The Chao Phraya river flows through the very heart of Bangkok. This major artery has brought life and wealth to this part of Thailand for many centuries. The river weaves its way through Central Thailand from the confluence of the Ping and Nan rivers in Nakhon Sawan province, passing through Bangkok as it winds its way inexorably towards the Gulf of Thailand.
Upstream, as the river passes along the country’s alluvial plain, many canals (known in Thailand as Khlongs) connect to provide much need irrigation to rice paddies.
The lower part of the Chao Phraya river was subject to modifications during the period of the powerful Ayutthaya Empire that ended in 1767. Channels were cut to reduce the travel time to the sea from the capital city Ayutthaya (about a one hour drive to the north of downtown Bangkok). Since the first of these channels was created in 1538, on the order of King Chairachathirat, the river has gradually followed the course of this and subsequent man-made shortcuts.
Bangkok is just one of many large towns and cities located on the banks of the Chao Phraya. Others include Nakhon Sawan, Ang Thong, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan.
Today the river is a hive of activity around the clock. River taxis take thousands of Thais to and from their places of work every day. Ferries criss-cross the river carrying both locals and visitors to homes, shops, hotels and tourist attractions. Barges carry a variety of cargo including sugar and rice. The city port, operated by the Port Authority of Thailand, covers some 66km of riverfront. Cranes dominate the landscape in an area also notorious for slum dwellings (in Khlong Toei district).
Exploring the city of angels by river is an experience not to be missed. At the river twists and turns between an eclectic combination of modern and traditional architecture there is always something to catch the eye. At night Bangkok takes on a new perspective with the most treasured landmarks on the river bank well illuminated to add both drama and atmosphere to the cruise experience.
There are many eye-catching historical buildings and ancient temples on both sides of the river as you travel upstream, including Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), the Grand Palace, the Talad Noi branch of Siam Commercial Bank and Holy Rosary Church.
The river is a popular venue for fireworks displays on special occasions, notably the birthday of His Majesty the King (December 5), on New Year’s Eve and on the annual Loi Krathong festival every November.
Loi Krathong (floating decoration) is held on the evening of the full moon of the 12 month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar when thousands of Thai flocks to the banks of the river with their floating decorations often now made from bread or banana stalk.
The ceremony has religious connotations but also now serves amongst younger couples in modern day Thailand as a popular and often romantic occasion to match Valentine’s Day.