Many settlements have grown up round the bends and meanders of a powerful river due to the transportation prospects and fertile land. So many of the cities we visit now have these strong rivers flowing through and yes they are still the lifeblood and often the very soul of a place….none more so than the Chao Phraya in Bangkok.
Staying right on the river at the Shangri La Hotel The Grey Traveller’s balcony looked over this brown swirling wide strip of water; every minute the scene is different, the river is never at rest with the amount of boats chugging up and downstream as well as across back and forth. I couldn’t wait to explore and see it up close. The Shangri La is an ideal location in Bangy as it’s right next to a train station as well as the Sathorn Pier where you can get a ferry to ride to the numerous piers as well as barter for a long tail boat to take you around the city and its canals.
When Bangkok was first settled no doubt the prime use of the river was for fishing and travelling up country to the more remote jungle areas and down to the Gulf of Thailand with cargos of cloth and food. It’s clear that this is still happening as I saw many cargo boats low in the water travelling towards the sea, perhaps not with cloth and food but coal and wood?
The water appears dirty but I don’t think it can be because fish are still very much abundant much as they must have been when Bangkok was starting out. Wherever you look there are fish jumping and both Shangri La and points along the canal provide food and tidbits for the tourist to see them ‘perform’. …….and so the importance today? It’s
still a working river of that there is no doubt but its also the main tourist transportation route and the link to the major tourist spots around the city.
The piers are conveniently close to Wat Arun, China Town and the Golden Palace which means for a few baht/pennies/dimes you can jump from ferry to ferry with the locals albeit like sardines at times, this ferry facility is so efficient and frequent and you can not lose yourself.
I bartered about thirty pounds to take a private tour on a long tail boat up the canals (klongs) from Sathorn Pier, once you have left the river you are in Bangy suburbia with riverside houses with sagging verandahs and temples. Get a great guide and he will point out things you might miss such as a monitor lizard sunning himself on a verandah!
I hadn’t long been on this colourful boat for very long when a gentle lady glided up alongside on her own little wooden boat keen to sell trinkets and a drink for the driver, I was won over if not only to take photos!
We stopped off at a floating market which is one of my most favourite travel memories, he who likes to think he is obeyed and I were the only visitors the rest were locals loudly bartering for fish and vegetables as well as meeting for drinks and food. We were not hungry so didn’t sample but it looked great and tasty and obviously so fresh.
As well as still being an important source for food and transportation, the big momma hotels have their own little teak boats to lift and shift the middle-aged fat cat travellers across from one spa and bar to another, oh yes The Grey Traveller took advantage of this also. They are modern replicas of their historic forbears and certainly add to the charm of this river.
Come New Year and the river is the centrepiece of a firework extravaganza as the big momma hotels flash and bang to outdo their neighbours whilst we balcony viewers enjoy the ‘fight’.
Most evenings I raised a specially prepared Mai Tai in honour and watched the sun go down over the Chao Phraya, goodnight Bangy! For more Bangkok and Thailand traveller’s tales, click on the links below.