ONE of the most popular excursions from Bangkok is the 50-kilometre boat trip from Bangkok to Ayuthaya, which was capital city of Siam from 1350 until 1767, when the Burmese army laid it to waste. The ruins of Ayuthaya are among the most photographed sights of Asia, and many visitors take advantage of the fast boat trips down the Chao Phraya River to wander round the remains of the centuries old palace and temple buildings. However, there is a more leisurely way to do the trip. A small fleet of old-fashioned converted rice barges, run by the Asia Voyages company, offer an opportunity to take in the sights along the river along the way a little more slowly and in a little more style. Accommodation on board the Mekhala barges comprises six separate air-conditioned cabins, complete with adjoining bathrooms, while, up above, the deck acts as public area with a bar that remains open throughout the voyage. Breakfast and dinner are also taken on deck. A journey down the Chao Phraya is also a journey into Thailand's past. As the Mekhala pulls away from Bangkok with its high-rise buildings and modern river traffic, including the numerous long-tail boats that zig-zag from bank to bank, the city skyline gives way to traditional huts and river-bank dwellings mounted on stilts that hardly differ from those of two centuries ago - except that now they may well be equipped with satellite television receivers. The Chao Phraya is one of the world's busier rivers and heavily laden barges riding so low in the water that they often seem in imminent danger of slipping under the surface, flow past in a seemingly unending stream. Most passengers pass the time sun bathing and watching the passing scene. The Mekhala makes two stops, one overnight at Wat Ka Tia and one at the 17th century royal palace at Bang Pa-In. The Wat Ka Tia stop includes a visit to the temple and an opportunity to make traditional offerings to the Buddhist monks who live there. Afterwards, following the sundown cocktail, dinner is prepared by the crew and served under the stars on the deck of the boat. The journey starts again at dawn and the Mekhala proceeds to Bang Pa-In, an architecturally chaotic combination of European, Chinese and traditional Thai-styled buildings constructed during the reigns of Kings Rama IV and V. After completing the Bang Pa-In tour, passengers transfer from the Mekhala to a long-tail boat for a 40-minute ride to a riverside restaurant, prior to a coach transfer to the Ayuthaya ruins. On completion of the tour, participants return by road to Bangkok.