Excerpts from the author’s weekend experience on the river
Having checked-in at the Chatrium Hotel, we take a swim at the property’s open-air pool overlooking the Chao Phraya River before heading up to Silver Waves on the 36th floor to scoff dim sum and charge our batteries for the long day ahead.
Silver Waves offers awesome panoramic views of the river and surrounding areas. Despite having lived in Bangkok for more than a decade, I still love visiting different high-rise buildings across the capital simply for the different perspective they provide of the city. From here you can see how the built-up metropolis gradually flattens out towards the old wharves and warehouses that line the Chao Phraya’s eastern banks. Thonburi to the west is less built up with far fewer tall buildings, and it still boasts huge swathes of undeveloped land festooned with palms, banana plants and other verdant vegetation, all of which are dissected by its myriad klongs. And, if you squint a little, you can even make out shadows of mountains in Chonburi province some 70 kilometres to the south.
Much closer to home is the hustle and bustle of the river itself, where longtail boats zip across from one side to the other, river taxis carry scores of commuters to and from work and tugs tow monolithic barges weighed down with huge consignments of sand, rice and other commodities upriver.
Now that our hunger is sated, it’s time to head to the jetty and start our tour of the river and canals.
Longtail boats provide one of the best ways of exploring this part of the city, especially Thonburi. After heading south down the Chaophraya for ten to fifteen minutes, bouncing past industrial works, drydocks, luxury apartments, international schools and temples, the boat bears west along a canal. Thonburi was the capital of Siam from 1768 to 1782 before it was relocated across the river.
Klong tours, however, are about much more than providing a window into some imagined past, they instead offer a warts-and-all view of some of the lesser known parts of one of the most dynamic cities in Asia. Many parts are less than beautiful – there are long stretches of scrubland, barriers walling off new housing developments, and dilapidated wooden buildings that will eventually disappear into the water — but these sections are interspersed by verdant jungle, fruit plantations, centuries-old temples, many markets and ample wildlife: ranging from egrets, myna birds and heron to 1.5-metre monitor lizards which swim in the waters.
It’s wonderful just sitting back and watching this cinematic cityscape pass by, and while Isabel is all abuzz from the experience, the constant buffeting of the boat renders our son, Erik unconscious. After cutting back on to the main river, we take a quick stop at Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn which is famous for its Khmer-style prang (steeples), before the pilot cranks up the engine and takes us back past Chinatown to the hotel.