Almost all of the major cities in the world trace their beginnings to settlements located along riverbanks or near bodies of water. The water served as means for transportation and a conduit for commerce. Water was and remains to be an important resource which is used for hygienic purposes, nourishment and also commercial ends. Parisians have the Seine, Londoners have the Thames, the Romans have the Tiber.
As such, a truly memorable visit to a historic city like Bangkok demands for time spent either traversing or at least seeing the Chao Phraya, the river that served as the lifeblood of the Siamese kingdom of centuries. Today, it continues to draw tourists and locals as a major thoroughfare that services commuter boats, tourist junks and commercial ships.
Last January (yes, this blog entry is way too delayed), I got the chance to insert a Chao Phraya river cruise into a packed itinerary. I went to Bangkok on the same weekend when the Pope came to the Philippines, and fortunately, I was able to see him as he drove past NAIA terminal 3. I, along with the other passengers waiting for the airport operations to reconvene, waited for him on the airport driveway, which had a good view of Andrews Avenue.
On my first day, I rode a commuter ferry from Sathorn Pier, which is underneath a highway bridge, going to the Grand Palace. The fare was only 20 Thai Baht, and it was a breezy, picturesque ride. There were locals and tourists alike on the same boat, which is different from the tourist barge (there is a different tourist barge, which gives you “unlimited” rides to and fro the different cultural/historic stops that line the Chao Phraya).
To get to the Grand Palace, I alighted at the Tha Chang stop (Pier N9). From the pier, I walked along a strip of retailers and hawkers. After my tour of the Grand Palace, I ate a delicious plate of pad thai in one of the stalls in that area.
What was so noticeable with that pad thai kiosk was that the full made-up girl was the cook, the waitress and the cashier! Amazing! And take note, she was even wearing stilettos! According to the description of her stall, her family had been serving pad thai since 1965!
The following day, my tuktuk driver encouraged me to visit a small floating market, the name of which, sadly, I now forget. Unfortunately, I arrived too late and I wasn’t able to see the myriad of vendors and goods I was hoping to see. The trip, nonetheless, was a memorable trip. I was able to see old houses, temples and even noveau-riche looking mansions.
Going back to the pier, we passed by Wat Arum, which was being renovated that time. From the pier, I made my way to Chinatown, where I feasted on stir-fried noodles.