In times, when we have to go fast to get where we want to go, a trip on the rice barge “Mekhala” on the Chao Phraya is almost anachronistic. And if ever the saying “The journey is the destination” made any sense, it is here, on board this slow moving, bulky vessel.

While watching other boats passing by, it reminds you of sharks or angry hornets. The “Mekhala” is more like a whale or elephant; slow but impressive! …and it sure will get you where you want to go.

 

Sunrise on the river

Boarding the Mekhala at Wat Yannawa pier, you will be greeted by a friendly yet reserved crew. Throughout the journey, these guys were very attentive but never with an “in your face” attitude. The captain provided information when it was needed (e.g. interesting things to watch along the way, on arrival- or meal times etc.) or requested.

Now that may sound like an “he was always trying to please but didn’t really make it”. But that is totally not what I mean.

I have been on other tours where the guides and the crew were “over attentive”, constantly talking and trying to communicate, constantly asking if you need something, want something or want to buy something – there was almost never a quiet moment. I found it rather refreshing to hear “the bar is over there, it is open as long as you need it”, instead of “Can I bring you another drink?” every 10 minutes.

This journey is more about winding down.

The cabin is cozy and a marvel of space management. You get a nice double bed, a long seat, cupboards to store your stuff (if you bring any on this 2 day trip) and a fully equipped (shower, toilet, sink) bathroom. The air conditioner will be turned at night night because it is much better to spend a day on a deck watching lives and nature on the riverbank of the Chao Phraya River.

One of the many temples on the river banks.

So the journey begins in Bangkok, near the busy “Saphan Taksin”- pier. In retrospective, this is the aquatic equivalent of the busy Bangkok roads.

You slowly cruise up the river, passing some of Bangkok’s most important and interesting sights such as the Santa Cruz chapel, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) and the Grand Palace. 

Wat Arun- one of the most photographed sights in Bangkok

Soon the scenery changes. The high rise buildings of the big city get fewer and fewer and are replaced by small wooden houses on stilts on the waters edge. In some places, the scene is almost unrealisticly peaceful.

You begin to wind down to the monotone sound of the big diesel engine and start taking in the scenery. The floating patches of water plants, the omnipresent cargo boats or the many, many different kinds of riverside temples on the bank of this “River of Kings”.

You watch people’s lives along the river. Some are swimming. Some are fishing or washing their clothes. Often, local people smile and wave at us. Thanks to digital photography. There seem to be endless photo opportunities.

Big Buddha is watching you.

There is a stop at a fresh market in Phatumthani where you can buy authentic Thai food and fruits. It should be noted that you also will see some goods that you need to get used to on a visual and “nasal’ basis. From there, it is only a short trip before the boat is moored at a quiet temple, where you will spend a night.

Full of pigs…and that is not a religion-based insult. There are about 20 pigs in that temple, running around and..doing what pigs do all day.

At the temple

Dinner will be served at nightfall and there is time for a talk with your fellow passengers, over a drink from the bar, before you head off to sleep.

The second day of the trip starts early as the boat leaves the temple around 6:30 am for Baan Sala Deang, a Mon village. The Mon are an ethnic minority in Thailand. The Mon people in this village – though being totally integrated in Thai society – have preserved some of their traditions and ways of life. This is reflected in the architecture of their temples and houses. In “botanic curiosity”, the village is officially allowed to have ONE coca- tree, which is forbidden practically elsewhere, as the coca- leaves are considered a highly addictive drug.

This village is also a good example for how the people in this area depend on the river, as you will see many of them having a morning bath or doing their laundry.

Nothing like a good shave

Back on the boat, breakfast is served.  After that, it is time for relaxing. Occasionally you will see a large patch of water plants spreading across the river like a lawn. The boat will slow down and glide through these plants, revealing an ecological system of its own.

Endless field of water- plants

As the boat is approaching our destination, Bang Pa- In Palace, you will say “Goodbye” to your friendly crew and head on, either to Ayuttaya or back to Bangkok.

But hopefully, you will take away some of the meditative majesty of the “River of Kings” and all the nice and peaceful things you have seen.