The Bangkok riverfront for free

Picnic time!

What we say: 3 stars

Most of the Chao Phraya riverfront in Bangkok is packed with upscale hotels and condos, dilapidated shacks, industrial shipyards and the odd parking lot. While plenty of restaurants offer patio seating along the river, most are too expensive for those on a tight backpacker budget. Few and far between as they may be, Bangkok does offer a handful of places where you can sit back and watch the water flow for free.

What most of Bangkok's riverfront looks like.

What most of Bangkok’s riverfront looks like.

If you’re staying in the general Khao San Road vicinity and are looking to picnic or finish up that book by the river, you’re in luck. Tucked along laidback Phra Arthit Road and a short walk from Phra Arthit express boat pier (see map), Santichaiprakan Park, also known as Phra Arthit Park, is a small but inviting green space with views of Rama VIII Bridge to go with riverside benches, a classic wooden Thai sala and trees providing shade. The park is shared by Phra Sumen Fort, just in case you want to play a little pretend medieval siege warfare while you’re at it.

How to make the most of Phra Arthit Park.

How to make the most of Phra Arthit Park.

Four stops downriver on the orange flag express boat line brings you to Tha Tien pier, the jumping off point for Wat Pho and the ferry to Wat Arun. Look to your left as you exit the pier and you’ll see a modest stretch of lawn with a handful of trees, water lily ponds and benches along the river. Though Santichaiprakan is a more relaxing spot, this nameless little park is a great place to watch the boats that ply the Chao Phraya. The location makes this a perfect spot for a 15-minute breather from sightseeing, and some phenomenal shots of the sun setting over Wat Arun can also be captured from here.

Hi there Wat Arun.

Hi there Wat Arun.

Speaking of Wat Arun, you’ll probably be sidetracked by its soaring ceramic spires and maybe even the funky neighbourhood that lies behind them, but the temple’s well-manicured grounds hug the river and offer splendid views over to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. Climbing the main spire will cost you 50 baht, but you can wander the riverside all you like for free. Wat Kalayanamit and Wat Yannawa are another two easy-to-find Bangkok temples where it’s possible to wander along the river.

Feeding fish and pigeons at Wat Yannawa's riverfront.

Feeding fish and pigeons at Wat Yannawa’s riverfront beside Saphan Taksin Bridge.

Our favourite free place in the city to relax riverside also happens to be the most out-of-the-way. In the shadow of one of Bangkok’s newish mega-suspension bridges, Saphan Rama IX, a riverside park also named after the current Thai king provides a gazebo, benches, open grassy lawns shaded by trees and a promenade beside a wide stretch of the Chao Phraya. The park is tucked off Rama III Road several kilometres south of Sathorn Road in Bangkok’s southern reaches (see map). While foreigners aren’t too common around here, the park is a short walk from Rama IX Bridge station off the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line, making it relatively easy to reach from central Bangkok.

A little down time at Rama IX Park.

A little down time at Rama IX Park.

Finally, Bangkok’s newest night bazaar, Asiatique, offers a 300 metre-long riverside boardwalk and is a great place to catch the sun set or watch glittering boats glide past after dark. Anyone is welcome to hang around without paying a baht, and Asiatique even offers a free shuttle from Sathorn pier next to Saphan Taksin BTS station. Be warned however that you might find it difficult to keep that wallet on lock down when faced with the bazaar’s impressive array of dining, shopping and entertainment options.

Last updated: 14th May, 2014

About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.
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