An Easy DIY Bangkok Boat Tour: Exploring Bangkok’s Temples (2021 Update)

Are you looking for an easy way to explore Bangkok’s temples? Take a temple tour along the Chao Phraya River on this DIY Bangkok boat tour.

If you are travelling to Thailand, there’s a very good chance that you will pass through Bangkok, and visiting some its temples may be high on your must-see list. But with roughly 400 temples to choose from, which ones should you visit and how will you do it? 

The good news is that it is a breeze to explore Bangkok’s most important temples on DIY Bangkok boat tour.

Many of Bangkok’s main temples and the royal palace, are conveniently situated along the banks of the mighty Chao Phraya River, the city’s silvery artery. The Chao Phraya boats that chug their way along the river are frequent, very affordable and way faster than travelling by taxi or tuk-tuk.

Discover which temples you can see on a DIY Bangkok boat tour on the Chao Phraya River and how to do it.

buildings and boats on river in bangkok
Chao Phraya River, Bangkok

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How to do a Chao Phraya River Boat Tour: Using Bangkok’s River Boats

A DIY Bangkok boat tour to see the city’s historic temples is super easy and you also benefit from a cooling river breeze. Although navigating the riverboat transport options can appear confusing at first, with a little patience and foreknowledge, it is not difficult.

You have two choices: the regular boats that plough along the Chao Phraya River or the hop on-hop off tourist boat.

In the interests of research, I tried both of them. Broadly speaking, both boats serve the same stops, which are helpfully numbered. The starting point for both services is Sathorn Pier, in front of the BTS Skytrain station Saphin Taksin.

chao-phraya-tourist-boat-map
Chao Phraya Tourist Boat Map (the public boat serves the same main stops on this route)

The regular Bangkok riverboat

  • The regular boat costs 15- 20 THB per ride. The ladies at a table at Sathorn Pier will hand over a ticket in exchange for your cash.
  • Go for an orange flag boat.
  • Boarding is organised chaos but it does work. There are shouty staff; they are efficient but not rude.
  • Boats run every 15 minutes.

Chao Phraya Tourist Boat

  • Tourists are encouraged to use the Chao Phraya hop on – hop off tourist boat, so much so that you have to run the gauntlet of enthusiastic ticket vendors, dressed in their distinctive blue uniforms, at Sathorn Pier. These boats fly blue flags
  • An All-Day River Pass (9.00 – 21.00) costs 200 THB; 60 THB for a single journey. (2021 prices)
  • Boats run every 30 minutes.

Although the tourist boat was less crowded and less chaotic, the main difference between this and the regular boat is that you get a tinny-sounding commentary on the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat. This is not worth the extra cost.

A DIY Bangkok Boat Tour on the Chao Phraya River

Dipping your toe into Thailand’s history is easy on a DIY Bangkok boat tour.

Formally a quiet trading and farming community, Bangkok grew in importance in the 15th and 16th centuries, with the development of a new waterway, easing the passage of ships up the river.

After the sacking of Ayutthaya, in 1782, Bangkok became the capital of Siam, as Thailand was known up until 1939,  After a brief stay across the Chao Phraya River in Thonburi, King Rama I finally settled on the island of Ratanakosin, chosen for its strategic location at the mouth of the river.

What you will see on this Bangkok boat tour

You will visit Bangkok’s Grand Palace and three of its most important temples on this Chao Phraya boat tour. From Sathorn Pier, you’ll take a boat to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kiew. From there, it’s a short walk to Wat Pho before crossing the river to finish your day at Wat Arun.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

Let’s start our Bangkok temple tour where it all began, on the island of Ratanakosin. Here you will find the Grand Palace and the royal temple of Wat Phra Kaew.

As a homage to its predecessor, King Rama imitated Ayutthaya’s architecture and layout, even going as far as using the ruins of the old capital to build the new one.

gold and stone tops of temple buildings seen on diy bangkok boat tour
Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok

Wat Phra Kaew looks like something that my seven-year-old niece would build if she was let loose with a fantasy bling set of Lego.

It is overwhelming in all senses of the word. Its buildings hang together in a melange of contrasting shapes and colours; it shouldn’t work but it does.

colourful statues and roof of pagoda in bangkok temple
Wat Phra Kaew

Once through the entrance, 6 m-tall demons (yaksha) loom over you, guarding the Emerald Buddha and warding off evil spirits.

The prayer room, or bot, houses the tiny Emerald Buddha, reputed to have spiritual powers, which attracts visitors from across Thailand. The bot itself assaults the senses, but not always in a good way.

highly decorated frieze on side of temple
Exterior of the bot, Wat Phra Kaew

The crowds, the heat and the sensory overload made this a challenging visit, and I was glad that I hadn’t tagged it on the end of a busy day. I lasted an hour there, so pace yourself.

