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Cruising along the

River of Kings

An Excellent Way to Explore Bangkok

By Maninawa

Known as the River of Kings, the Chao Phraya River flows through the heart of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. Regarded as the principal artery of the nation, it plays an important role in the lives of Thai people. Much of Thai history can be traced along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. It begins at Nakhon Sawan province (237 km. north of Bangkok) and flows south through the central plains to Bangkok and into the Gulf of Thailand. A number of breathtaking attractions lie scattered around numerous piers along this historic waterway. Thus one of the best ways to explore Bangkok is by cruising along the Chao Phraya River.

Attractions along the River

Here are the major attractions that can be found within the vicinity of the nine main piers along the river.

Sathorn Pier (N.0)

Wat Yannawa, located a short walk from Sathorn Pier, also known as the “Boat Temple,” is an old temple dating back to the Ayutthaya period (1351 – 1767). The main feature of this temple is its base which is shaped like a Chinese junk over 40 metres long with two pagodas functioning as its masts.

Another short walk from the right hand side of Sathorn Pier stands a world-renowned luxury hotel, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It is also the oldest hotel in Bangkok, founded by two Danish captains in 1865.

Lhong 1919 Pier

Lhong 1919 is a newly-opened mixed-use lifestyle development on the Chao Phraya River. It sits on the old pier where the ancestors of most Thai-Chinese families first set their feet in Thailand after migrating from China. Lhong 1919 has reclaimed a group of old warehouses and a Chinese shrine dating back to King Rama IV (1851 – 1868) for its 6,800 square metres of co-working space, eateries, and art and design shops.

River City Pier

River City Shopping Complex, located at this pier, is a four-storey mall overlooking the Chao Phraya River. It specializes in antiques and collectibles, with monthly on-site and online auctions. There are also a good number of fashion and jewelry shops as well as riverside restaurants.

A beautiful structure near this pier is the Holy Rosary Church (or Kalawar Church) built by the Portuguese in 1786. The cream-colored structure has a high facade topped with a towering spire, and a statue of Virgin Mary standing above the high arches.

Just close to the church is the classic pale yellow building of Siam Commercial Bank, the first bank in Thailand, built in 1908 by an Italian architect. After this, keep your eyes on the opposite site of the river bank so you will not miss a remarkable and one of the oldest Chinese shrines in Bangkok. It is Guan Yu Shrine, built in the early Rattanakosin Period (around 200 years ago) by a Hokkian Chinese millionaire.

Ratchawongse Pier (N.5)

Chinatown (Yaowarat) is located only a short walk from Ratchawong Pier. Yaowarat or Chinatown is a large Chinese community and as old as Bangkok. The Chinese immigrants settled here during the reign of King Rama I (1782 – 1809). Renowned as a gold trading centre, over 100 gold shops line up along Yaowarat Road. At night, this road is more crowded as it turns into a great street food bonanza.

Wat Traimit Wittayaram houses the world’s largest golden Buddha image weighing 5,500 kg., and is regarded as the gateway to Chinatown. This temple also houses the Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre which offers a fascinating insight into the history of Bangkok’s early Chinese immigrants.

Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, built in 1871 during the reign of King Rama V, was the first and remains the most important Chinese temple in Bangkok. It is the centre of important festivals such as Chinese New Year and the annual Vegetarian festival. The temple houses Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian shrines, representing the diverse religious heritage of Chinatown.

Pak Klong Taladd Pier (Yodpiman Pier) (N.6/1)

Yodpiman River Walk, located behind Pak Khlong Talad (Flower Market), was opened in December 2014. It is a shopping mall with a 300-metre walkway that runs alongside the river and home to around 50 restaurants and shops with excellent view of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).

Santa Cruz Church, located opposite to Yodpiman pier, is a Catholic church originally built by the Portuguese in 1770. The present church building with the reddish dome was built in 1916 by the two renowned Italian architects, Annibale Rigotti and Mario Tamagno.

Wat Arun Pier (N.8)

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), built in the Ayutthaya period (1351 – 1767), is one of the most striking landmarks on the Chao Phraya River. It is thus one of the most-visited attractions in Bangkok. It is attractive in its imposing pagodas which are decorated with millions of pieces of Chinese porcelain. (See Bangkok – The City of Angels on P. 58)

Maharaj Pier (N.9)

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, located next to each other, are a must see for all tourists. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) were built after King Rama I ascended the throne as the founder of the current Chakri Dynasty on 6 April 1782 and have undergone several renovations. The Grand Palace consists of several buildings with different styles of architecture. Wat Phra Kaeo is renowned as the most beautiful and important Buddhist temple in Thailand. It features the Emerald Buddha, the most highly revered Buddha image carved from a single block of fine jade. (See Bangkok – The City of Angels on P. 56)

Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), located next to the Grand Palace on the south side, is the oldest and biggest temple with the largest number of pagodas (95 in all) in the city. Wat Pho is well known for its huge Reclining Buddha, 46 metres long and 15 metres high. The temple is also the centre for traditional Thai massage. (See Bangkok – The City of Angels on P. 58)

Tha Maharaj Lifestyle Mall, located on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, 450 metres from Wat Phra Kaeo, was previously an area of shop houses that got transformed into a meeting hub for open-air restaurants, retail shops, riverside promenade and community garden.

