The Thai word for river is “mae nam” which translates as mother water, and on old European maps of the region the Chao Praya is called just that. It was during the Rattanakosin Period that it took its current appellation, which means general or lord.
The Chao Praya is 372 kilometers, or 231 miles, long. The Ping and Nan Rivers in the north are its source, and it flows south into the Gulf of Thailand. The river is an important waterway for transporting teak, rice, and other commodities, and huge barges heading upstream and downstream are a common sight.
A boat ride on the Chao Praya is a must. It’s a great way to travel in Bangkok, with cool breezes and none of the traffic jams. The riverboat taxis are mass transit for everybody, and there are long-tail boats for hire which go into the canals, called khlongs in Thai. Either way, a trip down the river is an excellent way to see the temples and local life, with an eclectic mix of towering condos, colonial architecture, and old teak houses.