Asia Travel

Cruising Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River: Katie Roberts stops over in Thailand’s capital city

By: Katie Roberts

On what must be the cheapest sightseeing day out ever, our family of four spent a miniscule HK$25 cruising Bangkok’s wide, brown Chao Phraya River. We jumped from one long, noisy boat to the next, and the kids got a kick out of sitting up front next to the boat driver, or at times jostling with commuting locals for space down the back. There’s a pier every couple of hundred metres, and with no fixed plan we alighted at will: the Royal Palace, numerous wats, shopping centres and churches – there’s even a Chinese temple.

Whether the boat is express, or stops at every pier, depends on the flag: yellow, orange or yellow-and-green. We never quite worked out which was which, but did realize the need to alight, swiftly, from the stern of the boat. Through a series of whistles, the deckhand signals the driver to stop, back up or gun the engines and go. And they’re not shy to hurry passengers on or off with a nudge. Each pier is numbered, so t’s easy to find your way back.

Coincidentally, the founder of Riva Surya Hotel, where we stayed, is the third-generation female owner of oen of Bangkok’s thriving riverboat businesses. Her great-grandmother started it all, offering one-cent rides in a modest rowing boat to earn additional income for the family. Her mother in turn took over, and made the switch from muscles to engines. Today, the company operates 34 piers and over 20 boats that ply the city once known, flamboyantly, as the Venice of the East.

From the chaotic street outside, the 68-room hotel is an oasis of calm and sophistication. Whiel it’s a modern building, the décor evokes a bygone era with carved wooden shutters, lattice partitions and quirky decorative touches.

The balcony and large windows of our fifth-floor interconnecting rooms have a bird’s-eye view of the comings and goings on the river. The sublime beds, adorned with soft, cushioned mattress toppers and gorgeous bed linen definitely deserve a mention. Also provided are a clock radio with iPhone dock, safe, free Wi-Fi, cotton bathrobes and lots of bottled water. In keeping with the colonial-chic décor, the glass-walled bathroom has gorgeous Art Deco tiles, a stylish wooden vanity and an enormous rain shower.

Breakfast, lunch, poolside drinks and dinner can all be had at the Babble & Run café, either indoors or on the terrace, under a big shady tree overlooking the river and pool. We welcomed a cool beverage and splash in the pool after an afternoon walk through heaving backpacker-mecca Khao San Road and Ratanakosin Lane, a few blocks away.

We chose random rides on local boats, but there’s an organized cruise the floating market, Khlong Lat Mayom at Thonburi, which leaves from the pier outside the hotel. It’s an attractive alternative to the most famous floating market, Damnoen Saduak, which is known for its tour group mayhem. It’s not well known to tourists and we hear there are local foods, handicrafts and plenty of photo opportunities. Something to do on our next visit.