DIY Trip via Chao Phraya River: Bangkok’s Most Famous Temples and Museums

Express Boats

Chao Phraya River express boats bear different flag colors depending on their routes. There are local boats, orange, green and yellow flag long tail boats. Fare ranges from 15-32 baht (10 baht being the lowest for local line, those without a flag).

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Operating hours on a weekday is from 6 am-8 pm and 6 am-7 pm on weekends and public holidays. For more details about Chao Phraya express boats, click here or here.

The long stretch of this river offers a quick and easy sightseeing trip to most of Bangkok’s famous temples, museums and other landmarks. You can easily jump in or drop off at any station you wish and start exploring.

Useful Tips

I wouldn’t say this is the perfect way to get around but it saved me time and money. You may want to spend a day and a half or two for all of these to be able to see and observe more. But first let me give a few tips to make your trip even easier.

  1. Take note of the scammers who pretend to be teachers and professionals ready to help you when you ask questions. They really look professionals and they (pretend to) know everything everywhere. Be prepared to be disappointed when they tell you that temples are closed because it’s a holiday, etc. They would suggest some other places to go and there’s a tuktuk ready to take you. Don’t take the bait. They charge high and take you to places where they rip you off. Just say thank you and walk away.
  1. Also, when you ask for directions to locals and you like walking a lot, be kind enough to yourself and ask the locals if it’s far, because they won’t tell you if it’s far or not. They’d just say go straight, turn left , then there’s a traffic light, turn right and there you are, without knowing it would take you forever to get there. Lesson learned.
  1. Proper dress code applies in temples and strict dress codes for royal properties so make sure you’re wearing appropriate yet comfortable clothing. No exposed shoulders and knees for temples and no shorts, sleeveless and fit flops for royal properties like the Grand Palace and Throne Hall. You may want to use a slip on shoe that could be easily removed and worn.

The DIY Trip

Anyways, let me start guiding you from the central station.

From any point in the city, head to Saphan Taksin BTS Si Lom Line if you want to see the Western quarter at Oriental (N3), Wat Worachanyawas at S2 or Wat Rajsingkorn at S3. The central station is just a few minute walk from Saphan Taksin station. You may take the local, orange or yellow flag boat. You may also head straight to Ratchawong Pier (N5) if you want to start at Bangkok Chinatown.

I haven’t been to S2 or S3 while Western Quarter is a preserved old building right in front of Oriental station. You may opt not to drop off here and just take pictures on the boat instead. I decided to check it out, took some pictures and walked around to see if I could go in. No. However, there’s a private school beside it and a catholic church in front (construction in full swing). That’s interesting.

Catholic Church near Oriental
Catholic Church near Oriental
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Western Quarter

Another option is to take the MRT and drop off at Hua Lamphong Station if you don’t like to see S2, S3 and N1. See the maps through the first link at the beginning of this article. Here is a list of temples, museums and landmarks worth visiting and entrance fees, rules and how to get there.

  1. Wat Traimit

It houses the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image. At 15 feet tall and weighing 5 ½ tons, it’s made of about 83% gold. It was made sometime in the 13th century but the true nature was not discovered until it was transferred to its current home. While hoisting it, the rope broke dropping the statue, revealing the gold underneath. The second floor exhibits the Chinese community in Bangkok while the third floor is about the history of the Golden Buddha itself. Entrance fee is 100 THB for the museum and another 40 THB for the Golden Buddha. Photos allowed.

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The Golden Buddha

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You may walk from Hua Lamphong station to Wat Traimit. It is located at the end of Yaowarat Road at the very beginning of Bangkok Chinatown. Take Exit 1. In front of you is Charoensawat Bridge, walk the intersection (Mitmaitree). Enter Thanon Mitraparp Thai-China and walk straight. Don’t miss it. Wat Traimit is a few steps on your right. If you don’t feel confident, there are a lot of locals you can ask.

  1. Bangkok Chinatown

When you step out of Wat Traimit, you’ll see the long stretch of Chinatown road. Honestly, there is nothing much of interest here except during Chinese New Year. I was lucky I was just in time. Like Chinatown in Manila, it’s filled with colors, festivities, food and music. Cultural exercises were evident everywhere and you just can’t help but try the food. There were lots around especially after dark. It’s also the place where gold traders flock and streets are packed with gold stores.

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Once done, head to Ratchawong Pier (N5). If you’re not a fan of walking, you might want to hail a tuktuk. It’s quite a walk. I did walk, got lost and eventually bailed finding myself hailing a tuktuk but before that I found a huge post office. It’s worth taking a picture.

post office
post office
  1. Wat Prayoon (Wat Rua Lek)

From Ratchawong Pier (N5) hop on to any boat going to Saphan Phut/Memorial Bridge (N6). Cross the bridge. You’ll see a towering white chedi. It was not crowded when I went there. There is no entrance fee; however, footwear is not allowed starting from the museum so you have to walk barefoot on the hot cemented pavement. I was greeted by a flight of winding stairs leading to the top of the stupa.

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It was dark and filled with golden leaves and a number of Buddha statues. What’s interesting is the way out. I had to crawl before I could get out.

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  1. Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun)

Considered as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand, Wat Arun stands at 79 meters high, surrounded by four smaller prangs right beside the Chao Phraya River at the Thonburi side. Covered by colored glass and Chinese porcelain, it’s totally different from all other wats in Bangkok. You may climb the steep steps to admire the partial view of the river. Going up is as hard as going down.

