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The River of Kings
The river cruise ship Anantara Song passes Wat Arun. Supplied picture

We sip cool cocktails on the sun deck of the river cruise ship Anantara Song as we sail along the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok to Thailand's ancient capital of Ayutthaya.

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The sky turns rosy hues that reflect off golden spires and we drift along a busy waterway still known as the River of Kings.

We boarded Anantara Song for this three-day cruise from the pier of Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort.

A one-time rice barge, Anantara Song has been sympathetically restored with four roomy air- conditioned staterooms below, so that guests may explore the river in style. Once aboard, we are handed refreshing icy-cold lemongrass-scented hand towels and a sweet-smelling garland of tropical flowers.

It is a balmy Bangkok day and humidity hangs over the river as we take a break from our floating home-away-from-home to explore the five-pronged towers of Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the gilded Royal Palace, and the Royal Barge Museum.

It is about 150km from Bangkok to Ayutthaya and back and along the way we will take in vignettes from traditional Thai life. Wooden homes perch over the river where lively children splash as weary vendors paddle by on long skinny boats that weave through the steady flow of cargo boats.

Sometimes we see saffron-robed monks in quiet contemplation by the river bank, where the silence is occasionally broken by the growl of long boats jetting past at seemingly hellish speeds. Nor can we escape riverbank factories that belch out smoke.

Yet for most of the time Anantara Song is an escape from Bangkok's heady mix of chaotic markets, crowded alleys, raunchy bars, luxe hotels and spicy restaurants.

For many visitors the Chao Phraya River is often the quickest way to navigate the city, with express ferries taking passengers from A to B and on to Z with riverside stops that are conveniently close to tourist hubs.

On Anantara Song we taste life at a much slower pace. Her original century-old solid teak hull is luxuriously furnished with lounge, bar and sun deck, and guest quarters below. Many traditional furnishings on board were handmade by craftspeople who still live along the river.

In no time we warm to the gentle pampering of our Thai crew.

Each night our candlelit dinner is time to indulge in tasty Thai food, from green bean salad with fresh lobster to spicy crab rolls, and the tastiest pad Thai nestling in an omelette basket.

By day we stop by riverside villages and busy markets, with an early morning visit to monks at Wat Bang Na, before a limousine transfer to Ayutthaya, now a UNESCO World Heritage site with soaring ruins of Thailand's opulent past, and hundreds of seated stone Buddhas, some ingloriously decapitated.

In the 16th century Ayutthaya was an important trade link between India and China with a population of 1 million, but after it was sacked by the Burmese, the capital moved south to the city now known as Bangkok.

Sailing back to the city we stop off at Bang Sai village where traditional silk handicrafts become precious souvenirs of our brief time on this captivating river of life.

Veronica Matheson was a guest of Anantara Cruises and Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort. bangkok-cruises.anantara.com