Having been a life line of Thais for centuries, the Chao Phraya is still lively with fascinating places to see during the course of your journey from Bangkok to Autthaya. Besides the Grand Palace, the iconic stupa of Wat Arun and peaceful scenes of lives along the river, there are some oddities and offbeat things you will see or even try during the Mekhala cruise.
1. Boat Chedi at Wat Yannawa
If you start the Mekhala cruise from Bangkok, this is the first place you will see. The pier at the riverside temple of Wat Yannawa is the place where you embark on your cruise. The temple is also home to a quirky Buddhist stupa that is built in a shape of a Chinese junk. It is the only stupa in Thailand built in this style (most of them have either hemispherical or square base with conical spires.).
The stupa was added to the temple during the reign of King Rama III (1824 – 1851). It was intended to resemble a Chinese junk, a vessel responsible for the successful trade between China and Thailand during that period. It was said that the King saw steam ships replacing the old junks, and wanted people to remember the ships that had brought so much prosperity to the kingdom. After that, the temple was renamed Wat Yannawa. “Yan” in Thai means craft or conveyance. “Nawa” means vessel or boat. Hence the temple is sometimes referred to as the boat temple.
2. Rama VIII Bridge
Of all the river bridges in Bangkok, Rama VIII bridge is perhaps the most photographed bridge nowadays. Located on the edge of Bangkok, this photogenic bridge is a cable-stayed bridge with a main span of 300 metres (980 ft). It was built to commemorate the birth anniversary of the late King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), after whom it is named.
The bridge has an asymmetrical design, with a single pylon in an inverted Y shape located on the western bank of the river. After it was opened in 2002, it became a popular place for local people to hang out, especially at the base of the bridge’s pylon, which is developed into a public park. It has the tallest bridge observation deck in the world and is one of the world’s largest asymmetrical cable-stayed bridges.
3. Giant Soda Can
As you are slowly cruising out of Bangkok, you will start to enter a small industrial zone where factories lining the river. Then you’ll encounter a large soda can standing tall on the riverbank. We do not know if the huge can represents a factory next to it or it is simply a clever way to advertise a soft drink to boat passengers.
4. Cargo barge
With a network of waterways throughout the city, Bangkok was once compared to Venice. The river and canals were crowded with floating houses and merchant-boats selling domestic commodities as people lived and worked on the boats. Even though these scenes are things of the past, we can at least catch of glimpse of it.
During the cruise, you will have a chance to see several big cargo barges passing you by. These black barges regularly cruise up and down the Chao Phraya river, carrying a variety of goods from sand and rocks to rice sugar. A modest dwelling is built on the stern for workers and their family who live and work on the barge. Albeit small, it has basic amenities such as a well equipped Thai kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom. This is another way to observe a way of life on the river that even most Thais people do not know that it exists.
5. White Tilting Stupa at Koh Kret
Koh Kret is an island in the Chao Phraya River. Located in the north of Bangkok, it is home to an ethnic Mon community. The ancient race is believed to be one of the earliest peoples to reside in Southeast Asia. They were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Indochina. The Mon were a major source of influence on the culture of Burma. Many of them had escaped the war in Burma to settle in the Thai kingdom since the early 16th century. The last group of Mon moved Thailand about 200 years ago. Most of them live on the outskirts north of Bangkok.
These days, they are known for making earthenware products and Thai sweets. The island’s landmark is a tilting white stupa, which is part of a local temple. The slanting shrine is the island’s landmark and the first thing you will see when you are cruising past the island from Bangkok. Some locals believe that the shrine point toward the Shwedagon Temple in Burma where the ancestors of the islanders came from.
6. Floating House (for fishing)
There is an abundance of fish in the Chao Phraya river. The river is also home to giant freshwater stingrays, which are a critically endangered animal in Thailand.
It is common to see local people go fishing either for sale or leisure. If you happen to notice a group of floating houses on the river, they are not actually a home but a fishing station. They are built for rent for local fishing enthusiasts.
7. Water container at Baan Sala Daeng
Before modern water supply system was introduced to Thailand, Thais kept water in a big clay container. Even though piped water is now easily accessible, many people still keep water in the containers.
These water containers look like a big clay jar with an aluminium or a wooden cover. When you visit a riverside Mon community of Baan Saladaeng village during the Mekhala cruise, you will see them in the temple and many houses. They are usually put on the ground outside the house. However, some villagers dare to be different. Please see the picture above.
8. Odd foods at Pathum Thani market
In addition to Baan Saladeang, you will also visit a local market at Pathum Thani. One of the exciting things about visiting a local market is to observe local cuisine. When you are visiting a country known for its food like Thailand, you have no idea what you are going to see in the market. There is a good chance that you will be amazed at what Thais really eat.
9. Wat Niwet Thammaprawat and its cable car
Bang Pa In Palace, Ayutthaya, is a place where you embark (or disembark) on the Mekhala cruise. The palace is on the riverside opposite a small island, where the most unique royal temple is located. Wat Niwet Thammaprawat is a first-class royal temple built during the reign of King Rama V in the 19th century.
Wat Niwet Thammaprawat is the only western-style Buddhist temple in Thailand. Most of the main buildings in the temple are built and decorated in Gothic style, from the bell tower to the assembly hall. It is a small temple and worth a visit. It can be reached by a manually operated cable car. It is a short, fun ride across the river. It’s free of charge but you can make donation to the temple for the service.