Cruising the River of Kings to Siam’s Ancient Capital
Once “the pearl of the east,” the artistic, spiritual, and military center of Southeast Asia, Ayuthaya was the capital of Thailand from A.D. 1350 until its destruction by marauding Burmese four centuries later. Thirty-three kings of various dynasties built hundreds of temples and thousands of images to Buddha in a city-state that archives claim was one of the richest and fairest in Southeast Asia.
The city’s destruction in 1767 was so complete that rather than rebuild, the heartbroken king chose to relocate his court to Bangkok, 50 miles downriver. Today its mins and canals (which are slowly being restored and reclaimed) still speak of the city’s former splendor, and visitors with a good imagination – and a good guide – will have no difficulty grasping its onetime grandeur and importance.
The royal way of visiting Ayuthaya today is via the Chao Phraya River, the River of Kings. Snaking 227 miles from Thailand’s northern highlands to the Gulf of Siam (though technically speaking, everything above the lower 160 miles is known by a different name), it is Bangkok’s lifeline.
The Manohra Song, a lovingly restored, fifty-year-old, 50-foot rice barge made entirely of teak and rare woods, is the most luxurious vessel on the river, built to world-class yacht standards, with just four staterooms outfitted with Thai tapestries, sumptuous fabrics, carvings, and sophisticated crafts and antiques evocative of the ancient kingdom of Siam. The candlelit dinner served aboard is one of the best in Thailand.
The Manohra is available for private charters, but its most popular cruise is the two-day overnight trip to Ayuthaya, a 50-mile trip that passes houses built on stilts, children splashing, bathing, and washing in their “front yard,” and the timeless bustle and activity of watercraft plying the muddy river.