The Chao Phraya river is the main life line of Thailand and, thus, it is where many of historical stories took place. Some stories have been forgotten and some were recorded or passed on to the present generation. The slow journey on the Mekhala boat reminds me of what happened along the river and how it shaped Thai history.

local riverside community  well blended with the modern high building

A contrasted scene of local riverside houses and tall building along the river

Do you know that the Chao Phraya river in front of the Grand Palace was once a canal?  Back in the Ayutthaya period about 470 years ago, the lower part of the river had several horseshoe curves that were dangerous for the water transport.  So, some Ayutthaya Kings modified the course of the river by digging canals through the land to shorten the river route.  These canals got wider, due to the tide, became part of the river.

The 2-km long canal between Bangkok Noi Railway station and the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) was dug in 1542 to shorten the merchant route by 14 km.

The mouth of Bangkok Yai Canal that used to be a river several hundred years ago.

The mouth of Bangkok Yai Canal that used to be a river several hundred years ago.

At the mouth of Bangkok Noi Canal, there were two historical sites located on both sides of the river; Wang Lang (on the west bank) and Wang Na (on the east bank).  So, in the early Bangkok period, it seems that there were three palaces; Wang Luang (the Grand Palace), Wang Lang (the Back Palace) and Wang Na (the Front Palace).  The area of Wang Lang is now the site of Siriraj Hospital.

The east bank of the river is the location of Wang Na which is now Thammasat University, National Museum and National Theater. It was a residential area reserved mostly for the king’s brothers. The position of Wang Na was dismissed in the reign of King Rama V and designated for the Crown Prince. Nowadays, most of the buildings of Wang Na become exhibition halls of the National Museum.

The site of Wang Lang "Back Palace" that is now part of Siriraj Hospital and the remain of Bangkok Noi Train Station

The site of Wang Lang “Back Palace” that is now part of Siriraj Hospital and the remain of Bangkok Noi Train Station

Another story is about a stone lion that sank in the river over a hundred year ago.  Actually, they was a pair of stone lions from China that used as the ballast of the ship.  The ship, together with the goods, sunk during a heavy storm at the mouth of Bangkok Noi canal. The local people and the crews helped to get all the goods back and managed to bring one stone lion back. They placed the lion statue on the riverbank facing the shore but later found this statue with its face looking at the river.  People believed that this stone lion was missing its mate that still was lying under the river.  Years later, the other stone lion was rescued and housed in a shrine in Thammasat University.

The site of Wang Na 'Front Palace' is now an education institute - Thammasart University.

The site of Wang Na ‘the Front Palace’ is now the site of Thammasart University.

A bit further from Bangkok area, the Mekhala brought us to a neighbouring province of Nonthaburi. The province is in the north of Bangkok and well known as the land of fruits especially the king of fruit ‘Durian’. “Taste like heaven, smell like hell” is what during is known for and durian grown in Nonthaburi is accepted as the best of its kind.

Unfortunately the development of the land in the province caused the reduction of durian plantation and the flooding in 2011 also damaged many durian trees. Only few Durian trees survive.

Nonthaburi Old City Hall, the place that you can get some original Nonthaburi Durian.

Nonthaburi Old City Hall, the place that you can get some original Nonthaburi Durian.

I can tell that my trip on the Mekhala is not just a journey, it conjured up several images of the past glory of Thailand’s ancient time. It’s inspiring to be able to catch a glimpse of Thai history again.

Fish freeing - one of the local fate for freeing life of animal for good luck!

Fish freeing – one of the local fate for freeing life of animal for good luck!