Cruising the Chao Phraya River is one of the most entertaining and diverting touristic activities on order amid the hustle and bustle of modern day Bangkok. Many of the original canals in this Byzantine system were filled as part of various efforts to combat the scourge of cholera during the last century, but life afloat on the city’s “khlongs” and along its banks is a welcome relief from Bangkok’s notoriously congested roadways. The so-called “Venice of the East” is no longer the nautical wonder it once was (back when most commercial transportation was provided by boat), but it remains a delightful way to tour the city and explore a number of its better museums and cultural institutions.
If it’s a khlong-side stroll you’re after, the 3.5 miles of Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem is a good choice. Originally dug as a moat demarcating the border of the Old City, this canal is now effectively a dead end (don’t look here for boat tours or water taxis). Owing to its proximity to Chinatown and the largest and most important Chinese Buddhist temple in Bangkok (Wat Mangkon Kamalawat), Phadung Krung Kasem can be a good place to enjoy a picnic lunch or a snack from the Bo Bae market (which it bisects) while taking in the architectural and cultural influence of the Chinese on the city.
For a proper river cruise, the vibrant, dirty, dangerous, and beautiful Khlong Saen Saeb is hard to beat. Stretching from the Mahakhan Fortress at the end of Ratchadamnoen Road all the way to Chachoengsao Province where it empties into the Bang Pa Kong River, this canal has regular boat traffic of all kinds and offers dependable access to various museums, monuments, and floating markets.