It was a trip I long wanted to do. Working for the travel industry, the thought of visiting the historical UNESCO ruins of Ayutthaya, aboard a restored rice barge sounded very appealing, and so, one day last March, I decided upon taking the Mekhala from Asian Oasis on this overnight trip.

Due to work commitments, my husband couldn’t accompany me on this trip, and for a few days the idea of going solo seemed like the perfect excuse to order my thoughts. But one night over dinner, my 8 year old son, Rodrigo, was telling me about the history of Thailand which he was studying at school, and that gave me the idea: “Would you like to come along on an overnight cruise and see the old capital of Siam, where many important battles with Burma took place?” I hinted. And so, as we discussed the details, a tradition to take each one of my three sons on a trip with me started to take shape.

All aboard

The beautiful Mekhala was waiting for us at Wat Yattanawa on the afternoon of departure. “Where is the cruise?” asked my son. “You said we would go on a cruise”, he frowned. But soon after, the doves carpeting the pier took his attention and he ran towards the boat trying to scare them. We received a warm welcome from the manager, Khun Adisak, and made ourselves comfortable on the deck while we inspected around. The beautifully restored old barge was classic luxury style, with long cushioned benches and a few rattan chairs to choose the best views.

Our group was small, only 3 other couples, and we had ample space to seat and keep privacy. At 1:30 pm, the scorching sun made us all stay on the covered deck. Soon after, we were sailing quietly, passing by Wat Arun and the Grand Palace leaving Bangkok behind. The mood of the trip was slowly calming, taking us back to an old way of traveling, when the excitement lay in the journey as much as the destination.

A welcome drink was served and soon the common landscape of Bangkok was replaced by the wooden houses over pillars of Koh Kret. By then, the river was wider and had less traffic, and Rodrigo had decided to be the captain of the boat, with the help of Khun Bird, one of the attentive staff from Mekhala who shared some wisdom about navigating Thai waters, and whether pirates were an issue on the Chao Phraya river. The “cruise” factor was soon forgotten, as he enjoyed the privilege of steering the boat.

Dinner is ready

After a few hours of relaxing sailing, dinner was announced on the deck, with candle lights and the stars above as the only lighting. The dinner included the main Thai favorites, toned down for the foreigners’ palate. We all shared one table and were engaged in the usual conversations of each one’s trip. Rodrigo seemed to enjoy having dinner in such a formal setting, and was already planning how he would boast to his brothers about steering a boat.

Our air-conditioned cabin was well equipped for the night, with two bunk beds, a bench and a toilet with shower. The gentle rock of the boat made us fall fast asleep, and we woke up the next morning just as dawn had broken, feeling rested.

After a brief visit to a beautiful Mon village, our sumptuous breakfast was waiting for us, in what would become the best meal of the trip (probably the most anticipated). Just less than 2 hours separated us from the pier at the Bang- Pa-In Palace, the summer Palace of the Royal family of Thailand and the end of our trip, just 15 minutes from the Ayutthaya ruins.

A Mon- temple

The beautiful boat, the slow pace of the trip, the attentive crew and the local sights all contributed to a great experience to connect with the cultural heritage of Thailand. Definitely a must-do trip from Bangkok.

I still remember the train trips I used to take with my family, when I was around the same age as my son. It was a big affair, an overnight sleeper train which all my 8 siblings and my parents would take every summer to the beach. They have probably planted the seed of my passion for traveling. I hope this trip will have a space in my son’s memories as he grows up. As for me, I need to think on how to keep the newly started tradition rolling.

(Carmen Gomez Menor is a Spanish journalist and blogger, who has traveled Thailand and Southeast Asia on numerous occasions.)