Boats are a great way to get around the famous Riverside area of Bangkok with its many historical attractions, temples and architecture. They’re also great for exploring the khlongs (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.
River taxis operate up and down the river, the Chao Phraya Express Boat Company has many boat lines and the tourist boat is probably your best option, stopping 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. The Sathorn Pier is right in front of Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain Station. Here’s a rundown of all the different types of boats and ferries in Bangkok.
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Tour
- Banyan Tree's Apsara Dinner Cruise
- Vertigo & Moon Bar Rooftop Dining
- Ayutthaya Ancient Capital Tour with River Cruise
- Shangri-La Hotel's Buffet Dinner Cruise
- Bridge on the River Kwai & Historic Railway Tour
- Siam Niramit Dinner Show
- Calypso Bangkok Cabaret Show
- Chao Phraya River Dinner Cruise
- Grand Palace & Emerald Buddha Half-Day Tour
Express Boat river taxis
There are 5 different types of Express Boat river taxis:
- No flag (local line)
- Blue Flag Line (tourist boat)
- Orange Flag Line
- Yellow Flag Line
- Green Flag Line
Boats with no flag (local line)
- Stops at every pier
- Runs Monday–Friday from 6am to 6.30pm
- Costs around 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 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 at various points as you please
- Runs daily from 9am to 7pm
- Costs around 40 baht/trip or 100 baht for an all-day pass
This service operates between Nonthaburi in the far north of Bangkok to Sathorn Central Pier from 7am to 6.25pm. The all-day pass offers unlimited trips. 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, it won't stop. In between stops, staff explain the sights lining the river on either side.
- Stops at the main piers
- Runs daily from 5.50am to 7pm
- Costs around 15 baht per journey
Orange flag boats operate between Wat Rajsinkorn (Pier S3) and Nonthaburi (Pier N 30).
- Large express boat for commuters
- Runs Monday–Friday from 6.15am to 7am and from 4.45pm to 8pm
- Costs around 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's an express boat designed primarily to service commuters coming to and from work from the northern outskirts of Bangkok.
- Express boat for commuters
- Runs Monday–Friday from 6.10am to 08.10am and from 4.05pm to 6.05pm
- Costs around 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.
Long-tail boats are available for private hire for a more personalized and fun journey along the Chao Phraya River and around the khlongs (canals) on the Thonburi 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.
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.
Operating at 32 separate ferry crossings, these large flatboats resemble a raft with a roof on it. Simply transporting people from one side of the river to the other, a journey only costs around 3 baht. The most popular ferry crossing for sightseers is the crossing between Wat Pho Temple and Wat Arun at Tha Tien Pier.
Hotel shuttle boats
All of the top 5-star hotels along the Bangkok 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.
These large, loud, spluttering boats can be found chugging up and down Bangkok's largest canals (referred to as khlongs 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 the distance.
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 an intriguing glimpse into the lives of day-to-day life in the urban jungle.
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 7pm.
There’s 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 like Chao Phraya and Grand Pearl, while others are more subdued and sophisticated with a 6-course meal by candlelight on an antique converted barge, like Apsara and 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.