Friday, April 25, 2014

The Mighty Chao Phraya

You might enquire – why does the Chao Phraya River feature in a blog about Thailand’s culture code? What possible impact has Chao Phraya had in shaping and defining the values and attitudes of Thai people? These are questions I am still struggling to answer but what I do know is the Chao Phraya River has played a critical and influential role throughout much of Thailand’s history – hence the reason for its inclusion in this blog on the country’s culture code. Visitors taking the river cruise are given a flimsy and superficial commentary on its significance – but can you really expect more in twenty minutes? To understand more you have to spend time digging into history.
The Chao Phraya River starts life as three northern streams snaking 220 miles down to the Gulf of Thailand. It waters the broad Central Plains creating as it does one of the most fertile rice-growing areas in the world. It is also the access route for international shipping and commerce and the historical basis for the founding of three capital cities on its banks – Ayutthaya, Thonburi and finally Bangkok. Floating houses, two and three deep, used to line its banks. Today it still provides easy access to the major landmarks such as the Grand Palace and countless important Buddhist temples. For locals it provides an efficient transport system to work or school. Large scale residential developments on its banks are now home to the rich and the very best hotels have panoramic views over the bustling maritime activity below.
Every time I visit Bangkok a trip on the river is a must – either on the relative luxury of the dedicated tourist boat, on the overcrowded ferry, an exhilarating ride in a long-tail boat or as a guest on one of the dining cruises. There is always something to fascinate. If you are lucky, you may witness one of the grand ceremonial occasions featuring the Royal Barges or Dragon Boat races. Surprisingly, when you consider the blackness of the water and discarded rubbish, it is teeming with fish.
Making the connection between the Chao Phraya and Thai people is still a ‘work in progress’ so anyone with thoughts and opinions would be most welcome.

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