What better way to get a glimpse of Bangkok - previously known as the 'Venice of the East' - than to cruise through the nooks and crannies of winding waterways around the scenic Chao Phraya River while learning a thing or two about Thai fruits?It's a perfect day, the sun is shining and the sky is bright blue. The meeting point is the River City Pier - home to a French cafe, small restaurants and the River City Shopping Complex.
The tour starts with a ride on a speedy longtail boat to explore Bangkok's 'klongs' (canals) - the lifeline of the city. Once we've settled comfortably in our seats, an English-speaking guide enlightens us with informative bits and bobs about the surrounding places.
A slice of local life
The boat moves swiftly down the Chao Phraya River, passing many points of interest including Chinatown, Pak Klong Talat (24-hour flower market), the Memorial Bridge, Royal Thai Navy, Chinese Shrine, Santa Cruz Catholic Church built by the Portuguese, the Grand Palace and the Khmer-influenced Temple of Dawn, among others. Despite the unrelenting heat, the cool breeze and the sporadic mist of the klong water makes up for it. Don't worry if you don't have time to fully appreciate the beauties on the river banks; you'll get to see them again on your sedate return trip aboard a restored rice barge.
"We're now entering Klong Mon," announces our guide as the boat makes a turn into a narrow water gate. As we proceed along the small channel branching off the river, a row of wooden houses unfolds before our eye, revealing images of homemakers going about their daily routines while elderly residents observe every passing boat It's a slice of local life not offered by other means of transport. The canal is clean and unpolluted, and many animals choose to call it home.
A chubby water monitor (Asian lizard) bobs up and down in the canal, swimming only five feet from us. Unfazed by the camera flashes, the creature obviously enjoys the attention. In the slightly wider 'Bangkok Noi' canal, we stop in front of one of the many temples and are told to wait and see. Suddenly a large school of catfish surfaces, begging for food. You can feed them pieces of bread (a loaf is available for 20 baht) for good merit.
An educational fruit buffet on a rice barge
After the enjoyable canal cruise, we embark on a converted rice barge for the second half of the tour. The staff distributes cool towels and non-alcoholic Mai Tai cocktails to all of the passengers before presenting 'Thai Fruits 101' - an introduction to popular (seasonal) Thai fruits like jackfruit, longan, rambutan, pomelo, mango, mangosteen and dragon fruit.
All teaching aides are edible and available in unlimited quantities, so get a plate and dig in! A variety of soft and hard drinks are also offered throughout the ride. The barge floats sluggishly down the river, passing all of the riverside charms - one perfect photo opportunity after another for everyone on board.
Back to the pier
The sunlight is beginning to fade as we drift past a cluster of the city's finest five-star hotels. The barge approaches CAT Telecom's (Communications Authority of Thailand) reflective building before turning back to our starting point. The cruise staff begins to hand out fruits as a parting gift, officially ending this amazing trip.
The River City Pier is now bustling with after-work crowds and students making their way home. We say goodbye to our rice barge as it makes its way into the twilight, joining the ferries and speedboats that now dominate the waterway... Whether you're a first timer in Bangkok, or simply want to experience a slice of Thai life along the 'River of Kings', this tour is an ideal way to explore the true spirit of the 'Venice of the East'.
- Taking a stroll in the air-conditioned comfort of the River City Shopping Complex while you're waiting for the boat is a great way to kill time.
- Light clothing, sunglasses and a hat are highly recommended.