Exploring the backwaters of Bangkok…

I absolutely love Bangkok and have visited this vibrant city three times in the last few years.  I realised that I’ve never blogged about my experiences in South East Asia so thought I should put pen to paper, so to speak and get writing….
The first time I arrived in Bangkok was on my honeymoon in 2010, I wasn’t an immediate fan of the place; it felt so busy and noisy and quite overwhelming.  Although once I got used to my new surroundings that all changed and now I can’t stop going back!  The second visit was in 2013 on the way to Australia and the third coming back from New Zealand in 2014.  It is the perfect place for a stopover to or from another destination and definitely eases the jet lag by breaking up a long journey.  On the last visit Matt and I decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the streets behind and explore the many waterways and khlongs of the city.
We had used the river taxis plenty of times before and loved seeing the city and temples from the water so decided to take a trip on a longtail boat.  Strolling along the Chao Phraya River we chose not to book through a tour company but a lady with a small stand by the water.  We paid her 1000 baht for a one hour trip.  (Now thinking about it I am sure we could have haggled and got this slightly cheaper…but I guess you live and learn!)  The boat and driver were on the pontoon ready and waiting to take us exploring.  Although perhaps a bit on the pricey side for a trip in Bangkok, we did have the boat all to ourselves.  Buzzing along the river going against the fast-moving current I peered down at the murky waters carrying along water hyacinths and waved at passing boats, some transporting tourists others full of cargo.  We had a lovely driver; he didn’t speak any English but the language barrier wasn’t a problem.  He pointed out beautiful temples and interesting buildings along the way and made us feel quite at home.  Longtail boats like the one we were in have a very distinctive engine noise, very loud and rough sounding!  It may sound silly but that rough and loud noise really reminds me of Thailand and conjures up a lot of happy memories.
Cutting along a side water we left the busy main waterway and slowed down as the khlong narrowed and a whole different world emerged, we passed by wooden houses on stilts and people in boats going about their daily routine.  I loved observing these communities on stilts, people fishing from their front door, dogs on porches and corner shops full of supplies.  We passed two ladies paddling in a small boat, dressed in their best clothes and hats.  They really stood out to me giving me a new perspective of people’s lives in Bangkok, a very different one to that I had already experienced around the city.  It seemed more of a majestic, slower paced, simple life compared to the hustle and bustle of the Bangkok streets.  I snapped a photo of them, it is still one of my favourites today.  Back on the Chao Phraya a few ladies selling souvenirs from their boats greeted us.  Others were selling bread, confused as to why, our driver pointed out the huge amount of catfish moving around in a frenzy nearby a pontoon waiting for their food.  It was a bit of touristy thing to do but fun to feed them none the less!  Continuing along the river system we passed the Royal Barges Museum and beautiful temples and shrines full of colourful detail.
Back on dry land we felt a bit peckish so bought a snack of fresh fruit on sticks from food stalls near one of the piers and then decided to jump back on the water, this time on the tourist ferry to Wat Arun.  This temple is one of my favourites in Bangkok and is right on the edge of the river.  It is covered in beautiful mosaics, the ornate detail is incredible. This temple can be climbed, it is extremely steep but the hike is worth it as the views of the city from the top are fantastic.  The temple is lit up at night and looks golden against the darkness of the sky, it’s worth finding a spot on the opposite side of the river to watch the sunset and the the temple light up, beautiful!
My tips:
  • If you are planning a trip to Bangkok I definitely recommend exploring the waterways.  To get your bearings Nancy Chandler’s map of Bangkok is a must buy.  This beautifully illustrated map has become my trusty guide to the city, it is full of detail and great for finding your feet in this crazy metropolis.
  • Haggle for the price of your boat trip, it maybe that the trip price is a set one but it is always worth a try.
  • When visiting temples make sure that arms and legs are covered as a mark of respect.  If you don’t have your own long sleeves and trousers you can usually rent garments for a small fee outside temple buildings.
  • A trip to a floating market is another must do water based activity in Bangkok, something I have not done yet but is on a future itinerary.  Hotels.com has some good recommendations.
Matt put together a short video of our morning on the backwaters, hope it gives you the feel of this very special place…


  1. lovetotrav
    April 2, 2015

    “Thanks so much for sharing the info. As a family soon to move to Cairo and visiting Bangkok and Cambodia at Xmas ( I used to live there) we will be sure to do the boat rental as you did. I haven’t done that before but a great glimpse of Bangkok from another view. Happy travels, Cheryl

    1. nicoladunkinson
      April 2, 2015

      I can’t recommend it enough Cheryl it really is a unique experience 🙂 Good luck with your move and have a fantastic time in Bangkok and Cambodia 🙂

  2. […] One of my favourite trips in Bangkok has to be exploring the backwaters of the Chao Phraya River. Hire a longtail boat all to yourself and escape the crowds. The backwaters and canals feel like another world. Cruising majestically along the narrow waterways, I have a really vivid memory of two ladies dressed in their Sunday best paddling past in a small boat. This is an experience like no other. Houses on stilts, small floating markets, and quiet temples are all hidden away here. It’s hard to believe you are in the centre of a busy city. If you are looking for unique views of Bangkok then this tops it all! For more on this unusual trip head to my post: Exploring the backwaters of Bangkok. […]


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