river, taking in the views.

Wat Arun is incredible from most angles, but I love the view from the water

The “core” route connects the BTS metro system to Wat Arun and the Grand Palace, some 5 kilometers up river. Ride along enough and the shrill whistle from the guy handling the lines in the back becomes an integral part of the experience. He is communicating with the captain to indicate arrival and departure at the stations along the river. Slow down, reverse and forward are the main commands, allowing the ferry to pull in, move passengers off and on and then depart again quickly from every stop.

The Chao Phraya is very much a commercial and industrial thoroughfare. Even on a lazy Sunday morning barges can be seen cruising the waters in between the hordes of long tails and the ferries. On a weekday that traffic is even more significant.

The long-tail boats are common on the Chao Phraya but I prefer the local ferry to explore te river.

The ferry also shows off the ever-changing face of the riverfront. Huge, glass-fronted towers go up, replacing the last few dilapidated, ramshackle buildings lining the water. Even where full towers are not going in the smaller buildings are renovated into boutique hotels and cafes. It is a microcosm of Bangkok’s rebirth, showing right on the waterfront.

But for me the beauty of Bangkok shows in simply being on the water. Among the chaos and energy that infuse this city the noises and motions of the ferry ride keep me centered.

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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.


  1. You might want to also check out the commuter water taxis on the canals (khlongs.) Very local, very fast, and you see a side of the city from the canals that you don’t see from the street. There is a water taxi dock right behind the Jim Thompson House. There is an interesting story around Jim Thompson, and the house, now a museum, is beautiful. See “The Man Who Disappeared.”

  2. Nice article thanks for sharing! Bangkok is a place I go to a couple of time per year, and I always try to make time for a river cruise. What is your favorite thing to do in Bangkok?

    1. Uhhh…this. 🙂

      A few food options I also generally enjoy but overall it isn’t really my favorite destination. I end up there a lot, mostly for work, but there are other cities in the region I prefer more.

  3. Very nice!

    I wish the water had been less rough when we were there in November. Water levels were quite high at the time, and the crossings we made on the local ferries were a bit unpleasant as a result – the boarding docks were violently rocking to the point that getting on and off the ferry was quite difficult. On board, everyone was getting wet from the water splashing over the sides. Our guide kept telling us how great some of the dinner cruises are, something we didn’t have any interest in to begin with, and could not imagine doing while there given the roughness of the water.

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