Bangkok’s Chao Phraya is Thailand’s lifeblood

Bangkok’s Chao Phraya is Thailand’s lifeblood

One of Thailand’s lifelines is the Chao Phraya, a river that flows through Bangkok. Numerous ships move cargo over it, it supplies water to farmers, and both inhabitants and visitors use shuttle boats to get about the city.

With around 23 million tourists in 2019, Bangkok is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

I visited Bangkok for a few days in late July as part of a reporting assignment. I went to Asiatique, a riverside pier and open-air shopping centre, on a Friday afternoon. It used to be one of my favourite places to hang out in the city since it had a night market, trendy stores, and a carnival.

The mall was a shell of what it once was when I got there. Only local employees congregated around the dozens of deserted restaurants, there were hardly any food stands, and the most of the stores were closed.

The shuttle boat across the river was what I had intended to do on my last day in Bangkok, but the personnel informed me that it was not in operation.

One indication that the pandemic had a serious impact on Thailand’s tourism industry was the fact that, despite having over 40 million visitors in 2019, just 430,000 travelled there in 2021.

There weren’t a lot of visitors at Asiatique since Thailand just completely opened to travellers on July 1 of this year.

I came across numerous ladies selling tickets for a supper cruise in the mostly deserted mall. One lady informed me that I could view Wat Arun after dark and eat a Thai buffet for 900 baht, or $25. I gave in.

Bangkok, Thailand.

In several regions of Southeast Asia, dinner cruises are popular, where ships provide on-board buffets. It was the same in Bangkok, where locals made up the majority of those purchasing and collecting tickets.

I had almost two hours to kill until the ship set off at 7:30 p.m. I looked around the few open clothes stores, many of which featured high-quality knockoffs of well-known street fashion labels like Off-White.

My dinner cruise for the evening, the Royal Princess, arrived at dark. It was a tiny ship with an upper deck that was open. Its exterior was covered in blue light strips that made it glow in the dark. It seemed to be a modified ferry.
At the dock, a sizable throng gathered. Parents with small children, couples on dates, and boisterous groups were in the hundreds and were begging to board.

There were a number of supper cruises at the pier, including the Royal Princess Cruise.

People distracted themselves as we waited to board by snapping pictures and snacking on food from the nearby food court.

In the end, the boarding lines descended into anarchy, and I had to push my way through the mob to board the ship. There were not enough employees to check tickets and manage the throng, so dozens of individuals were cutting the line.

I was horribly underdressed when I got on the cruise since so many locals were dressed to the nines and prepared for a night of photographs. I felt very out of place among the ladies in gorgeous gowns and sky-high heels, wearing just linen clothing and sandals. The males, though, wore T-shirts to keep things casual.

There was a buzz of excitement on board, and these cruises are an inexpensive way for groups of friends and family to commemorate big milestones. It took some time to find my table since the top deck was so dark. The dancing floor and the small battery-operated lighting were the sole sources of illumination.

I was sitting next to some friends who were having a birthday party and a couple who looked like they were celebrating their anniversary.

I nervously watched as both groups took pictures and Instagram stories of one another while I was feeling a little lonely. I believed I was the only lone cruiser present.

But as a culinary enthusiast, I was confident in my decision to take the ship that evening. I was famished despite the abundance of Thai food the boat offered.

Everything from beef meals to Thai noodles to an abundance of sweets was available at the buffet. I saw a dozen individuals preparing to pounce, so I wasn’t the only one who was watching the buffet.

The queues at the buffet got even longer as soon as the ship set sail. Food was being piled onto plates as others grabbed tongs.

The majority of passengers, however, complied with the regulations, donning masks and using disposable gloves while consuming meals.

When I waited too long to put on my mask and gloves, one lady sneered at me and ultimately cut in front of me.

Throughout the night, staff employees refilled the trays with new food.

For supper, I had som tum, a spicy papaya salad, pineapple rice with a variety of fried and curried meats, kha nom jeen, or rice noodles with curry sauce, and a dessert. I ate every last bit of it and was tempted to get more, but the line just kept getting longer.

I considered talking to the individuals sitting next to me, but they were absorbed in their own thoughts.

Young and fashionable, the pair was celebrating their anniversary. The man, who seemed to be in his early 20s, was dressed in a Tommy Hilfiger sweater, while the girlfriend wore a chiffon top and fluttery skirt. They held hands, laughed, and diligently documented every aspect of their date in real time posts on Instagram.

About two dozen individuals raised their hands when the performer asked for anybody who was celebrating their birthday. On board, everybody applauded, and I joined in by wishing them a happy birthday.

I was eager to visit Wat Arun and Wat Pho, two well-known temples. The performer quickly clarified, however, that there wouldn’t be any temple touring that evening since the water level was too high up north.

Instead, the Holy Rosary Church, an uncommon sight in Thailand where Buddhism is predominate, and Iconsiam, one of Bangkok’s busiest malls, were the highlights of the voyage.

The river wind provided relief from the humidity and heat of Bangkok, and the air aboard was nice and cold.

Thai songs were sung by the night’s entertainment. It seemed to be a neighbourhood tavern with live music.

The natives joined in as her voice resounded throughout the ship. Only one song, “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx, was understandable to me, but I like the Thai ballads much more.

The cruise became more joyous when Thai dancers in traditional attire entered the stage, glittering in the night. A dancer was decked out as Hanuman, a “monkey king” who is said to possess god-like abilities.

The food options on board seemed limitless, and there was roaring music and laughter all around.

The atmosphere was different downstairs in the indoor eating area. The atmosphere was considerably more laid back, and there were hardly any buffet line waits.

The outdoor and interior decks were quite different from one another, so I was happy to spend the most of the night outside.

The inside deck had the atmosphere of a private gathering. To the joy of the people, a visitor participated in the entertainer’s performance by dancing to her songs.

Locals were cheering and applauding, but I saw a family of foreigners who were surprised and dumbfounded towards the rear of the dining area. I sat there for a while and engaged in the entertainment, applauding and recording the performance.

The dinner cruise was a fantastic yet unexpected discovery. Although it first seemed to be a tourist trap, residents really frequent there to spend special events with their loved ones on a budget.

Although I had my doubts about dinner cruises at first, I ended up having a terrific time because of how loud and energetic everyone was. Bangkok is all about entertainment, people, craziness, and having a great time, and the cruise mirrored that.

I suggest a dinner cruise if you’re a solitary traveller seeking for a lively but laid-back evening in Bangkok. Just be sure to pack an appetite.

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