Barging on Thailands River of Kings

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BANGKOK -- Ancient temples, ornate pagodas and a never-ending vista of river life flow by as we lounge lazily on the aft sundeck of the riverboat Manohra Song.

From this vantage point on the Chao Phraya River, which bisects Bangkok, impressions of the bustling city and its surroundings are much different from whats seen peeking out of cabs in traffic jams.

Adding to the charm of Manohra Cruises Ayutthaya Adventure river sailing is our vessel itself, a converted rice barge now outfitted in deluxe style.

Stateliness for a song

 

The Manohra Song sits comfortably on a 100-year-old teak hull. Its dark wood and bulky shape call to mind an ominous pirate ship, but on deck, the scene changes to one of relaxation and unhurried adventure.

Dispel all images evoked by the words cruise ship and picture a ship with just four staterooms, staffed by a crew of four.

The idea here is to see Bangkok and Thailand the way it was done centuries ago, while enjoying the best in modern food, amenities, sightseeing and service.

The staterooms each have a queen-size bed, air conditioning, safe, hair dryer, robe and slippers and deluxe amenities. Bathrooms are full-size and fully equipped.

The vessel is outfitted in beautiful Thai silks, pottery, Oriental rugs and carvings to offset teak and mahogany woods.

Considering these very authentic touches, the smiling service onboard and the exotic sites we visited, this river cruise was an ideal -- and very pleasant -- way to delve into Thailands colorful history.

This three-day cruise departs midmorning from the dock at the Bangkok Marriott Resort and Spa on the Chao Phraya.

Our small group gathered in the open-air lounge to toast our adventure and enjoy the view. Cold lemongrass towels and chilled fresh fruit cocktails kept us mellow.

First stop was the Temple of Dawn, or Wat Arun, to admire its Khmer-style architecture and perhaps have our fortunes told.

Subsequent stops on our itinerary included an early morning meeting with the Buddhist monks of Wat Bang Na temple to make merit, which means to give food or alms. We also admired the Summer Palace, the Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Center and,  at an old monastery, an ancient Buddha image revered as the patron of sailors.

A highlight was our tour of the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, a Unesco World Heritage site. We arrived by limo, and had the opportunity to ride an elephant.

Three meals a day -- crafted by the onboard chef, who catered to  individual tastes -- were served on crisp, white linen by a very attentive wait staff.

The itinerary was well-paced, giving passengers time to relax on the spacious upper deck in shade or sun. We even had time on the first day for a traditional English tea.

Manohra Cruises Ayutthaya Adventure departs every Monday and Thursday; rates are $850, single occupancy, or $1,150, double, plus tax and service charge.

Rates include roundtrip dock transfers from hotels or airport, meals, lodging, tours, guides, admissions and ground transport. Alcoholic beverages cost extra.

Travel agents earn 10% commission on cruises, and bookings must be made directly to Manohra Cruises. Call (011) 66-2 477-0770 or visit www.manohracruises.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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