A visit to Bangkok would not be complete without exploring the riverside for a taste of life in the Thai capital long before mobile phones, cable TV and microwave popcorn became all the buzz. Day or night, the riverside provides plentiful picture-perfect photo opportunities with its many historical landmarks and hidden charms.
The Chao Phraya is also the star attraction in the city during important events like Songkran (the Thai New Year, celebrated in April), the annual Loy Krathong Festival in November, and the very rare Royal Barge Procession – the most recent one held in June 2006 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej. On New Year’s Eve, riverside hotels take turns to outdo each other with spectacular fireworks that light up the sky well into the new year.
What you’ll find on the other side, tugged in an alley next to the Millennium Hilton Hotel, is as local as it gets; clothing, shoes, bags, CD’s, DVD’s, fashion accessories, fresh fruit and food. As for the floating markets, don’t expect much to splurge out on – the merchandise on offer here are pretty much of the same you can find anywhere else, but with inflated prices.
Every visitor to the capital should try a dinner cruise. After a long day of shopping or sightseeing, cruising down the river on an old teak rice barge in the cool of the evening is incredibly relaxing. As you float past Bangkok’s old temples beautifully lit up against the night sky, add a bottle of wine and an excellent candlelit dinner, and it’s an experience you won’t forget. Wat Arun temple at sunset, in particular, is spectacular.
But, the real nightlife star, hands down, is the Chao Phraya River itself. ‘Party boats’, ‘floating karaokes’ or whatever you want to call it, glide up and down the river all night long, complete with disco lights and mirror balls.
Bangkok’s riverside is where its historic roots lie; the traditional heartland of this magical city with origins that read like an epic novel – complete with fallen and rising Kingdoms, heroes and traitors. One of the most fascinating and scenic areas of Bangkok, the riverside reflects a constantly changing scene day and night; water-taxis ferrying commuters and heavily laden rice barges chugging upstream, set against a backdrop of glittering temples and palaces, historical landmarks and luxury, five-star hotels. Despite some condominiums and corporate towers that have risen from the river banks over the past decade or so, the area has retained its unique identity, exclusiveness and seductive charme.