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Why the Chao Phraya River is now the coolest place to be in Bangkok

Want the best of the Thai capital? Head to its watery artery, where new openings are making it the hottest spot in town.

Published 10 Nov 2019, 07:00 GMT
Diners on a terrace beside Chao Phraya River
New hotels, arts hubs and sparkling shopping malls are transforming the Thai capital's river into the hottest spot in town.
Photograph by Getty Images

With floating markets and glittering city views, the Chao Phraya River has always been one of Bangkok’s must-sees, but until recently it hasn’t been entirely... well, cool. However, that’s now changing quicker than you can say ‘hi-so’, the nickname for the city’s stylish set flocking to the neighbourhood. It’s been years in the making; the riparian revolution began with the arrival of a handful of galleries and arts hubs — such as The Jam Factory, a creative outpost that opened in 2013 — but hot new restaurants including Babble and Rum and Someday Everyday are also throwing open their doors on the leafy banks. There’s a gamut of gorgeous new hotels, too, including the towering Avani+ Riverside Bangkok Hotel and the new Four Seasons, both of which are set to open in 2020. There’s also a new look for the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok which has just emerged butterfly-like from a glamorous metamorphosis. And, thanks to a multimillion-pound renovation of the hotel’s River Wing, guests can follow a long, lazy dinner with late-night drinks and a side of jazz at The Bamboo Bar. It’s time to head to the river.

Bed down
Fancy a room with a view? Opening in 2020 on the east bank of the river, the Capella Bangkok’s 101 suites and villas come with enormous windows, balconies and hypnotic views of life on the water. Wellness options include mixed martial arts with one of Thailand’s top woman fighters, and ‘tok sen’, a traditional Thai massage that uses a teak hammer and chisel to whack away tension. 

Tuck in
The shopping scene has also been given a boost thanks to the swish, upscale Iconsiam, which opened last year. If you’re put off by the thought of hanging out in a shopping mall, then don’t be — locals come here in their droves to soak up the atmosphere and indulge in a little retail therapy. There are floating markets, zany Vegas-style fountain shows and smart cafes on the upstairs deck with fine views of the river. 

Set sail
While the river region is undergoing great changes, the atmospheric Thonburi klongs (canals) remain reassuringly traditional. Hire a long-tail boat for a one-hour spin (around £25 for a private boat) and drift past watery fields of morning glory, time-worn stilted houses, massive monitor lizards sunbathing on front lawns and gold-topped temples hidden between banyan trees. 

Published in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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