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Chao Phraya River

chao phraya river

When Bangkok became the capital city, Chao Phraya River (also called River of Kings) was the "freeway" and canals were "streets" of the city. Kings rode in golden royal barges, temples and royal residences were accessible by the river, and everyday wooden boats were used for transportation, fishing and floating markets. When you visit Bangkok with kids, taking the Chao Phraya ferry is an excellent way to explore the Old City, and to visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

    Chao Phraya Express Boat Chao Phraya Express Boat runs often and all day, and is convenient for sightseeing stops (Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Chinatown, Central Pier for Skytrain etc.) and hotels. It's fast, better than taking city streets clogged with traffic, and fun for kids to see all the activity on the river. Here's the boat schedule.

Tip: At morning and afternoon rush hour, boats can get crowded (standing room only). If you have a stroller, fold it up don't try to carry the stroller with a sleeping child from the boat to the dock (or vice versa).

chao phraya river play video
  Watch the boats go by The Chao Phraya River is alive with boats: tugs pulling rice barges, painted longtail boats decorated with colorful garlands, speedy ferries zipping along, cute hotel shuttle boats crossing the river, and after dark, dinner cruise boats sparkle in the tropical darkness.
    Boat cruises The best time for a boat cruise on the Chao Phraya River is after dark (not the sunset cruises). At night the temples are all lit up, boats on the river are decorated with lights, bridges glow in the darkness, it's just a magical time, and quieter also.
wat arun
  Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) Named for Aruna, Indian god of the dawn, Wat Arun has a tall central tower (prang) surrounded by four smaller towers. Each level of the towers represents a level of heaven, Mt. Meru. The temple is completely covered with ceramic mosaics Chinese dishes and broken porcelain made into intricate flower designs and mythical creatures. Take lots of photos for ideas for kids' mosaics when you get back home.

Climb up the central tower for fabulous views of the Chao Phraya River below and Grand Palace across the river. Look out over the smaller prangs each has niches with the god of wind on horseback, and rows of rusty red demons. In the central tower are statues of Indra on his elephant mount, three-headed Erawan. Tip: The stairs to the third level on the central tower are very steep; it's usually harder going down than going up.


Tip: To get to Wat Arun, take the cross river-ferry from Tha Thien. On the ferry pier at Wat Arun, kids can feed fish in the river. Pay a small fee, toss in the bread, and watch catfish come and gobble it up - some are quite big.

khao mo
  Khao Mo (Wat Prayoon) Khao Mo is a miniature replica of Wat Prayoon (Prayurawongsawas Temple). It's a kid-sized mountain with grottoes, caves, waterfalls, tropical flowers and plants, and populated with miniature versions of chedis, Chinese pavilions, Buddhist temple buildings and statues. In the pond are lots of turtles sunning themselves; like local families, bring bananas to feed the turtles.

Amid the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Khao Mo is a peaceful spot for kids, and is free. To get there, take the Express Boat to the Memorial Bridge stop, and walk across the bridge to the west side of the river.

longboat canal tour thonburi play video
  Thonburi Canals boat tour – Longtail boats are wooden boats, brightly painted red, yellow, blue, and orange, with a huge motor on the back. They are perfect for exploring the canals on the west side of the of Chao Phraya River (Thonburi).

The longtail boat tour was one of our favorite things to do with kids in Bangkok. There are different itineraries, but the one we recommend, a two hour tour, includes the Thonburi canals, Taling Chan floating market on weekends, and Royal Barges Museum.


When you leave the main river and enter the canals, this is Bangkok of an earlier era. The canals are overgrown with lush green tropical trees and vegetation. Small houses with wooden docks line the canals, laundry is hanging out dry, huge lizards loll along the banks, sunning themselves. This is a completely different view of Bangkok from glass and steel skyscrapers.

video taling chan floating market
  Taling Chan floating marketVendors bring their boats to the market, and set up shop. Our favorite thing was to watch food prepared on the boats – giant prawns and fresh fish grilled on barbeques, pots boiling and people chopping vegetables for delicious soups, kids playing while their parents cooked, and customers sitting on plastic chairs to eat these tasty dishes.

The floating market is small, but in addition to food, there's also souvenirs for sale (we bought ceramic boats) and a children's play area.

royal barge museum
  The National Museum of Royal Barges – Royal barges are traditionally used for ceremonial processions on the river, such as the king visiting Wat Arun to present the monks with yellow robes. The royal barges are colorfully painted, richly decorated, and each has a different figurehead, e.g. seven-headed naga (serpent), garuda bird, sacred swan of Brahma, the monkey king Hanuman.

In the museum are eight different spectacular royal barges, plus models of boats, and information (in English) about figureheads and royal processions.

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