A shrill whistle calls out over the roar of a ferry engine. For me that can mean only one thing: Welcome to the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok.
The Chao Phraya is, in many ways, the heart of Bangkok. The river winds through the center of the city and offers many options for visitors to explore. Some choose the larger tourist ferries and other take the tiny long tail boats for a private ride. My money, however, is on the local ferry. Thousands of locals every day – and an increasing number of tourists – pay their 15 Baht (~$0.50) to ride the river, taking in the views.
The “core” route connects the BTS metro system to Wat Arun and the Grand Palace, some 5 kilometers up river. Ride along enough and the shrill whistle from the guy handling the lines in the back becomes an integral part of the experience. He is communicating with the captain to indicate arrival and departure at the stations along the river. Slow down, reverse and forward are the main commands, allowing the ferry to pull in, move passengers off and on and then depart again quickly from every stop.
The Chao Phraya is very much a commercial and industrial thoroughfare. Even on a lazy Sunday morning barges can be seen cruising the waters in between the hordes of long tails and the ferries. On a weekday that traffic is even more significant.
The ferry also shows off the ever-changing face of the riverfront. Huge, glass-fronted towers go up, replacing the last few dilapidated, ramshackle buildings lining the water. Even where full towers are not going in the smaller buildings are renovated into boutique hotels and cafes. It is a microcosm of Bangkok’s rebirth, showing right on the waterfront.
But for me the beauty of Bangkok shows in simply being on the water. Among the chaos and energy that infuse this city the noises and motions of the ferry ride keep me centered.
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