I have fallen in love with the Chao Phraya River, the main stream of Thailand, since I was a student at a Thailand's most famous university which is situated by the river. I enjoyed the cool breeze from the river which made the campus's atmosphere serene and refreshing. In the evening, I liked to hang around the riverside recreational area, chatting with friends and watching cargo barges sailing along the waterway.
When a cabin cruiser passed in front of me, I would wonder how it would be like to go on a cruise. These impressions of the Chao Phraya River are kept in photos and in my memory though I graduated several years ago.
One pleasant day a few months ago, my colleagues and I had an opportunity to go on a cruise along the Chao Phraya River (going by bus, returning by boat). Our air-conditioned coach left Bangkok at 8.00 am, heading for Ayutthaya province, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
From Bangkok to Ayutthaya
An hour later, we were sightseeing at Bang Pa-in Palace and fell under the spell of its splendour. This summer palace was first built in the reign of King Prasat Thong (1629-1656) in the Ayutthaya period. The palace was frequented by the king and his successors until the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767.
Later on, the palace was restored by King Rama IV (1851-1868). But it was not until the reign of King Rama V(1868-1910), that Bang Pa-in Palace was fully developed and took its present shape. During his reign, several magnificent buildings in the Western style were constructed, such as Utthayan Phumisathian and Warophat Phiman Mansions. Also, the two-storeyed Chinese-style palace, Wehat Chamrun, was built and presented to the King in 1889 by Chinese merchants as a token of the long-lasting brotherly relationship between the Thai and Chinese peoples.
Plenty of lush trees, beautifully arranged gardens and cool breeze made the surroundings ideal for a stroll. But for those who do not want to walk, carts for rent are available. Museum hours last from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm daily.
Bang Pa-in Palace
The next place we visited was Wat Mahathat, or rather its ruins, built over 600 years ago. Constructed according to the ancient values that there should be great temples around the grand palace, this temple was the centre of Ayutthaya people's faith.
That is why it was completely burnt down by the Burmese invaders during their final assault of the capital. However, there is one Buddha image left--Phra Khanthararat. This green stone image is of the Khmer style (Bayon). Later, it was moved to Wat Naphramen by the command of King Rama II (1809-1824). In 1956, the Fine Arts Department discovered relics of the Buddha in the stupa within a seven-layer reliquary which also contained other precious items. At present they are kept in the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum. And if you walk around the ruins, you will find the head of an ancient Buddha image embraced in the overground roots of a bo tree. The first moment I saw this Buddha image's head I was very sad. But the next minute I felt amazed at this natural phenomenon.
Leaving Wat Mahathat, we arrived at Wat Naphramen. It is the only temple in Ayutthaya that is not destroyed because it used to be the headquarters of the Burmese invaders. The ordination hall has no windows like all temples erected in the Ayutthaya period. Instead, it has several small openings on the walls with carved stone bars for ventilation. In particular, I appreciated the graceful art style of the principal Buddha image in full royal regalia, and I believe you will feel the same when you see it.
The next place we visited was Wat Lokayasutharam where the largest reclining Buddha image (32m long, 8m high) in Ayutthaya, Phra Buddha Saiyat, is enshrined. At present, there is no vihara to shelter the image. The village elders said that in the past the vihara roof was made of tin. Consequently, it was struck by lightning twice. After that the local people agreed to leave the image outdoors.
Since we had to cruise back to Bangkok in the afternoon, this temple was the last place in the first-half of the programme of the day. However, other attractions worth visiting in the Ayutthaya Historical Park are many, such as Wat Phanan Choeng, Wat Mongkhol Bophit, Wat Phra Sisanphet, Wat Chai Watthanaram and Wat Rat Burana. All used to be significant temples in the old days.
Cruising from Ayutthaya to Bangkok
Our cruiser departed Wat Pho Taeng Nua pier around 1.00 pm. The first interesting point the cruiser passed was Wat Phai Lom in Pathum Thani province.
