Jul 16 2012
You won’t have to be in Bangkok long before you discover the significance of the Chao Phraya River. A short saunter along its banks will reveal boats packed with tourists, ferries stuffed with commuters on their way to the office, stunning architecture, riverside bars, fishermen after their next haul and – if you’re lucky – a ceremony marking a Thai or Buddhist festival.
The biggest river-focused celebration is the centuries-old Royal Barge Procession, which has been held just 16 times during the current king’s 60-year reign. The most recent was in 2011, when dozens of the intricately built boats swept down the river as part of the colourful celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s seventh cycle; perhaps this is one reason why the Chao Phraya is referred to as the “River of Kings”.
The Chao Phraya actually begins in Nakhon Sawan, where the Ping and Nan rivers connect, and flows south for nearly 400 kilometres before emptying into the Gulf of Thailand. The small canals that lead off from the river are known as khlong, and it’s these waterways, which once crisscrossed the entire city, that earned Bangkok the moniker “Venice of the East“. The river and its canals remain the lifelines of the city, and their significance was highlighted during 2011’s floods, which crippled parts of the city: homes were flooded, commuter ferries and tourist boats were stopped and the city was thrown into chaos.
The best way to see the Chao Phraya in action is to hop on a boat at one of the many piers scattered up and down the city. It’s a dirt-cheap way to take in the sights of Wat Arun, Wat Pho, the Grand Palace and King Taksin Bridge, as well as a way to get a feel for the daily life of Bangkok’s residents, who will be hopping on and off the boat throughout the journey. If you’ve got the money, hotels along the river offer great views.
The Chao Phraya is also home to floating markets, where locals sell their wares from boats and along the river banks. While not the most famous, the closest to the city is Bang Nam Pheung in Phra Pradaeng, Samut Prakan province, just south of Bangkok.
The city of Bangkok was originally located on the eastern side of the river, until the late eighteenth century, when King Rama I moved it to the western side; the east, which is mostly now known as Thonburi, is a great place to explore in its own right.
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