The River of Kings
This is how Thais refer to Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River, which anybody who visits the city is likely to see. It is the major waterway that cuts through it, coming from its origin in the northern part of the country and flowing south for 372 kilometers until it opens into the Gulf of Thailand. Every time I visit the city, I always promise myself to try the River Cruise, which I’ve heard so much about. Unfortunately, my business chores during every visit never leave me time for such leisure activity.
On a recent trip to Bangkok, however, I found myself with an evening free from business obligations so I immediately decided to book the luxury river cruise. I sure am glad I did.
The Grand Chaophraya Cruises’ point of embarkation is at the pier behind the plush River City Mall, one of the city’s popular shopping centers. I made sure my ticket entitled me to a dinner seat at the open-air top deck, to better enjoy the sights we would pass by. The boat has a capacity of 500, so this many people queued up at the pier, as we waited for embarkation time.
Even before we boarded the boat, we were already treated to colorful and graceful Thai dances performed by some of the boat’s crew on the pier’s landing in front of the vessel’s gangplank. After the “mini-show,” we were then allowed to find our way to our assigned seats. Mine was towards the boat’s bow, which was perfect for me, so I could easily take photos of the attractions along the way. The boat’s charm, through its carefully chosen décor and subdued lighting, immediately made me feel comfortable.
As the boat started to sail, the food service staff opened the sumptuous buffet and a string and percussion band entertained guests with perky music, bringing some of us to the dance floor. The delicacies on the buffet alone made the 900 baht (P1300) I paid for the dinner cruise ticket worth it. Not only did the buffet offer delicious Thai cuisine but it also had American and Spanish dishes. The spread was certainly eye candy for any foodie.
The two-hour cruise took us on a leisurely sail along the meandering Chao Phraya River, as we enjoyed looking at a remarkable blend of modern and ancient Thai architecture, exemplified by the elegantly futuristic Rama VIII Bridge and the stunningly beautiful, typically Thai-designed Grand Palace.
Most of the impressive structures one sees along the way are the city’s landmark hotels. The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, Millenium Hilton, Shangri-La, Sheraton and a few others, all glowed in the evening horizon, like bejeweled monoliths that adorn the riverbanks. This captivating scenery, coupled with the cool evening breeze blowing from all directions made for a very relaxing experience.
Among the beautiful attractions along the river, the Grand Palace, indeed, stands out. The golden trimmings in its architecture make the structure shine brightly in the horizon. This complex of buildings used to be the official residence of the Kings of Thailand until 1925. The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej did not stay there and chose to reside at the Dusit Palace instead, where his successor and son, King Vajiralongkorn also now resides. However, royal ceremonies and state functions are still held at the Grand Palace.
The sight of the 17th century Wat Arun, or The Temple of Dawn, another landmark along the river bank, is also captivating. Named after the Hindu god, Aruna, the temple’s distinctive spires illuminate the evening sky. Actually, what makes the temple popular is its being a symbol of the radiations of the morning sun because the first light of the morning sun bounces off the temple’s surface, giving it an elegant pearly hue.
The other landmark that impressed me was the Wat Phra Kaew, regarded as the most sacred in Thailand because it houses the Emerald Buddha, the most powerful religio-political symbol of Thai society. The venerated stature is considered the country’s protector, bringing prosperity to the population. The Emerald Buddha is a dark green standing statue, 26 inches tall and is carved from a single jade stone. “Emerald” in Thai actually means deep green color and does not refer to the precious gemstone. As proof of how much the Thais revere the statue, only the Thai King and the Crown Prince are allowed to touch it.
The awesome Rama VIII Bridge is the farthest point for the cruise, as this is where the vessel turns around to sail back to its starting point. The very modern cable bridge has an asymmetrical design and took three years to build. It has an inverted Y-shaped pylon, with 84 cables arranged in pairs on its main, 300-meter-long span, making it one of the world’s largest asymmetrical cable bridges.
There were many other beautiful, photographable attractions along the way but space constraints prevent me from naming each one of them. Suffice it for me to say that the cruise gave my appreciation of Bangkok, as a tourist destination, another perspective, a shining, shimmering, splendid one at that! Most of all, I can proudly say I have sailed along The River of Kings!
For feedback, I’m at [email protected]