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One great way to explore Thailand is by boat. Riding a boat around Bangkok is a common local experience and a great way for tourists to see the city. The Chao Phraya River is a major transportation artery, with ferries, water taxis (the Chao Phraya Express) and long-tailed boats operating for both locals and tourists. There are local, semi-express, and express lines for commuters, most of which connect to the BTS Silom line (at Saphan Taksin station) and service destinations up and down the river. Though the river winds a lot, which can make the trip much farther than by bus, travel on the Chao Phraya provides a fascinating insight on the importance of the river to Thailand: temples bound its shores, cargo-laden barges flow downstream to port, and riverside families fish and even bathe in the river! Taking a river cruise or a local water taxi is an ideal way to get from destinations on the BTS line to historic Ratanakosin, where the Grand Palace and other attractions lie. There are even boat companies who cruise from Bangkok to Ayutthaya as well.
Bangkok, once known as ‘the Venice of the east’ is also crisscrossed by a number of klongs (canals). The Klong Saen Saeb boat service provides fast, inexpensive transportation in central Bangkok. These boats, which are almost exclusively used by locals, provide a peek at another side of Bangkok, and whisk passengers across town much more quickly than taxis driving on traffic congested roads do.
Along Thailand’s twin shores of the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand, ferry service between dozens of islands and the mainland is available, most popularly between Surat Thani and Koh Samui/Koh Phangan, and between Phuket or Krabi and Koh Phi Phi. Ferries to and from Koh Samui depart night and day and include super-fast catamarans and slower, overnight car ferries.
Once on the islands it’s easy to get around by boat: From Phuket or Samui one can hire speedboats to get to nearby beaches or neighboring islands, whereas on smaller islands like Koh Tao or Koh Lanta long tail boats operate as taxis, ferrying passengers from beach to beach. While prices are negotiable to hire by the hour or the day, some routes, such as Krabi to Railey Beach are a fixed price.
It should be noted that it’s not necessary to buy a return ticket for ferries to the islands. There is no such thing as a sold-out boat, so buying a return ticket the day of your departure is not a problem. Furthermore, you may be overcharged on your first ticket (and thus overcharged twice), or you may wish to change your next destination or decide to travel onwards with a different type of transportation.
It should be noted however that there have been some accidents with overloaded ferries traveling in rough seas. As a general rule of thumb, it is safer to travel by boat during the day, particularly from the mainland to the islands and during times of inclement weather.