Even after living in Bangkok for nine years, I rarely, if ever, leave the city by river. I am an anomaly, historically speaking, since the Thai capital was built around a network of canals fanning out from the Chao Phraya—the sacred waterway that flows from the city of Nakhon Sawan, in the country’s center, through Bangkok and out into the Gulf of Thailand. The Thai word for “river,” maenam, literally translates as “mother water,” and reveals the culture’s reverence for waterways as the centerpiece of life. For centuries, civilization has evolved around the majestic Chao Phraya.
So on a cruise run by Loy Pela Voyages last November, I felt a palpable sense of history as the boat plowed through sheets of hyacinths on the water’s surface and passed the low-slung rice barges that still constantly ply the route. To leave Bangkok this way is to realize how ephemeral much