Easily the best way to travel between the Thai capital and former affluent capital of Ayutthaya, the Mekhala rice barges follow the journey of the kings. This trio of barges are well restored and can accommodate six couples on a night journey to either city at a leisurely pace away from crowded, dangerous highways.
The two-day cruise takes in charming riverside villages of yesteryear, as was the way in years gone by with the Chao Phraya River being the main source of transport in this region. The Mekhala boats feature sumptuous, cosy accommodation for two, with own air-conditioned cabin and bathroom.
The barges also feature meals, snacks and refreshments in an open-sided restaurant that is well appointed with comfy seating and tables and chairs. In addition, there is a large, open terrace atop perfect for relaxing in the sun with a drink in hand.
In Ayutthaya, the barges set passengers down at Bang Pa-in, a few kilometres to the south of the old town – transport is provided from here to the bus or train station. The Summer Palace in Bang Pa-in is an optional guided tour and worth the trip to Ayutthaya alone, with its European-style buildings, picturesque pond and charming Chinese garden.
The real draw in this area is, of course, UNESCO World Heritage Ayutthaya. A must-see town featuring old-style temples in a charming setting, Ayutthaya was the previous capital to Bangkok and retains many Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Khmer style ruins within its moated old town. Wat Mahathat is especially enchanting, noted for its tree-bound Buddha head and many spires and obelisks.
Ayutthaya is also home to the famous Elephant Kraal and large chedi spires dotted around the town, best seen on a tour. It is distinctly more laidback than Bangkok and it is possible to cycle the ruins, dine on a seafood river barge on the moat and stay in a charming guesthouse near the old town.
For those heading in the other direction, it is possible to take the Mekhala Rice Barge cruise from Ayutthaya to Bangkok, going by the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) and other noted Bangkok river-bound sights such as the Grand Palace.
While the Mekhala Rice Barges run regular trips between Bangkok and Ayutthaya on a scheduled basis, it is also possible to charter an entire vessel for a day cruise or dinner. This is ideal for group or family tours, as groups have the privacy of remaining within their own unit.