I was lucky enough to get a rare weekend off last weekend and literally jumped from bed on the Saturday full of plans to get out and explore the City. You can imagine my disappointment when I pulled back my curtain expecting the sunlight to rush in and flood my room, only to be met by TORRENTIAL downpour and so off back to bed I sloped. That’s the dangerous thing about living in a hotel, you don’t need to go anywhere if you don’t want to – I ordered room service breakfast and settled in to watch TV and then room service dinner some 14 hours later having not left the comfort of my room all day! Ouch. So I was determined that I would get up and out the following day rain or shine and thought it might be fun to take a trip along the Chao Phraya river boat express.
I took the BTS to Saphan Taksin which is next to Sathorn or Central Pier which took around 20 minutes from home and bought my 150baht one day pass and hopped on the first passing boat no more than 5 minutes later. From here the boat makes its way up the river, stopping at 7 different piers before returning back to Central Pier and starting all over again.
From Central the boat travels up past the Mandarin Oriental (built over 130 years ago it has played host to guests as diverse as Somerset Maugham , Noel Coward and David Beckham!) to Si Phraya Pier where you can see the nearby Holy Rosary Church which was built in 1786 just 4 years after Bangkok was founded and stands as a remainder of the important trading links between Portugal and what was then Siam in the 18th century. Bangkok’s first local bank the SCB (Siam Commercial Bank) is also located here and its classical European style architecture stands out amongst the more modern shopping centres (River City) and hotels like the Millennium Hilton and the Sheraton Royal Orchid along that stretch of the river.
Ratchawongse Pier (the nearest pier to both Chinatown and Little India) is next and the modern buildings give way to rickety wooden warehouses and markets that line the riverfront and give you a sense of the historical importance of the part the river played in the original trade reasons that the early Chinese and Indian immigrants decided to settle along its banks.
One of Bangkoks most famous landmarks, Wat Arun moves into sight on the left handside shortly before you reach Tha Tien Pier and whilst this was not where I was visiting today, I decided to alight at this stop in order to explore Pak Klong Talad Flower Market and the Tha Tien Market. Had I continued further up the river I would have reached Tha Chang Pier where The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo and the Bangkok national Museum are located as well as the historic Amulet Market Tha Prachan (which I definitely want to visit soon!)
The Royal Barge Museum can be found close to Wang Lang (Siriraj) Pier along with other sights like the Wang Lang Market and the Siriraj Medical Museum where you can learn about the history of medicine in Thailand and see exhibits on forensics and anatomy amongst others. The last stop is at Phra Athit Pier for the National Theatre, Phra Sumane Fort (dating back to 1783) Banglumpoo Market (renowned for its street food) and the famous Khao San Road a backpackers haven where cheap hostels, bars, clubs and street stalls line the road.
In order to really get a sense of the old Bangkok you need to hire a smaller boat in order to whizz through the small canals or maybe visit one of the more traditional floating markets. It’s certainly not as scenic as say taking a trip along the Seine or Thames or NYC’s Circle Line tour, but it is a fun way to travel and has the benefit of being able to avoid the notorious Bangkok traffic and I had a fun day out exploring.