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Taking the Khlong Saen Saep Express Boat in Bangkok

A lot of travelers have thing for seeking out “local” experiences instead of the overly touristy ones. While this isn’t really our niche (being people who usually tackle Trip Advisor’s top 20 attractions in every city and rarely talk to anyone other than each other), we do appreciate the more local experiences when we stumble across them.

In Bangkok, we stumbled across them in the form of the Khlong Saen Saep Express Boats.

Click here to jump straight to directions for taking the Khlong Saen Saep Express Boats.

Finding these little commuter boats was a total mistake In Nomadic Matt’s “Things To Do In Bangkok | 4 Day Itinerary“, he suggests taking a water taxi instead of an expensive tour boat. I was all about this because I’ve done this in Chicago several times (water taxi, always!). However, when he said Central Pier, I found CentralWorld, and when he said Chao Phraya river, I found a nameless channel.

Both of these waterways actually have water taxis, and both of these waterways have a pretty cool boat scene. The one Matt referenced, though, is the huge river that wraps through Bangkok and takes you past the major sites like Chinatown, Wat Arun and Khao San Road, among other major sites. We actually did take a ferry ride across this river to get to Wat Arun from Wat Pho, and it was pretty clear that this river water taxi would be a pretty cool experience, too.

Taking the ferry across the Chao Phraya river to Wat Arun.

What I found instead though, was one of the most authentic local experiences I’ve ever had.

Let me set the scene. You know, Venice? Now, I’ve never actually been, but I’ve seen pictures. I think of tiny waterways filled with gondolas quietly paddling through quaint little neighborhoods and under bridges covered in locks. Now think of the exact opposite of that and you’ve got the Khlong Saen Saep Express Boats.

These boats are loud and fast as they plow through the tiny waterways through almost 10 miles of central Bangkok, barely squeezing under the low bridges and past the oncoming boats. Commuters pull up tarps on pulleys to block the murky water from splashing in. Lining the river are rickety shacks, sleeping locals, and legit street art. The ticket collector speaks no English and stands on the edge of the speeding boat. And when you’re finally ready to get off, you better do it quickly as the boat bounces against the tire-sided pier just long enough for the brave passengers to jump on or off before speeding away.

This is how the Thais actually commute.

Our first time on the boats was as an activity – a cheap way to see the sites. (There aren’t really “sites” we learned, but it’s still a cool experience,) We took the boat from Pamfa Leelard pier to Pratu Nam pier, where we jumped off and got the best lunch at the tiny restaurant on the pier. We wandered through Pratu Nam Market before finding refuge inside CentralWold (huge mall) for some shelter from the rain and a couple Krispy Kreme donuts before jumping on the boats back.

On our second trip, now feeling like pros, we used the boats as an actual commute to get us to the movie theater to see Star Wars. I told you we are not always great at being locals.

Taking the Khlong Saen Saep Express Boat

1. Find The Pier

There are 29 piers where you can board the boats. If you’re coming from the Grand Palace, Wat Arun or Wat Pho (or anywhere further west than Wat Saket), you’ll start your journey at the end/start of the line: Pamfa Leelard. You can find the list of other piers here.

To board at Pamfa Leelard, you’ll want to walk toward the water on the north side of the river by the bridge on Boripat Road. There’s a small sidewalk with street food vendors you’ll pass. If you can’t find it, just walk onto the bridge, you’ll see the pier, and then just head to it.

If you’re heading to any other pier, find where the street passes the river. The map will show you what side of the river the pier is (north or south). Once you’re on that side of the river, you’ll have to make your way down some stairs to get to river level. It will vary by pier, but generally will require you walking through some sort of food vendor or small restaurant. You’ll want to take note of the signs that point to the next stops so you make sure to get on the boat going in the right direction (or just pay attention to the direction the boats are going and the direction you want to go).

Note: The piers do appear on google maps, which should help you out.

2. Board the boat.

Part A: Take the Right Boat

At five piers, including Pamfa Leelard, there is a stop for both the water taxi and a tourist boat. Do not take the tourist boat. It is way more expensive, doesn’t go to as many piers, and only goes to one pier that you can’t reach on the Khlong Saen Saep Express Boat. The boats look very similar, but the tourist boat will have a clear tarp “siding” that says something like, “All Day Pass 200 Baht”. This boat will also have chair seating instead of bench seating. From our experience at Leelard Pier, the tourist boat boarded further down (toward the end of the pier, furthest East). The tourist boat also has an agent at a booth.

