I have been to Bangkok many times yet I still love exploring something new every time. How can’t I? Bangkok has so much to offer: scrumptious food, 5-star hotels and resorts, incredible shopping malls, historic sites, unique culture, and friendly people… all of these are accompanied by excellent services and good values.
I visited Bangkok three times this year so far in 2018 and stayed there for almost a month. One day, I was in Bangkok with my friends and it occurred to us that we haven’t been to the riverside of Bangkok for quite some time. One reason was that Bangkok’s riverside is connected to neither the BTS nor subway station (it’s the old town of Bangkok); besides, we have been to the historic attractions, temples, and palaces before and I figured I was done. We usually stayed in the new business districts and tourist areas in Sian, Asok, or Silom. Little did I know there are a bunch of new landmarks, art spaces, and restaurants popping up along the river. SO, we embarked on a “refresh” journey with some history, and culture, adding art, great food, and shopping in the day. 🙂
Stay with us as I have some great tips for a 1-day plan to discover Bangkok’s riverside on a tourist boat!
The Chao Phraya Tourist Hop-on-hop-off-boat
The Chao Phraya River is the bloodline that runs along with the city of Bangkok. A number of classic and traditional landmarks lay scatted along the river with some new attractions and lively streets, of which the cruise route connects these places and makes visiting them so much more convenient. The tourist route consists of nine stops (plus the last stop that connects to the Asiatique market in the evening).
Some of the highlights along the river:
The Sathorn Pier is considered to be a good starting point. The pier is connected to the Taksin Bridge BTS Station and I would also suggest you kick off here for a complete experience. The boats come and go every 30 minutes and each stop is approximately 4 minutes apart. Be at the pier a few minutes early as the boat usually arrives punctually and it leaves once the passengers hop on and hop off. The nine stops are:
- Sathorn (A starting point of the route neat Taksin Bridge BTS station)
River City(this stop was canceled after ICONSIAM took over)
- ICONSIAM (Latest addition and replaced River City!)
- Lhong 1919
- Pak Klong Taladd (Yodpiman)
- Wat Arun
- The Maharaj
- Thonburi Railway
- Phra Arthit
One-day River Pass: 180 Baht
Single-journey Ticket: 50 Baht
Operating hours: 9 am – 6 pm
The Maharaj, the Grand Palace
We didn’t leave our apartment “that early” so we have limited time to cover all stops on the route. We decided to skip Thonburi Railway Station (connected to the Siriraj Phimukhsthan Museum and Royal Barge National Museum) right away. We got off at the Maharaj pier and the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha were our first stops.
I was not at all surprised when I saw a big crowd at the ticketing office. The Grand Palace has been a classic attraction in Bangkok and many package group tours still keep it as a “must-see” on their itinerary. I visited the Grand Palace many years ago yet I forgot the majesty and grandeur! I felt that it was a good refreshment this time around. The Temple of Emerald Buddha (or Wat Phra Kaew), in particular, was my favorite. The Ubosot (a.k.a. the main building) of the temple is a perfect example of the Rattanakosin architectural style. The exterior of the temple is paved with golden and shiny embellishments, while the roof is covered by blue and orange mosaic tiles and pediments. I admire so much the intricacy and aesthetics, especially the line of golden Garudas and Nagas outside the Ubosot. 🙂 The frescoes on the walls are deeply impressive, too! The vivid paintings depict the life journey of the Buddha.
Once we walked through the wall we arrived at the middle court which is where the main palace complex is located. The palace had been the royal residence since the Kings of Siam in the 18th century, and the present date, the site hosts official events. The central Prasat of the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat is obviously the most eye-catching building of the bunch, and we were right there at the middle court on time to see the changing guards!
Other Points of Interest: The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Tha Maharaj, Bangkok National Museum, City Pillar Shrine
Enjoy a unique flavored pancake: GRAM Café
The Maharaj is a riverside shopping area with souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes, and stalls. We went to GRAM Café for their “interesting pancakes”. The café has a special menu of original pancakes – while some of them surprised me like Nutella crumble pancakes, banana salted caramel pancakes, Ovaltine Oreo volcano pancakes, to salted yolk lava pancakes! Besides, diners could request extra toppings like butter, honey, Nutella, salted caramel, berry jam, ice-cream, and more~ I couldn’t try them all but I might go back in the future for other flavors. Their juice bar has some refreshing drinks like black tea kombucha, too!
