The Lovely Mae Ping River Cruise

Boat on a river with trees
Boats on a river
View on the First Nawarat Bridge, early 20th century. Source unknown.

The Mae Ping River Cruise

Enjoy a couple of hours on the water

The Mae Ping River Cruise offers a two-hour boat trip on the Ping River with a stop at a nice riverside location. The Mae Ping River Cruise office is at the boat landing of Wat Chai Mongkon, a beautiful and important temple on the Ping River. You can join a cruise with others to save costs but that depends on the presence of others. A private charter is a bit more expensive but for us the best option.

The Ping River aka Mae Nam Ping

The Ping River aka Mae Nam Ping originates at in Chiang Dao district, Chiang Mai province. It is one of the main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River. The other is the Nan River. The Ping River passes through Chiang Mai towards Nakhon Sawan via the provinces of Lamphun, Tak, and Kamphaeng Phet. It joins the Nan River at Nakhon Sawan aka Paknam Pho from where it continues as the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok. The Ping River has never been a very important trade route because of a stretch of rapids south of Chiang Mai which made the river difficult to navigate, especially in the dry season.

A boat trip that took three months

Before the opening of the railway from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the only way to travel from the capital to Chiang Mai was by boat. In 1867 it took American missionary Daniel McGilvary, the founder of the first Church in Chiang Mai, about three months to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai via the Chao Phraya and the Ping rivers. In those days westerners were also only allowed to reside on the east or west side of the Ping River. In those days the Ping River was the center of all economic activity. The main markets were on the river and the British and French consulates as well as the offices of the British firms the Borneo Company and the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation

The Mae Ping River Cruise

During this interesting and relaxing cruise, you will pass five bridges of which the first three are the most interesting. The first bridge is the Iron Bridge, a bridge constructed in the early 1990s. It looks like a small replica of the old Nawarat Bridge, which is the second bridge we pass. This is the main bridge of Chiang Mai connecting the Thapae and Charoenmuang roads, two of the main arteries of Chiang Mai. The first bridge at this location was a wooden bridge, constructed in 1906.

Floating teaks logs and a fire damaged the bridge so they decided to build a strong iron or steel bridge at this location in the early 1920s. This bridge lasted until 1965 when it made way for the current Nawarat Bridge.  Allegedly, the steel or iron Nawarat Bridge provided the inspiration for the current Iron Bridge.

The Chansom Memorial Footbridge

The third bridge is the Chansom Anusorn footbridge or Chansom Memorial footbridge, which was reopened in 2016. At this location, the first wooden bridge was constructed in the 1880s. Floating teak logs destroyed the bridge, known as Khua Kula, in 1932 after which there were temporary bamboo bridges until Montri Koslapirom, a Pakistani textile merchant at the Kad Luang Market, financed the construction of a footbridge in memory of his deceased wife Chansom in 1965.

The flood in 2011 damaged the foundations of this bridge to such an extent that they closed and ultimately demolished it. Constructing a new bridge took about five years. The reopening of this bridge took place in August 2016, a memorable event with many relatives of Montri Koslapirom and Chansom attending. During the Mae Ping River Cruise there are many interesting stories to tell but you will need a knowledgeable guide or do some research yourself.

Consulates and Markets

During the cruise, you will also pass the old British Consulate, now the restaurant “1921” of the Anantara Riverside Resort, as well as the Lanna Ancient House, the oldest non-religious structure of Chiang Mai. On the other side, you will see the First Church of Chiang Mai, now part of a Christian School. After you have cruised under the Nawarat Bridge you will have Kad Luang, consisting of the Ton Lamyai and Warorot Markets, on your left side and the old Wat Ket neighborhood on your right. The offices of the Borneo Company were in this neighborhood, which has several beautiful old houses. 

Back to Wat Chai Mongkon

After the Nakorn Ping and superhighway bridges we reach greener areas of Chiang Mai, with the occasional mansion or riverside hotel. Enjoy the fantastic rain trees on both banks. An old wooden complex is the turning point of the cruise. Here we disembark and enjoy a bowl of ice cream and a herbal drink. The premises boast many different fruit trees and herbal plants. Your guide will introduce these and explain a bit. After a lovely short stay, we get back on our boat and return the same way to Wat Chai Mongkon. The Mae Ping River Cruise is a very relaxing way to see a different side of Chiang Mai. I enjoyed the cruise very much but you need more background information about the sights and their history along the river than the captain of the vessel gives you. Our guides will give you this information.

Some facts about the Mae Ping River Cruise

The Mae Ping River Cruise is open every day from 0900 until 1700. The last cruise departs at 1500. It’s office is on the riverside inside the compound of the Wat Chai Mongkon temple on Charoenprathet Road.