|Recently, The Bangkok Post published an article entitled Feeling Sold Down the Chao Phraya River which featured an eighty-four-year old lady named Khun Orasri Silpi recounting her memories of life by the river and how three government sponsored projects will entirely change the river-scape of Bangkok. The projects include an 8.5-mile promenade along the river, an observation tower, and a pedestrian bridge across the river. The author's perspective only began in 1968 but the river and Bangkok have been a big part of my life since then.
By way of background, the Chao Phraya River is formed by the Nan and Ping Rivers in northern Thailand and flows through the fertile central portion of the country for 231 miles before reaching the Gulf of Thailand. The river provided the entrance point for trade vessels from the sea while the area surrounding the river was home to the early foreign embassies and generally served as the royal and administrative heart of Bangkok following the Burmese capture of Ayudthya in 1767. A modern map is shown below on which you will note "Khlong Chong Nonsri" where a major fuel import terminal received aviation fuel for the Vietnam War to be offloaded into trucks for transportation to the many U.S. air bases in Thailand and "unofficially" in Laos.
Moreover, not only did the river provide access from south to north, there was a vast network of canals or "khlongs" connected to it that served as a transportation system. Most of the canals were subsequently filled to form the road network of Bangkok in the 1950's and 60's. Historically, the canals provided a place for families to live on the banks and to conduct trade.
Rather than Khun Orasri's argument that the river-scape of Bangkok will soon be changed by the government construction projects, it has already been dramatically changed over her lifetime and is continuing to be morphed into a metropolis on a river. Shown below is a more modern image of the Chao Phraya.
Bangkok is on the left side of the river and Thonburi on the right. The famous Mandarin Oriental Hotel is just to the right and forefront of the golden dome topped high rise where a portion of Hangover Part II was filmed in 2011. For some forty odd years, this part of Bangkok was our major focus.
Below is an image taken in 1987 from our window at the Oriental Hotel looking across the river as a "before" shot.
The same view was taken recently showing a massive shopping mall and Mandarin Oriental condominiums under construction.
In fact, this level of construction frenzy is common further along the river.
Accordingly, for the past five years, we have made our home in the old part of Bangkok, Dusit, where much of the Thai government and the Thai royalty reside. In this area, there are limits to building height given the royal buildings and it is definitely ground zero for the old charm and appeal of Siam which was the predecessor name for Thailand.
We have a view of the Krung Thon roadway bridge linking Krung Thep (Bangkok) and Thonburi together which was completed in 1958. A nearby similarly styled railway bridge was built in 1927 across the Chao Phraya. Our dear friend, Khun Suphapong, related a story about his mother and father walking near the railway bridge during the WW II Japanese occupation when a U.S. bomber flew low and attempted to bomb the bridge. They could see the whites of the eyes of the pilot but fortunately he missed. However, eventually the bombers were successful requiring the bridge to be rebuilt which was re-opened in 1953.
Somehow the setting below is a bit more inviting than the concrete jungle elsewhere. Our home in Thailand is the three lighted leftmost windows on the top floor of the white rear building offering a great view of the Chao Phraya and the Krung Thon bridge.
Moreover, if we need to go to the central business district, we prefer to avoid the massive Bangkok traffic and hop a boat down the river much like anyone would have done in the old days.
Therefore, we are happy to travel back in time to the historic past of Dusit and forego the skyscrapers in the central district.