Rivers are strategic water formations birthing to civilizations. As it progresses, history, trade, as well as development of the arts and architecture flourishes. We’ve seen that as Nile is to Egypt, Indus and Ganges to India, Tigris and Euphrates to Mesopotamia.
In Thailand, the great river of Chao Phraya is the birthing place to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in South East Asia which is Krung Thep, popularly known to foreigners as Bangkok. Along its lengthy banks, rose the most beautiful and finest temples and palaces, as well commercial districts.
Saphan Taksin, Central Pier
The easiest way getting to these sites requires you to hop on ferry boats which will take you to the ports nearest to these places of attractions. The orange-flagged Chao Phraya Express tourist ferry serves thousands of people each day, taking them to these most breathtaking sites. Most people head to the central pier which can be found at the base of Saphan Taksin station of Bangkok Sky Train (BTS).
Riding the ferry itself is a delightful experience where you get to catch fresh breeze and enjoy the views as the ferry travels northwards.
Temple of Dawn
First on the attraction list is Wat Arun, located at the opposite bank of the river. It was named after sun-god Aruna, thus the name. For me, this is one of the finest temples I have seen. As of this writing, I have learned that this temple was recently restored, so I was treated to bask in its most immaculate state.
This temple is not so crowded so you get to enjoy a quiet moment just to enjoy by yourself, appreciating it’s intricate architecture.
Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace
Shortly before lunch, I hopped again to Chao Phraya Express to take me to the next stop which is just across Wat Arun. This stop contained three of next major attractions which were located at each other’s vicinity. These are the Emerald Temple, The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. But before I resumed temple hopping, I stopped to the nearby National Museum to escape the noontime heat.
After having lunch in a local Thai restaurant in front of the Grand Palace, I decided to look for the entrance which was quite hard to find due to the enormity of the complex. My jaw just dropped at the long queue snaking outside towards a small entrance at the end of the street. On the parking lot some tour more buses unload incoming tourists. Most of them from mainland China. Once I got inside, the number of people was overwhelming. It seems the entire China was there!
Anyway, slowly and surely I made my way towards the ticket entrance which will give you access to both Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace. The ticket price costs a whopping 500 Bhat! And I was wondering if it is really worth the price and the experience of having to endure this enormous crowd. Since I thought I was already there, so I obliged.
Wat Phra Kaew is nothing short of majestic. It is beautiful, wide and sprawling, with lots of demonic statues which I often see as images in flight magazines when I was a kid. It is these images that I first associate Thailand with. It was a bit of nostalgic for me.
The most interesting area for me was the mural encircling the entire wall of the temple grounds. The mural is a long stretch of what seemed like a Thai paradise with images of temples, castles, mortals, magical animals, demigods, celestial beings, as well as demons and monsters. They seem to tell a story but I am not entirely sure if they tell a narrative of Thai mythology in general. Later on, I learned that the mural is about the epic, Ramayana which is the most famous of all Sanskrit narratives.
The exit from Wat Phra Kaew leads you the Grand Palace which houses the monarchy of Thailand. The palace is grand, well maintained and of course, off limits. However you can take a picture in any area of its well manicured garden.
Probably the least popular among the three but famous for housing the reclining Buddha is Wat Pho, located south of the Grand Palace.
The temple grounds is a bit bigger than Wat Arun but the crowds were lesser. Most of them only want to see the golden statue of the reclining Buddha. What I like about this temple is the many spires planted on its grounds.
I stayed briefly for I came here an hour short of closing time. After which, I went to the pier to hop on Chao Phraya express boat back to Saphan Taksin BRT station to take me to Silom where I stayed.
There are a couple of ways to commute publicly to these sites but coming from me and solo travelers like me who make Silom as base for their travels in Bangkok, then I’ll share on that perspective.
- Take the Bangkok Sky Train (BTS) going to Saphan Taksin station. Please check the BRT/MRT guides which interchanges you need to navigate to get to this station.
- Exit the MRT stairs and just walk straight. From there, you can see the signs leading to the Central Pier, also known as Sathorn Pier. When you reach the entrance of the ferry terminal, DO NOT enter this terminal. This is the terminal for ferries going only to the opposite side of the bank. This is the mistake that I did. Anyway, if you are up for an adventure, you can take this ferry and back. Each journey only costs 5 Baht.
- Turn left and you’ll see the entrance to the Chao Phraya Express Tourist Boat. You will know it is the right one when you see signages of boat tours being offered. A single boat ride only costs 15 Baht. This is regardless on which terminal you are stopping.
- There are blue and orange coded flags of Chao Phraya ferries. I believe the express one is the orange-coded flag which had fewer stops and will only make stops to most of the tourist attractions.
- Check your google maps to know which stop you are getting off. Yes, at this age, having mobile data access is important. This will save you from getting lost, taking the wrong stop thus saving you lots of time.
- Wat Pho – Tha Tien (N8)
- Wat Phra Kaew/Grand Palace/Wat Pho – Tha Chang (N9)
For more info on the ferry routes, you may check this site