We headed to Wat Pho afterward and this is another iconic temple in the city. The journey requires an extra boat ride back to the other side from the Wat Arun pier but we just went for it. Have you ever seen a picture of a giant reclining Buddha in a temple? It’s probably taken in Wat Pho, as the temple is classed as the highest grade of the first-class royal temples, and one of the most famous reclining Buddhas in the country. It’s hard to take a good photo with the 46-meter long Buddha, which occupied the entire room, and the tip of the Buddha’s headpiece poked into the ceiling! A reclining Buddha is an important representation in Buddhism – This is the image of Buddha in his final days, when Buddha was ill and about to enter nirvana. I love the frescoes around the temple, too. A bit different from the frescoes in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the drawings here are more colorful in red and green, which also depicts the Buddha’s life journey. One of the paintings is now the wallpaper of my iPhone, still. Behind the Buddha, grab a bowl of 108 coins (for 20 Baht) and throw them one at a time into the line of small pots on the back wall. I was told to make a wish for each coin-throw, but then it was a meditative moment for me in this sacred site.
Make Me Mango
Outside Wat Pho, we ventured into one of the alleys by the river, and Make Me Mango is a dessert café with a theme about… wait for it… MANGO. Their signature dessert includes all sorts of traditional and innovative mango desserts from sticky rice, smoothies, shaved ice, ice cream, puddings, and so on. They have some other hot food and drinks like Italian soda, but Mango dishes are definitely the star of the show. The shop is quite small but it has a homey and comfortable feel to it. Since it was our first time there, we ordered the signature Mango combo and drinks, I like their sticky rice and would go back for more!
The Wat Arun, or, the Temple of Dawn, is the symbol of Bangkok. The majestic Khmer-style pagoda looked quite different from the Other temples that we have just seen. The temple dates back to the 17th century in the reign of King Rama II and once housed the Emerald Buddha.
The 76-meter tall building is a manifestation of aesthetics, covered by thousands of seashells, and pieces of Chinese porcelain. Although Arun means “morning”, the temple is a perfect spot to view not only during sunrise but also the sunset. There are a number of cafes and restaurants on the opposite side of the river bank with an open deck, which allows visitors to enjoy the view of Wat Arun’s silhouette dominating the skyline during sunset. It is really romantic.
Other than the three classic landmarks in Bangkok, the boat stops at the Ratchawongse pier and Pak Klong Taladd pier, which connect to the China Town and Flower Market respectively. China Town’s Yaowarat Road in Bangkok is a street food paradise at night, dim sum, oyster omelets, and flat noodles… this is also where the Chinese come to eat bird nests, or seafood at a valuable price. For visitors coming to China Town during the day, visit the landmarks like the China Gate, Wat Chakawat Ratchawat (crocodile), and Wat Traimit.
Other Points of Interest: Tha Tien Market
Both stops: Ratchawongese and Pakklong Taladd (Yodpiman), are close to many local markets in Bangkok’s old city center and if you are looking for local fresh food and produce, it will be your shopping paradise. If you are not planning to go shopping, and you have more time, you still get to see a different side of Bangkok and get in touch with the local’s lives.
Pakklong Taladd (Yodpiman)
Other Points of Interest: Flower Market (Pak Klong Taladd), Yodpiman River Walk, Museum of Siam
Other Points of Interest: Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, Phahurat (Indian) Market, Sampheng Market, Chinatown (Yaowarat)
To visit someplace new, we stopped by Lhong 1919. This new attraction is a restoration of a 19th-century Chinese mansion. Now, the mansion is turned into a shopping mall, but still retained its historical charm and Chinese religious heritage. There is a Mazu Shrine in the center of the site – Mazu is a Chinese goddess of seafarers. The buildings around the courtyard are souvenir and handicraft shops, and a few rooms where period fixtures and artifacts are on display.
