Don’t Miss the Boat
Apart from the recently well- publicized new Sunday Excursion service from Bangkok to Samut Prakarn and Muang Boran operated by Chao Phraya express company, there are now a glut of boat trips throughout the Kingdom to suit all tastes.
Nearer to home the popular Sunday excursions to Bang Pa In as well as the daily Ayutthaya trips with Pearl of Siam, River Sun Oriental Queen, are complemented by the overnight Manohra and Mekhala rice barge trips. The latter now operates three boats giving a wider choice and daily departures from the Montien Hotel or Ayutthaya. The Bang Pa In - Ayutthaya sector is actually achieved by longtail as the barges turn around at the Summer Palace dock. The all-in overnight trips cost around 6500 baht and include candlelit dinner and other meals with the overnight stop taken at Wat Kai Tia. Tours of Bang Pa In and Ayutthaya are included. There are two 6 cabin barges and one 9 cabin barge, all converted with modern cabin facilities without losing the antique feel of the craft. A leisurely trip along the river can work wonders for the Bangkok stress factor.
Two similar period boats operating out of Phuket are the June Bathra and the Suwan Macaha. The latter is an oriental junk, meticulously restored with 5 luxury cabins. Its 4 day/ 3 night itinerary from Phuket to Phi Phi has stop-offs in Phang Na and Krabi. With full onboard service and sports facilities including sea kayaks, fishing and snorkel gear, the liveaboard routine is a fine way to spend bht 12,000 per head in low season (May through October) Expect to pay up to 30% more in high season. With all meals included that's little more than 3 nights in a good hotel and there are all the added scenic extras of Phang na bay.
June Bathra offers a one day version of the Suwan Matra excursion with daily schooner trips to Phangna and especially the sea gypsy villages and grottos of the northern bay. With plenty of time for swimming and sunbathing after lunch the full day lasts from 0730 to 1800 at a rate of 2200-2500, depending on season.
There are 3 June Bahtra schooners and with a pirate-like feel to the vessels they are big enough for travellers not be overawed by the high season capacity of between 20 and 40 passengers.
Turning to more river based excursions, rather than open water, the up and coming Mekong tourist trade is headed by two quality boat trips namely the Luangsay trips and the Vat Phou jaunt.
The former offers both one and two night trips from Chiang Khong on the Chiangrai border with Laos downriver to Luang Prabang, the former Laotian capital. The extra night differential simply means staying longer at the Luangsuay Lodge, a purpose-built, 19 room, wooden travellers' lodge on the side of the river near to the village of Pakbeng. The caves at Pak Ou and at Tham Ting are included as stops and including all meals the rates start at around 7000 baht for the one night trip. The boats used on these trips are the perfect slow boats (to China?) with 36 seats, open air vista deck, toilet facilities, allowing passengers a casual appraisal of the upper stretches of the Mekong.
The lower stretches of the Mekong, in the 4000-islands region are served by the meticulously restored Vat Phou river boat.
Unlike the Langsuay cruise, the Vat Phou converted hull barge is basically a floating hotel with 12 air-conditioned state rooms with private bathrooms. Now its 7th year of operation since renovation, it is a similar slow boat experience, with open front deck plus an onboard restaurant combining Laotian and continental menus. The 4 day/ 3 night itinerary includes important Khmer sites such as Champassak, Oun Mong and Vat Phou itself. A road trip to the roaring river falls at Phapeng highlights day 2 of the trip before heading back up river. Both major stops include hill walks offering excellent views of the Mekong flood plain region. This exclusive upmarket product starts in the region of bht 17000 per head in the low season, not including the travel to Ubon Ratchathani and the transfer to Pakse on the Mekong.
We have by no means exhausted the boating possibilities with no mention of River Kwai trips, Kaeng Kracharn overnight excursions and the Lake excursions from Tak, as well as the ever popular Sea Canoe soft adventure itineraries and the newly accessible Mergui archipelago options. However, the aforementioned should be enough to whet the appetite of any committed landlubber.
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