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Travel: Cruising Along The Venice Of The East

  • DANCING AWAY THE NIGHT: Live music draws people to dance while cruising along the Chao Phraya River. (Photo courtesy: Arief Suhardiman /THE JAKARTA POST)
  • FASCINATING VIEW: View of the Grand Palace from the river at night. (Photo courtesy: Arief Suhardiman /THE JAKARTA POST)
  • CANDLELIT DINNER: Diners enjoy candle lit dinners with fascinating view of Bangkok aboard the Grand Pearl. (Photo courtesy: Arief Suhardiman /THE JAKARTA POST)
  • REGISTRATION FIRST: To-be passengers swarm a registration table to board the ship. (Photo courtesy: Arief Suhardiman /THE JAKARTA POST)
  • TYPICAL THAI FOOD: Traditional food minus Thai’s signature soup Tom Yam are served on a long table. (Photo courtesy: Arief Suhardiman /THE JAKARTA POST)

With candlelit dinner, typical Thai dancing show and fascinating view of Bangkok, a boat trip along the Chao Phraya River is really a spectacular experience.

There was a buzz of anticipation at the River City pier. A couple stood at the edge of the pier, eyes locked on the slow-moving Grand Pearl ship.

Like many others who crowded the pier, the couple was waiting to board the ship that would take them cruising along Bangkok’s famous Chao Phraya River, while having a romantic candlelit dinner.

When the ship eventually docked, the crew welcomed them aboard, singing Latin songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar. The couple rushed into the ship, followed by others who were in a hurry too. They were about to have a romantic dinner sailing down the canals of Bangkok, the Venice of the East.

In this ship that could accommodate up to 350 guests, people were free to choose where they sat, either inside the air-conditioned cabins or outside. I opted to sit in one of the cabins with other journalists and a Jakarta-based travel agent, given the strong wind outside.

"The Wichai Prasit Fort or Bangkok fort was built during King Narai’s reign and is the only remaining fort of the Ayutthaya period."

A welcome drink was immediately served as we sat down. The fruit cocktail was very refreshing. I suspect the night wind had made us all thirsty. Two hours prior, we had also indulged in a renowned Thai massage at the Rarinjinda Spa in downtown Bangkok.

As the ship moved, the city lights reflected on the river water. Our two-hour romantic cruise had officially kicked off.

Traditional Thai music filled the air. A woman, dressed in a traditional Thai costume, climbed the stairs to greet the guests. She cast a friendly glance across the hall before gracefully performing a typical Thai dance.

Once the dance finished, the captain welcomed the passengers over a loudspeaker, asking guests to sit down at a long table for dinner. To my surprise, Tom Yam, Thailand’s signature soup, was missing from the table. Instead, there were dishes of mouthwatering lime and chili steamed squid, duck grilled in red curry, deep fried fish, and roasted chicken with salt.

Music played in the background while we walked back and forth between our table and the buffet, helping ourselves with food. I sampled the grilled beef with a green pepper corn sauce, before digging into a fettuccine carbonara and some sushi. I finished off with slices of watermelon.

King Rama VII, another ship covered in blue lights and filled with dinners, sailed past us, down the 370km river.

When it was time to head back to the River City pier, our tour guide Tom started telling us about all the historical places located along the river.

“That’s the Grand Palace,” he said, pointing to a huge structure with a golden roof. The palace was well illuminated, with lights creating a fantastic spectrum of colours contrasting with the dark sky.

“It was built by King Rama I, the first monarch and founder of the Rattanakosin period, as an exact replica of Ayutthaya, the old royal capital, with a temple built within the compound to house the Emerald Buddha. It is also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.”

Across the Grand Palace, one could see the Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn. The landmark temple is 79m tall, dating back to the Ayutthaya period. King Rama II and his successor King Rama III enlarged the compound. Renovations were completed during the administration of King Rama IV.

The Emerald Buddha was enshrined in this temple for a brief period before King Rama I built the Grand Palace.

After Wat Arun, we passed the Old Royal Palace and the Wichai Prasit Fort.

“The royal palace spreads along riverside from the Wichai Prasit Fort to a canal, north of Wat Arun,” Tom said.

“The building reflects Ayutthaya’s architectural style. The Wichai Prasit Fort or Bangkok fort was built during King Narai’s reign and is the only remaining fort of the Ayutthaya period.”

As we approached the pier, we started talking about modern Thailand, one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations. Thailand’s tourism business was once hit hard by political unrest.

When protesters “occupied” the Suvarnabhumi Airport last year, Tom said it greatly affected the tourism industry.

“The number of visitors significantly decreased. There was no cruise at all,” he said.

“But now, it seems that it’s going back to normal,” he added.

Many Thais, whose livelihood relies on the tourism industry, also hope the situation has returned to normal. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva assured the world an incident such as the airport closure would not happen again.

“I assure you that there will never again be a repeat of the closure of our main gateway airport. The Cabinet has approved laws to protect our major airport from any disruptions in the future,” he said.

Even though we were very close to the pier, people around me were still dancing to the music, as if they were reluctant to leave the ship.

As I was walking back to the hotel, I reflected back on the cruise, and thought it was a spectacular experience that should definitely be added to other adventures in the beautiful Venice of the East. (By ARIEF SUHARDIMAN/ The Jakarta Post/ AsiaNews)

MySinchew 2009.04.07


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