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Cross the bridge and head back to Saphan Phut (N6). Take a boat going to Tha Tien Pier (N8) then take a cross river boat for 3 baht. Admission fee is 30 baht for foreigners and is free for Thais. Going back, take the cross river boat again. Lots of shops and food vendors near the pier so you may want to check them out. Operating hours, 8:30-5:30

  1. Temple of Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)

One of the most visited temples in Bangkok, Wat Pho houses a GIANT reclining Buddha at 15 meters tall and 46 meters long. It’s too big you can’t take a full picture of it unless you’re at the best spot! Its feet measures 5 meters long with exquisite decorations.

The Reclining Buddha
The Reclining Buddha

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At the back of the Buddha are 108 bronze bowls. If you wish for something, you may purchase a bowl of coins for around 20 baht to put on each bronze bowl.

108 bronze bowls
108 bronze bowls

From Tha Tien Pier (N8), walk your way out of the souvenir and food stalls, cross the road and turn right. Ticket costs 100 baht. Temple is open from 8 am-5 pm.

  1. The Grand Palace

It’s not a complete visit to Bangkok without going to the spectacular Grand Palace. For 150 years it became the home of the King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of the government. You can find the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) here where a small Emerald Buddha is housed. However, photos and videos are not allowed inside the temple. Wander around the beautiful and stunning architectures. Admire the intricate designs of each pillars, rooftops and huge statues around.

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replica of Angkor Wat in Cambodia

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It’s just a 10 minute walk from Wat Pho at the corner of Maha Rat Road and Thai Wang alley. Go back to the intersection and walk away from the pier. There will be huge crowds and countless tourist groups anyway so it’s very easy to find. Entrance is 500 baht as of writing which includes entrance to Vimanmek Mansion Museum, Support Museum Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, Sanam Chandra Palace (all open every day 9:30-4 pm), Arts of the Kingdom Exhibition at Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall (exhibition hours 10 am-5 pm, closed on Mondays, New Year and Songkran holidays). Opening hours, 8:30-3:30 pm.

  1. Wat Mahathat

It is regarded as one of the 10 royal temples of the highest class in Bangkok. No entrance fee and not really touristy place. It is the headquarters of Thailand’s largest monastic order and Vipassana Meditation centre.

Cluster at the back of the Wat. Photo not allowed inside.
Cloister at the back of the Wat. Photo not allowed inside.

Walk your way from the Grand Palace to the intersection near Tha Tien Pier. Facing the pier, turn right and walk along Maha Rat Road. You’ll pass by Maha Rat Pier. Walk a little more. Try looking for Phra That Road. Take it until you reach Wat Mahathat. Opening hours, 8-5 pm.

  1. Temple of the Golden Mount (Wat Saket)

Built on an artificial man-made hill, visitors must climb about 300 steps before reaching the top. You will see huge bells, ring them as you go.

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It could be tiring but the view going up gets better and better. Since it’s spiral and the steps are not steep, it’s like walking in the sky!

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The golden stupa on top is the most famous landmark here. I was lucky to be part of a ceremony where they drape the stupa with a massive, bright-red cloth.

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It’s a little bit out of the way because it’s quite a walk from the river but I do suggest paying a visit here because it’s worth it. I don’t suggest walking from Wat Mahathat. Take a tuktuk instead. Fare could vary but remember to haggle. Opening hours, 8:30-5 pm.

  1. Siriraj Medical Museum

You’re probably having a little temple fatigue by now so it’s time to check out some cool and creepy place. Siriraj Forensic Museum is something not for the faint hearted or someone who’s not a fan of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Hostel movies. Do not expect to see something from your usual museum. It is a “medical” museum in the first place. Divided into five areas, you have to spend about an hour or two here to fully “absorb” everything. Five areas are: (1) Ellis Pathological Museum, (2) Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medical Museum, (3) Parasitology Museum, (4) Congdon Anatomical Museum, (5) Sood Sangvichien Prehistoric Museum & Laboratory. Of course the most interesting parts are the most gruesome ones.

Here are some photos I’ve grabbed from the internet.

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Located in another building. You have to go out and find it. Quite a quest, isn’t it?
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Mummified bodies.

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From Wat Saket, head back to Tha Chang Pier (N9). Take a boat going to Wang Lang (Siriraj) (N10) or Tha Rot Fai Pier. Walk a couple of blocks into the hospital complex. It’s very near. Follow the signs to Adulyadej Vikrom Building or if you can’t find any, ask the students. There were yellow signs going to the museum. Opening hours, 9-4 pm. Entrance fee is 200 baht for the museum and 350 baht if you wish to include Siriraj Bimuksthan Museum. No photos or videos allowed inside and you will be asked to leave your things in your locker near the reception.

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  1. The Marble Temple (Wat Benjamabhopit)

It is one of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok. It’s coined as The Marble Temple because its exterior is made from marbles imported from Italy. I was hooked taking pictures from the outside because it was just so lovely and symmetrical. At the back is a cloister with a number of Buddha images. The flooring is made of marble too.

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Entrance fee is 20 baht. From Wang Lang (N10), hop on a boat going to Thewet (N15). Take a tuktuk to Wat Ben. On your way to Wat Ben, you’ll see King Rama VIII bridge at N14. The bridge looks more appealing at night though.

King Rama VIII bridge
King Rama VIII bridge
  1. Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall

This two-storey white marble palace is an example of neo-classical Renaissance architecture. Inside is a permanent exhibition on country’s national artist and crafts of students from a vocational center. No photos allowed inside. Purchase a sarong at the ticketing hall for 50 baht then show the ticket you got from the Grand Palace so you won’t have to pay for the fee. Strict dress code applies.

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From Wat Ben, you may walk you way here. It’s easy to find. Opening hours: 9:30-4 pm. Ticket booth closes at 3:30 pm. Everyone is strictly inspected before going inside and all personal belongings must be kept in the ticketing hall prior to the tour.

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