Erected in the Sukhothai period, nowadays the monastery is a habitat of Asian openbills, which are a rare species protected by law. They migrate from India in November, nest and live here until June before flying back to India. Watching a flock of them soaring into the sky gave me a sense of freedom.
Around 3.00 pm, we passed Ko Kret with the Mutao Chedi as a landmark. It is so aged that its body is leaning dangerously towards the river like the Pisa Leaning Tower of Italy. Ko Kret is an islet under the administration of Nonthaburi province. Most settlers are of Mon descent whose craftsmanship in making earthenware is well known all over the country.
Rama VIII Bridge
An hour after that, we caught sight of the Krung Thon Bridge (or Sang Hi Bridge, Sang Hi being a Chinese word meaning "double happiness"). It connects Thon Buri and Phra Nakhon districts on the west and east side of the river respectively. It was constructed in 1955. Since the bridge construction started from Ratchawithi Road which is commonly known as Sang Hi Road, it has been called Sang Hi Bridge popularly, though its official name is Krung Thon Bridge.
Not far from this point, the Rama VIII Bridge is situated. This is the latest bridge stretching across the Chao Phraya River built to alleviate the traffic burdens of Pin Klao and Sang Hi bridges in accordance with HM King Bhumibol's command. At night, when it is illuminated, the golden cables above the suspension bridge glitter in the sky, creating a new remarkable city scene.
Five minutes later, we passed under the Pin Klao Bridge, whose name is given to commemorate the last but one deputy king in Thai history, Somdej Phra Pin Klao, who was the younger brother of King Mongkut (Rama IV). Near the bridge we saw Thammasat University. Its symbol, which is the pinnacle of its administration office building, can be noticed from afar. The opposite side of it is the Bangkoknoi Railway Station. Next to it is Siriraj Hospital, the first hospital of Thailand, built by the command of King Rama V (1868-1910). At present it is still one of the largest and most modern hospitals in the country.
Pin Klao Bridge
Royal Barge Museum
Just across the Bangkok Noi Canal from the railway station is the Royal Barges Museum, where dozens of beautifully decorated boats used in royal processions are displayed. It is a tourist attraction daily frequented by hundreds of foreign tourists. It should be mentioned as such though it is hidden behind houses and cannot be seen from the river.
Around 4.00 pm, we passed the Royal Grand Palace. A ray of sunlight reflecting the gold roofs and Chedis enhanced the glory of the place. The scene was so beautiful that I almost forgot to blink.
Royal Grand Palace
Temple of Dawn
Obliquely opposite the palace is the Temple of Dawn whose photos appear in almost all tourist brochures of Thailand. In former times, the tall pagoda in the temple was the first place in Thon Buri to catch the morning light. It was used to house the Emerald Buddha before the statue was moved to Wat Phra Kaeo in 1785.
We then passed the old palace of King Taksin in Thon Buri district which is now used as the Royal Thai Navy Headquarters. And the last important attraction we saw was the Phra Phutthayotfa Bridge or Saphan Phut as people prefer to call. This bridge's construction was initiated by King Rama VII to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Chakri dynasty in 1932 and is the first bridge spanning the Chao Phraya River.
Phra Phutthayotfa Bridge
A moment after that we safely arrived at the River City Complex Pier. We got off the cruiser with joy and appreciation in our hearts and smiles on our faces.Before we went back home, our new foreign friends said farewell to us and added, "It is a relaxing and enjoyable programme. We love to see several aspects of Thai people in the peaceful atmosphere along the river."
Along the way in the cruiser, what passed through our eyes were authentic lifestyles of the riverside residents. Many temples situated by the river are still thecentre of people's faith. You can see various sizes of traditional wooden houses on stilts with a boat tied to one of them. This underlines the importance of the river that has been serving her people for almost 700 years.
To me, this trip was somewhat like a dream come true. The memory of the Chao Phraya River became more vivid to me and this impression will remain for the rest of my life.
Special thanks to River Sun Cruise for giving the touring opportunity and information to Thaiways --Ed.
For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see Romanization System of the Thai Language.