Artikel bangkok post: Cruising the 'river of kings'

**Scanning the riverbanks from the comfort of a well-appointed boat, guests are able to sit back and be enthralled by the sight of centuries-old palaces, glittering temples and the charming communities where people still retain their traditional ways of life **

Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert
Published: 19/07/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Brunch

As the evening descends the guests get their first view of Bangkok by night from the sprawling open-air upper deck of a dinner/cruise ship making its way up the Chao Phraya River, also known as the “River of Kings”. Not having taken a trip of this sort in a while, I was looking forward to the night’s proceedings, which officially began as we took off from a pier close to the Krung Thon Buri Bridge. Rains earlier in the day had helped lower the humidity, making for a rather pleasant boat journey.

Dressed casually, the guests on board seemed to come from all walks of life. Families, couples and friends celebrating special events - a graduation for one - assembled on the upper deck, where the coolness and serenity of the night put everyone in a jovial mood as they sat back and relaxed, safe from the hassle and bustle of city life.

As our ship drifted further along the majestic Chao Phraya, it became more apparent to me why Thailand was given the name “Venice of the East”. With our numerous waterways and the communities that have lived alongside them for centuries, rivers have played an integral part in Thailand’s long and interesting history.

Due largely to this dynamic, sightseeing cruises are very popular with both locals and foreign guests. Scanning the riverbanks from the comfort of a well-appointed boat, guests are able to sit back and be enthralled by the sight of centuries-old palaces, glittering temples, traditional Thai wooden houses and the simple yet charming communities where people retain their traditional ways of life. An added benefit of a night cruise is that the glittering backdrop of lights in the darkness offers a highly romantic setting for couples.

After ordering from the dinner menu, which consisted of a mix of Northeastern and Central Thai dishes, guests were introduced to Panyaphat Lertsamranroengrom, our guide for the night. He started by highlighting the river’s importance to Thai people. Much of Thailand’s history can be traced along the banks of this massive waterway, regarded as the core artery of the nation.

Evidence of early Ratanakosin period architecture is clearly visible in the old buildings and temples that can be spotted along the river. Some of this is hidden to those who travel by land. In the good old days, emphasised Mr Panyaphat, the Chao Phraya River was utilised largely for transport, communication and commercial purposes. Due to the conveniences it offered, a large number of communities set their homes and businesses along the banks. As a linear trading hub in those days it managed to attract a succession of ethnic migrants - Chinese, Indians, Arabs and Portuguese, for example - who brought their faiths, cultures and traditions with them. These are well-represented in the churches, mosques, temples and shrines that still stand along the river.

Some of the best known attractions include the Santa Cruz Church, Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaeo, Saphan Phut Bridge and Phra Sumen Fort, set farther inland but vividly noticeable from the boat. My personal favourite turned out to be Bangkhunphrom Palace, with its two beautiful mansions decorated in Renaissance and baroque architectural styles. The palace is now home to the Bank of Thailand Museum.

The Chakrabongse House, former home of Prince Chula Chakrabongse and his English wife, Mom Elizabeth, is another outstanding building housed in a lush natural setting. The mansion maintains a tranquility that harks back to its early days.

Mr Panyaphat peppered his talk with anecdotes about the customs and superstitions of the early settlers, to the delight of the guests. As the cruise came to a close, we left the boat with a better appreciation for Thai history and the River of Kings, which played such a pivotal role in making Thailand a commercial hub in the region.

Bron: Bangkok Post /