Sample local dishes at Lhong 1919
For some refreshments and snacks, there’s a row of Thai restaurants and bars on the ground. Those are quite commercial and we yet to find a place that truly stands out. We ended up trying some local snacks at the food stalls in the courtyard, and I think it’s better off as we could just sit on a bench and chill out a little bit.
River City Bangkok, now ICONSIAM
With ICONSIAM officially opens, it is a new attraction and entertainment complex by the river. The shopping mall offers an impressive 525,000 square meters of retail floor space that basically has it all: SOOK Siam is an indoor “floating market” with a lot of local food and handicrafts that you could now shop with the comfort of air conditioning; Icon Cineconic the cinema by Major Cineplex; Iconsiam Heritage Museum and a riverside park. ICONSIAM is a combination of two shopping malls, IconSiam and IconLuxe, while the former houses a great collection of fashion brands, the latter features upscale luxury brands. This is also where the first Apple Store in Thailand!
Other Points of Interest: River City Bangkok, Holy Rosary Church, Siam Commercial Bank, Thailand Creative And Design Center (TCDC), Wat Traimit Wittayaram.
Asiatique is one of my favorite shopping malls in Bangkok because it has a diversified and balanced product mix. To me, the fashion and accessories are more stylish, original, and in better quality (given that are at a very low price) than Chatuchak. They have other products like home décor, books, stationery, and local snacks. I bought two coconuts at a store and now they have grown into small plants! There are a lot of exciting restaurants and bars lined up by the riverfront as well. The last time I was there in July, there was a Thai food festival pavilion with an array of Thai delicacies, and some really good live singing performances.
Other Points of Interest: Looking for more? The shopping is filled with entertainment. It has a Ferris Wheel (which has a great view during sunset), a Muay Thai Fighting show, and Puppet Theatre.
Fine dining at The House on Sathorn
After a day by the river, we headed to a fancy fine-dining experience. There are numerous high-end restaurants in the city, and it might take a long time to explore all of them. But anyway, I chose The House on Sathorn, which is located next to the W Hotel, and only two BTS stations away from the Taksin Bridge BTS station. The House of Sathorn is a beautiful colonial mansion that date back to 1889 and it was once the Embassy of the Soviet Union. Now, it is retained and fully restored in front of the tallest building in Thailand, the MahaNakhon. The square prism shape of the building has gained a lot of attention since it’s opening in 2017.
The restaurant offers a seasonal menu, as the chef evolves and updates the menu by choosing the best ingredients possible in the country. Luckily, we visited the restaurant with a new “journey” updated only a week ago. The flamboyant presentation and innovative combination of dishes pleasantly surprised me and enriched my culinary experience. The tasting menu includes some common ingredients like tomatoes, celeriac, tuna… and special ones like Andaman squid, Anjou pigeon, and so on. The highlight was definitely the dessert, which was prepared in innovative ways and elegantly presented which made me wonder.
The route has two more stops after the Grand Palace, yet we didn’t have enough time to explore these areas in one day. But if you want to compete for the entire route, why not make it a “two-day” experience and check out some of the museums at these stops?
Thonburi Railway Station
Points of Interest: Siriraj Bmuksthan Museum, Wang Lang Market, the Royal Barge Museum
Points of Interest: Banglumpoo Market, Khao San Road, Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall, Phra Sumen Fort, National Theatre
Finish your day at a Sky Bar
Somehow we were so excited that night and even though we went out for the whole day, we still manage to change and grabbed a drink at the Sky Bar at the Dome – one of the first rooftop bars in Bangkok, and (they claim themselves to be) the highest rooftop bar in the world. Although more and more rooftop bars are opened around the city, the bar has its special standing among them all.
Remember the bar is quite popular (given that a glass of drink at the bar is not cheap), and visitors need to make a reservation – it is almost impossible to walk in; besides, they have a strict dress code where revealing clothes, shorts, and flip-flops would not be welcomed. The Sky Bar has different areas from dining, drinking, to lounge. Since we just had an amazing fine dining experience, we just stood at the bar and enjoyed the city’s night view and the cooling breeze. All of a sudden, there were fireworks exploded on the river and we had a great time looking at them exploding below us. An amazing wrap-up of our day by the river in Bangkok.