National Museum, about 750 metres from Maharaj Pier, occupies an 18th century palace and a group of well-designed buildings, exhibiting Thailand’s artistic treasures from prehistoric to contemporary. (See Bangkok – The City of Angels on P. 60)

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Restaurants
by the river

There are a great number of restaurants on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. You can find a wide variety of food styles and restaurants to suit both your taste and budget. Let’s try one and enjoy a great view of the river while having a delicious meal!
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Thonburi Railway Station Pier (N.11)

Siriraj Hospital, located near this pier, is the oldest and largest hospital in Thailand, founded in 1888. Siriraj Medical Museum, located inside Siriraj Hospital, displays exhibits relating to pathology, forensic medicine, parasitology, anatomy and the history of medicine in Thailand.

The Royal Barges Museum is a museum that features royal barges used by Thailand’s monarchy for centuries. The royal barges are carved out of giant pieces of teak, gilded with gold and feature prows depicting different mythical creatures. The museum exhibits eight barges still in use today in ceremonial events like the Royal Barge Procession. The most beautiful and important barge is the Suphannahong, the king’s personal barge, which was built in 1911. It is 44.7 metres long and 3.1 metres wide, being the largest and most elaborate dugout in the world.

Phra Arthit Pier (N.13)

Khao San Road, only a short walk from Phra Arthit Pier, is a mecca for backpacker and a popular destination to shop and hang out for tourists, thanks to plenty of souvenir stalls and shops, cheap guesthouses, cafes, bars, clubs and street food.

Wat Chanasongkram, located on Chakra Pong Road, near Khaosan Road, was built in Ayutthaya period (1351 – 1767). Later, King Rama I appointed a group of Mon monks to look after the temple and as a result it also became known in the Mon language as Wat Tong Pu.

Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall, located on Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, about 800 metres from Khaosan Road. It is an interactive self learning centre with state-of-the-art multi-media technologies giving information on history, arts and culture of the Rattanakosin era (since 1782).

How to Take a Cruise

If you want to take a cruise along the Chao Phraya River, there are four main ways as follows:

1. Join a group tour organized by tour operators
2. Take a dinner cruise along the river. There are several cruise companies offering dinner cruises along the Chao Phraya River. The Riverside Bangkok Cruise is a leading one.
3. Take a ferry express boat
The Chao Phraya Express Boat Co., Ltd. (www.chaophrayatouristboat.com), Bangkok’s biggest public water transportation provider, provides two types of ferry boats as follows:
3.1 Regular Ferry Express Boat (Orange Flag)

  • Route: Nonthaburi province (N.30) - Wat Rajsingkorn (S.3). The entire route takes about 1.15 hours. Tickets are available at every pier and on the boat.
  • Operation: Everyday, 6 am. – 7 pm.

3.2 Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (Hop On Hop Off Boat / Blue Flag)

  • Route: Sathorn (N.0) – Phra Arthit (N.13). Stop at 9 piers described above.
  • Operation: Everyday, 9.30 am. – 5.30 pm.
  • Route extends to Asiatique from Phra Arthit Pier at 4.00 pm and from Sathorn Pier at 4.30 pm.
  • One day river pass for unlimited trips costs 180 baht, including a Chao Phraya River Guidebook.
  • Tickets are sold at Sathorn, Maharaj, and Phra Arthit piers and the BTS Tourist Information Centers at Siam, Nana and Taksin Bridge BTS stations.

4. Rent a private boat
Alternatively, if you would like to indulge in the beauty of the Chao Phraya River and life along the river with some privacy and flexibility, a boat charter service is also available.

Supatra Co., Ltd. (www.supatraboat.com) is a major boat operator in Thailand offering boat charter service for cruising along the Chao Phraya River and its connecting canals (khlongs). There is a good network of canals on the western side of the Chao Phraya River. Taking a cruise along these canals provides a great experience to embrace the charm of old canal communities, which still maintain traditional way of life and cultural heritage. You will enjoy the views of lush greenery, enchanting wooden houses on stilts, old Buddhist temples, and relaxed local lifestyle.

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Photo credits

  • Wat Phra Kaeo and Grand Palace in Bangkok @ Praiwun Thungsarn /123rf.com
  • Crossing river bridge in duse @ Sanchai Loongroong /123rf.com
  • Landscape Bangkok city night view @ Kamonrat Meunklad /123rf.com
  • Wat Arun under sunset time @ Anek Suwannaphoom /123rf.com
  • Wat Phra Kaeo and Grand Palace alongside Chao Phraya River@ Praiwun Thungsam /123rf.com



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