A Ride on the Chao Phraya River

Photos by MJ Klein and Hui-chen

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Hui-chen and I have had several pleasurable trips on the Chao Phraya river as it winds through Bangkok. Any visitor to Bangkok should take advantage of the many water taxis or long-tailed boats, and enjoy this lovely river for themselves. So, come join us while we share our water taxi experiences!


The Chao Phraya River is a very important river in Thailand.

From Wikipedia:

Etymology : On old maps the river is named as Menam or Mae Nam, the Thai word for river. The name Chao Phraya is a Thai feudal title, which can be translated as General. In the English-language media in Thailand the name is often translated as River of Kings.

Geography : The Chao Phraya begins at the confluence of the Ping and Nan river at Nakhon Sawan (also called Pak Nam Pho) in the Nakhon Sawan province. It then flows from north to south for 372 km from the central plains to Bangkok and the Gulf of Thailand. In Chainat, the river splits into the main river course and the Tha Chin river, which then flows parallel to the main river and exits to Gulf of Thailand the about 35 km west of Bangkok in Samut Sakhon. In the low alluvial plain which begins below the Chainat dam, many small canals (khlong) split off from the main river. The khlong are used for the irrigation of the region’s rice paddies.

Chao Phraya River – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The river runs right though Bangkok and winds around the city. You can get a good idea of where the river runs by checking out this site: Bangkok Map. The Chao Phraya is a major transportation artery and has many water taxis and also long-tailed boats for hire. The fares are inexpensive and the service is great. The water taxis stop frequently at the various docks so you never have to wait very long. Basically travel is in 2 directions so you just wait for a boat going in your direction to stop at your dock, and hop on. Once onboard, a fare collector will come by and take your fare and give you change.

A water taxi dock near Khao San Road

There are docks all up and down the river. They are convenient to shopping, work and worship activities.

The boats pull up to the docks and a gangplank is placed on the deck for the passengers to dis/embark from the vessel. These docks are floating type docks and very stable, but they do move a bit when the vessel makes contact with them. Nothing to worry about though – you’ll have no problems keeping your footing and the friendly Thais will assist you if you are having difficulties.

In our opening shot you see the type of boat that we’ll be taking on our virtual trip. It’s more like a bus than a taxi. Large, wide and very stable, these water taxis are surprisingly smooth on the river.

Just pick a seat, or stand up and enjoy the ride! The docking crew communicates with the pilot by whistling, and it’s really something to hear them tell the pilot how far they are from the dock and when to cut the engines! Notice the open deck with no windows. You will occasionally get splashed if the river is choppy. To me, that just adds to the fun of the experience, but photographers will want to keep that fact in mind.

To the left is a long-tailed boat, so called because of the long propeller shaft protruding from the engine. Wikipedia has the call:

The long-tail boat is a type of watercraft native to Southeast Asia, which uses a common automotive engine as a readily available and maintainable powerplant. A craft designed to carry passengers on a river may include a lightweight long canoe hull, up to 30 meters, and a canopy. There is much variation among these boats, and in rural areas they may be improvised from bamboo and traditional materials—the sole defining characteristic is a secondhand car or truck engine. This engine is invariably mounted on an inboard turret-like pole which can rotate through 180 degrees, allowing steering by thrust vectoring. The propeller is mounted directly on the driveshaft with no additional gearing or transmission. Usually the engine also swivels up and down to provide a “neutral gear” where the propeller does not contact the water. The driveshaft must be extended by several meters of metal rod to properly position the propeller, giving the boat its name and distinct appearance.

Long-tail boat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the above shot you can see other docks with boats tied up. There is no shortage of water transportation in Bangkok, so be sure to check out whether or not where you want to go is near the river. If you can take a water taxi you won’t be tied up in one of Bangkok’s famous traffic jams!

Now, how about some views of the river from the water taxi?

Many people live along the Chao Phraya river in stilted houses. Bangkok is very crowded so people have moved onto the river to build their houses. This shot shows some permanently moored house boats.

Some of the homes are quite nice while others have fallen into disrepair. One thing common to all houses is that the river acts as a both sewer and garbage disposal.

We pass under several bridges on our river trip.

Kids just being kids.

Thai temples (called “wat”) are spectacular structures, impeccably maintained.

The water taxi allows the passengers to enjoy views that aren’t possible from the land. Just look at this sprawling temple complex! Nothing is blocking our view.

Hui-chen and I got off the boat and went sight-seeing. We found a traditional market only about 100 meters from the boat dock. Many people who were on the same boat as us, got off the boat to go shopping in this market. We walked around for quite some time, never worrying about the return schedule as the boats run frequently.

Back onboard for the return trip, the setting sun casts a red glow on everything. We are passing some sort of military depot now.

A memorable sight on the river is the Singha Beer Factory. This can is a famous landmark and can help you get your bearings.

Thanks for joining us on our virtual trip on the Chao Phraya river! We hope to see you on a water taxi the next time we are in Bangkok.

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  1. True, it’s a very long river. Except for the first few trips I ever took on it where I looked around at everything, for the past few years I’ve only taken the ferries between Banglamphu and Little India and not paid much attention to the scenery.

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