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