VISITING THE GRAND PALACE & WAT PHRA KAEW
  • Alight the riverboat at Tha Maharaj (N9), from where it is a circuitous 15-minute walk
  • Opening hours 8.30 – 3.30. Admission fee is 500 THB (2021 price)
  • Dress appropriately. This is Thailand’s most sacred site so no shorts, vests or flip-flops. If you haven’t dressed suitably, you can borrow a cover-up from the office, just inside the entrance, for a small deposit.

Wat Pho

Founded in the 16th Century, Wat Pho predates the city of Bangkok. It is famed for its enormous Reclining Buddha, which measures 46 meters long.

giant golden reclining buddha
Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho

However, avoid the temptation to just gawp at the Reclining Buddha and leave. It is worth taking time to wander around the temple complex, which I preferred to Wat Phra Kaeo.

Look out for the stone giants, standing guard at the monumental gates of the main compound. Many of these are Westerners, comical-looking with their wide-brimmed hats, and were used as ballast by ships exporting rice to China.

statue of a Stone Giant in Wat Pho bangkok
Stone Giant, Wat Pho

I loved the lines of Buddha statues from different parts of Thailand and the intricate murals covering the Wat Pho’s walkways.

row of golden buddha statues
Buddha statues, Wat Pho

If you are in need of a therapeutic massage, you have come to the right place. Wat Pho is famous for massage sessions and courses. Just look for the signposts.

VISITING WAT PHO
  • At the time of writing, the riverboat stop for Wat Pho was closed for renovation.  It’s a 15-minute walk from the Grand Palace.
  • Alternatively, alight the riverboat on the opposite bank at Wat Arun, and then take the cross-river ferry.
  • Opening hours 8.30 – 6.30.
  • Admission fee is 100 THB. This includes a free bottle of drinking water.
  • As before, dress appropriately.

Wat Arun

On the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, the elegant Wat Arun – or Temple of Dawn – shimmers and gleams like a mirage. For my money, it the most beautiful of Bangkok’s temples.

magnificent pagodas in wat arun seen on a bangkok temple tour
Wat Arun

Climb the central prang, said to represent Mount Meru, the centre of the universe –  for views across the river to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.

VISITING WAT ARUN
  • Alight the riverboat at Tha Tien (N8).
  • Opening hours 8.00 – 6.00.
  • Admission fee is 100 THB.
  • As before, dress appropriately.
  • The best time to visit Wat Arun is early in the morning or towards the end of the day

DIY Bangkok Boat Tour: Final Thoughts

Armed with this information, doing this DIY Bangkok temple tour by boat is very easy.

If you have time, do visit the flower market. Apart from anything else, it’s a respite from the pagodas and buddhas that you will see during the rest of your day.

woman sitting behind purple flowers in market seen on a chao phraya boat tour

Finally, one important piece of advice about Bangkok temple-hopping on this Chao Phraya boat tour.

Three temples and a palace in one day may not seem like a lot. But factor in the heat, the crowds and the potential for sensory overload, and allow yourself a whole day to do this.

These are extraordinary sights; you just need to pace yourself.

Visiting Bangkok’s Temples on a Guided Tour

If you prefer, you can visit Bangkok’s temples as part of an organised day excursion. This is useful if you are short on time and wish to cram as many sights into your stay as possible. Here are a few that I recommend:

Where to Stay in Bangkok

I stayed in the magnificent Shangri-La Hotel overlooking the Chao Phraya River and a stone’s throw from Sapthorn Pier. A welcome taste of affordable luxury with a plush, river-facing room and the exemplary Shangri-La service. Highly recommended.

If this hotel doesn’t suit your taste or budget, search for other Bangkok accommodation choices here.

PLAN YOUR TRIP TO BANGKOK

GETTING THERE

Skyscanner is my go-to platform to search for flights. I like having the ability to filter results by cabin class and to compare the price of flights across an entire month. Skyscanner also supports multi-city options in searching for open-jaw flights.

STAYING THERE

I book 80% of my accommodation with Booking.com. Rates are competitive and many reservations are cancellable without penalty.

Alternatively, check rates and availability on Expedia.

Check accommodation reviews, and prices across a range of booking platforms, on TripAdvisor.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Wherever you travel in the world it’s important to have comprehensive travel insurance to protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. Check if World Nomads will cover your needs.

OTHER TRAVEL RESOURCES

Check out my Travel Resources page for the companies and other resources I use when planning my trips and whilst I am away.