Excerpts from the author’s weekend experience on the river
My first pleasant surprise of the weekend was the fact that the drive across the bridge from my Sathorn office to the hotel was just 15 minutes. Despite its proximity, crossing the river offers a distinct change of pace, and at the center of it all is the aptly named Millennium Hilton, which seems to embrace the 1000 or more year history of the unique waterway on which it sits.
Dinner was to be at the hotel’s PRIME steakhouse, which I’d read a lot about but had never experienced. Our decadent six-course meal started with a seafood tower of lobster tails, king crab, prawns, oysters, and tuna and salmon tartar. I must admit to being far from a seafood connoisseur, but the freshness of the prawns was palpable. A frisée, arugula and vine tomato salad was mixed with grilled tomino cheese and seasoned with lavender vinaigrette, while for soup we enjoyed a Phuket lobster bisque with pan-roasted lobster ragout. For mains, I chose the Miyazaki Japanese rib eye steak, while my partner opted for the duck confit (cooked to perfection). All this was topped off with a luscious chocolate soufflé. For us, the food was a clear hit, but equally so the impeccable service and thoughtfully paired wines.
On Saturday we rose with the sun, and ventured just across the river to meet Co van Kessel tours for their Chinatown ride and canal tour. A true pioneer in Bangkok’s bicycle tour scene, Co van Kessel has been operating for more than 30 years – and from the meticulous route planning and knowledgeable guides, it shows. The tour took us through Bangkok’s labyrinthine old town, which despite being encroached upon by five star hotels, has remained essentially untouched. After weaving our way through the edge of China Town’s Siang Kong junkyard, a spare parts market marked by the abandoned Fiat 600, and taking in the pungent smells of the fresh market and the colorful sights of the Sampeng gift market, we found ourselves back by the water. As we boarded a long-tail boat and motored along Bangkok’s vast network of canals, the meaning of the city’s oft-forgotten reputation as ‘Venice of the East’ became clear. Back on the bikes on the Thonburi side of the river, we traversed narrow boardwalks amongst lemongrass, banana and pandanus plantations before returning home.
As the sun began to set, we headed down to the hotel’s eforea spa for a 90 minute massage. On the advice of the therapist, we opted for the oriental-inspired eforea Signature Three-Part Recharging Massage. Billed as the ultimate de-stress treatment, it starts with warm bamboo rolled slowly and firmly over the back and legs, followed by a deep muscle massage, and a full-body relaxing massage. Apart from the massage itself, we loved the contemporary setting, where clean lines and natural touches replaced the cliché, overly-traditional Thai setting that hotel spas can tend towards.
If I didn’t know it already, I learned from this weekend just how much there is to discover (or re-discover) in our own backyard. Every Bangkok neighborhood holds its own secrets, but for locals and tourists used to frequenting the usual haunts of Sukhumvit, Silom and Sathorn, a hop, skip and jump to the Chao Phraya is well worth another look.