River of Kings: Your Guide to the Chao Phraya River

By Harold Stephens
103 pages with photographs
Publication date: April 2001
ISBN: 974-410-150-4
List price: $8.95

Most visitors who arrive in Bangkok know little about the river, and, of course, they are completely unaware of what the river has to offer. It's understandable. The river gets little publicity. Travel brochures and guidebooks emphasis temple and klong tours, museums, restaurants, shopping areas, and nightlife. But then, strange as it might sound, many Thais and permanent residents who live and work in Bangkok aren't fully aware of the river.

The River of Kings is truly a magnificent waterway, one of the great rivers of Asia. For Thailand, it's the nation's life and soul. The river has been a principal factor in the development of Thai heritage, culture, and economics. It has molded the nation into what it is today and provides essential nourishment for Thailand's rich agriculture. Finally, the river has served as a highway for commerce, linked the nation's cities, and served as a protective barrier against its rivals.

Not too long ago, I decided to take a day cruise up river to Ayutthaya. While sitting there in a deck chair, I became aware that although the passengers seemed to be enjoying themselves, staring out at the changing panorama of the river, they were unaware that they were moving not only forward over leagues of water but also travelling back through passages of time. Thailand's very history as a nation began on this mighty river. I found myself wanting to shout out to my fellow passengers: "Look, over there, that fort! That's where King Taksin set up his new capital after the fall of Ayutthaya." I had the urge to tell them about the tall ships that once came upriver, when Ayutthaya was mightier than Venice and Genoa. There were not only sights and history all around, but the fascinating and sometimes strange architecture of the river, and the wildlife. And what about the people who live on the river, and the boats they manage? To address these matters, I began preparing The Chao Phraya: River of Kings. This is how the book came about.