Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Ashley Niedringhaus
August 19, 2014

If it’s been over a decade since your last trip to the Thai capital, one of the most noticeable differences will be on the waterfront. Sure, the old barges still haul goods up and down the river, but fancy hotels and stylish boutiques now pepper the shoreline and old warehouses have become night markets for tourists. Once known as the “Venice of the East,” life in Bangkok revolved squarely around the waterways. Today, many of the canals have been filled in to add new roads to the growing metropolis, but charter a longboat for a ride through the steamy back channels, and you’ll quickly discover a slightly unglamorous, yet important side of Bangkok’s watery history. Regardless of your time spent in the city, both first-time visitors and faithful returnees will both continue to leave in awe of the illuminated temples and mix of culture seen from the shore. 

Chon Thai

Make a reservation at the fabulous Chon Thai restaurant at the Siam Hotel and arrange for a complimentary pick up at the Saphan Taksin pier. A private boat will take you and your guests for a 30-minute cruise to the hotel where the staff will great you by name when you arrive. Time your boat ride with sunset for the best view. 

Saphan Taksin Pier

From this pier, you can commission private long tail boats to take you on a 90- or 120-minute canal ride. Boat drivers speak little English, so don’t expect much in the way of a formal tour, but you’ll get a fascinating look at what life is like for many Bangkok locals. 

Loy Nava River Cruise

As you float down the Chao Phraya on an antique teakwood rice barge, you’ll be treated to traditional Thai cuisine and classical dance. The real draw here is the view of the beautifully lit temples right along the river. The sunset dinner cruise leaves at 6 p.m. and the candlelit dinner cruise departs just after 8. Complimentary hotel pickup is available for both. 

Koh Kret

This artificial island just outside of Bangkok is worth the trip, especially if you’re in the mood for heaps of local food and shopping for hand-thrown terracotta pots. The best way to get here is to take the scenic river ferry from Wat Sanam Neua, or buy a ticket for the busy weekend tour operated by Chao Phraya Express.

Chao Phraya Express Boat

Cruising up and down the Chao Phraya and making stops near major hotels, like the Oriental and the Shangri-La, this tourist boat departs every 30 minutes and offers unlimited rides to the city’s main attractions for 150 Baht ($4.50) a day. Sure, taxis are dirt-cheap here, but when you’re facing major gridlock, wouldn’t you rather be on the water? 

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