If you’re still not sure, you’ll want to look for the people with the orange life vest and probably a helmet. These are the ticket agents for the express boats. You can either ask them (in our experience, they didn’t speak English so maybe show them the map on your phone) or just see what boat they board and board that one. The boat that a bunch of people are confidently boarding without buying a ticket first is probably the boat you want.

If you’re boarding at any pier other than Pamfa Leelard or Wat Sriboonreung (which are the ends of the line), you’ll want to be sure to take note of which direction the boat is going and which direction you want to go. The pier is on the same side regardless of which direction you’re heading, so only board the boat heading in your direction of travel.

Part B: Physically Get on the Boat

If you’re boarding at the start or end of the line, the boat might be stopped for a longer time. In this case, pick an empty row, grab the rope, step onto the bench seat and then down the boat floor. If you want to be able to control the “windows” (tarp blinds), pick a seat near the pulleys. You can also stand in the middle if you prefer. If possible, we recommend picking a seat near the front which we found to be a little quieter and more protected from the water (which isn’t clean and not something you probably want to be sprayed with).

If you’re boarding at any other stop, it’s every person for themselves and you have about 15 seconds to get on the boat. Once the boat is within reach, grab the rope securely and step on board. Figure out your sitting or standing spot once you’re on the boat. And if you happen to miss it, it’s okay, the boats run about every 20 minutes (or so they say, but we never waited more than five minutes).

3. Buy your ticket

Once the boat leaves the pier, the ticket agent will come around (by walking along the edge of the boat like a Capital-B Boss). Tell the agent your destination and (s)he will tell you the fare. You must pay in cash. We were handed paper tickets, but the locals didn’t seem to get anything and no one ever took them from us, so we’re honestly not sure what that’s about. If you transfer, you’d probably need to hang onto these.

If you board at Pamfa Leelard, there’s a chart that shows what your fare will be based on your destination (other piers probably have pricing tables, too, we were just only on two piers). Pamfa Leelard to Pratu Nam should be 11 Baht. Although, it randomly cost us only 9 Baht on one of our four trips between the piers.

If you don’t know where you’re going, you can show them a picture on your phone or just pay them 20 Baht a person which is the max to ride to the end of the line. At about $0.60 USD, it’s not worth stressing over.

4. Transfer Boats (depending on your destination)

There are two lines. One line goes from Pamfa Leelard to Pratu Nam and the other goes from Pratu Nam to Wat Sriboonreung. If you need to get from one side of Pratu Nam to the other, you will have to transfer boats at Pratu Nam and switch to the other line. Everyone will exit the boat, so you’ll know when you’re at Pratu Nam. Then look for the sign for either Pamfa Leelard or Wat Sriboonreung, depending on which direction you’re heading. This will point you to where to board the boat for the direction you’re heading.

5. Get off the Boat

This is pretty much the reverse of 1B, how to get on the boat. When you arrive at the pier (each pier has a sign, but you might also want to follow along in Google Maps to be sure you don’t miss it), quickly move toward the edge of the boat, step up onto the bench, hang on to the rope, and then step up onto the boat ledge. Once you’re within reach of the pier, quickly step off and away from the boat so others behind you can exit.

I REALLY hope you enjoy these boats as much as we did! They’re not glamorous, but they’re real. You might mess up, but for only 20 Baht and a little bit of time, you really can’t go wrong (as long as you don’t get on the tourist boat, but even if you do and they make you pay 200 Baht, you’re still only out $6 USD). Even if you miss a boat or a stop, just carry on and regroup at the next pier.

As my mom always says, “Enjoy the journey.” Just be careful not to fall in the water!

Have you taken these express boats!? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Pollet Laurent

Thursday 25th of July 2019

Hi there! What was the name of the tiny restaurant on the Pratunam pier? Thanks!


Saturday 10th of August 2019

I only ever saw the name in Thai (ร้านลาบ ท่าเรือประตูน้ำ), but here's the link to it's listing on google maps: