I’ve read this somewhere, this senses overload, this over stimulation of the different elements that engulfs you aboard a ferry with countless of others on their daily commute to home.
The water lapping the wind as it hits your face, whipping your hair about forcefully. The smell of the city canals flowing into the river, of the days market of grain, fish and slowly rotting meat. The cranking of the barge as it makes a turn below a bridge carrying foot traffic, thumping along and on to the busy markets and the temples and sky rise hotels. This feeling of not really being there that I had on that day I was aboard a ferry along the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok.
This is probably it, the one and only time I ever visited a city via its river system. While I’ve been to other cities with an advance system of water transportation, none seems to rival the effectiveness of the Chao Phraya River ferries.
Vancouver ferries are available so you can visit its surrounding islands, Hong Kong’s ferries gives you a tour of its harbors so that you may enjoy the skyline. But in Bangkok, the canals are like bloodlines, reaching into the river, and all around the city without a person ever having to take the train, bus, or the Tuk Tuk. Unless of course you prefer to.
In 1976, Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese,which prompted the Kingdom of Siam to relocate the country’s capital to Bangkok. The new capital grew because of the land’s fertility and the water’s richness in fish. King Rama I then began building the Grand Palace and temples and eventually, the canals and its waterways gave life to floating markets and a bustling fishing industry, all contributing to the cityscape and becoming a unique way of life.
Today, locals along the Chao Phraya River still maintain their livelihoods from its environment, branching into the transportation industry, so that the people can navigate through Bangkok purely by ferry.
There are five public boat lines, all operated by the Chao Phraya Express Boat company, that runs through the 21km Chao Phraya river route; orange, yellow, blue, green-yellow, and the local line, all operating between 6:00am and 7:30pm daily. There are different stops for each line and only the Orange Flag line runs all day and on weekends with a flat fee of 15 Baht or $0.47 cents.
During my time in Bangkok, I took the blue line and started at pier Central or Sathorn. The fare is 4 Baht one way or roughly $0.13 cents. This particular line made stops to the temples I and a friend I traveled with, wanted to see the most, with only half a day left since we spent the morning at the floating markets.
We alighted in Wat Arun or more popularly known as the Temple of the Dawn. Wat Arun is situated next to the West Bank of the Chao Phraya, four stops from Sathorn, and directly across Wat Pho, another famous temple.
You’ve probably seen Wat Arun in a travel magazine as it is one of the most famous landmark associated with not only Bangkok, but also Thailand, and normally, the image is taken from the river in order to capture the magnificent temple in its entirety. But a closer look will give you a better satisfaction, especially those, who like me, enjoy beauty in its details.
In one of the halls, stands the golden Niramtr Buddha, visually standing out against the white backdrop.
The stark whiteness of the prang (spire) contrasts with the intricately colored porcelain glass that decorates the towering columns visible from the banks of the Chao Phraya.
King Taksin renovated the temple in 1768 after he moved from Ayutthaya and over time, spires were extended by King Rama III. Currently, Wat Arun is open from 8:00am to 5:30am and costs 50 Baht or $1.57 to get into.
Across from the Temple of the Dawn lies another beautiful temple, the Wat Pho, which is home to the reclining golden-leaf covered Buddha. This monumental reclining Buddha is 46 meters long and almost fills up the temple’s interior.
Outside the temple grounds are stupas with long and pointy spires reaching up into the skies. The stupas surrounding the temple’s courtyard came from ship ballasts.
Upon closer look, the stupas are decorated in ceramic pottery flowers and delicate tiles.
As you walk around the grounds, you’ll see a number of gilded Buddha’s in the standing or lotus sitting positions, all recovered from different parts of Thailand and its many temples.
Not surprisingly, after it became a University, Wat Pho is now a center for traditional Thai massage and medicine. Entrance fee to the temple is 100 Baht or roughly $3.00 and it is open from 8am to 5pm.
Wat Arun and Wat Pho are arguably two of the most magnificent and beautiful temples I’ve ever seen in Bangkok. A visit to Thailand would not be complete without going to these temples through the Chao Phraya River.