After being captivated by the charms of the historical Ayutthaya, we boarded our pre-booked Grand Pearl Cruise to get back to the Bangkok city. It was a super-luxurious and spacious cruise with air conditioned main desk and an open-air upper deck. There was sumptuous buffet lunch served onboard with a choice of western and oriental cuisines.
Sailing on the restless waters of Chao Phraya river is a splendid and surreal experience.
‘Chao Phraya’ means the ‘River of Kings’ and it truly justifies its name being the lifeblood of Thailand. The river has played a major role in the birth of civilization. Its rich history can be traced from the authentic lifestyle of locals living on its banks since the ancient times. This majestic waterway is a home to many people. It’s not just their way of life, but also their major source of income. Its canal systems are used for recreation, fishing, drainage, and as a source of water. The river is a house to more than 280 species of fishes.
Chao Phraya is also an important transport link to export rice and teak to Bangkok. It is also the basis of many irrigation projects. The river also plays a vital role in Thailand’s vibrant festivals where the beautifully decorated baskets and other religious offerings are floated on the river.
It is a popular way of navigating Bangkok as the city’s major landmarks are situated on the banks of Chao Phraya. The river cruise sail offers many enchanting sights including the major landmarks of the city. The commentator on the cruise will explain the history and significance of each landmark.
The cruise passes by the colorful Royal Barges House that contains eight of the Thailand’s unique and stunning royal vessels. You’ll see a complex of regal buildings which is the city’s most famous landmark – The Royal Grand Palace. There are many beautiful temples you’ll see during your sail that include Wat Arun – the graceful Temple of Dawn with its magnificent 79m spire, Wat Pho – The Reclining Buddha Temple, Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Kalayanamitr – Temple of True Friend with its distinct colorful and ornate roof.
Thailand is a country of religious harmony and hence you will also find some churches (Santa Cruz and Holy Rosary church) and mosque on the banks of Chao Phraya. Other landmarks are the Thammasat University, the Siriraj Hospital, Pak Klong Talad (The biggest wholesale and fresh flower market in Bangkok), Hotel River City (the most expensive hotel in Bangkok) and some other commercial buildings.
As the cruise sails under multiple bridges including the glorious Rama Bridge and Krungthon Bridge, you can also catch glimpses of the authentic local life – wooden shacks, children playing in water, food vendors serving noodle soup, cargos making their way along the river, and local houses with Thai style roofs.
The ever-changing scenes from the local houses and ancient temples to the modern hotels and skyscrapers will make you wonder about the diversity of the city. The beautiful blend of modernity and tradition is one of the fascinating factors that add to the charm of Chao Phraya river.
If you wish to make a stop and visit these landmarks, there are ‘Hop-on Hop-off’ tourist boats available. There is a flat fee of 150 Baht ($4.58 approx.) and the service hours are 9:30 to 15:00 daily. They stop at all major landmarks and are a great way to explore the river.
Other options are the low cost local lines that are used by the locals to travel. Then there are rice barge cruises where you can board a rice barge and get to know about the local life around the river. You can taste local fruits and local drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
Another option is to hire a long-tail boat and explore the river at your own pace. There are dinner and lunch cruises as well that offer altogether a different experience of the river. No matter which option you choose, sailing on the Chao Phraya river is something you must not miss in Bangkok.