When it comes to riverside hotels in Bangkok, the Chao Phraya may be lined with many of the big-names—Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La. But down near the historic part of town where crown property has kept many hotels from being able to build, the Riva Surya sits as a boutique gem with a charming family history to its name.
The Look: A wood-accented manse facing the road and a glassy box when viewed from the river, the hotel’s two-sided exterior is the first tip-off that inside, it’s a creative melange of styles dubbed “Tropical Colonial.” Carved wood, shuttered windows, patterned textiles, and walls inlaid with scripted Thai verses of royal procession chants all meld together for an atmospheric, stylish re-imagining of an old Thai river manor.
The Rooms: Dark woods, creams, and beiges meld into a soothing palate for the 68 rooms here, split almost equally between road-facing Urban Rooms and river-facing standard, deluxe, and premium Riva Rooms. Far from sterile in design, modern silver standing lamps and bathrooms walled by glass etched with the silhouettes of pillars are cool pairings with rocking chairs and woven-textile backboards, and the Riva Rooms come with generously sized balconies with deep outdoor couches that have a way of making you linger for longer than planned. And, for those looking for extra-spacious and private digs, what was once a mezzanine bar has been converted in the Premium River Terrace room, which is available only upon request.
The Surrounds: If it wasn’t for the fact that the hotel was once a private home and is still in the hands of the original family of owners, it probably wouldn’t exist. Located in the heart of the historic Rattanakosin district, the Riva Surya is surrounded by crown property, making it one of the few privately owned establishments in the area. Its neighbors consist of old government buildings and shophouses that would be exorbitantly costly to rent and renovate, and high-rises are restricted from being built in the area. Needless to say, the hotel has a monopoly on its surrounds, which consist of a panoply of cafes, restaurants, and are walking distance from major attractions such as the Grand Palace, the National Gallery of Thailand, and the Bangkok National Museum.
The Appeal: Aside from its location, the Riva Surya has a strong grasp on everything a river hotel should do well. Its riverside pool is generously sized with plenty of lounge chairs circled around; massages are available poolside; the fitness center is outfitted with top-notch equipment; it’s spacious meeting room is lined with windows on three sides and overlooks the river. The main restaurant, Babble & Rum, offers Thai cuisine in addition to a variety of Western dishes—everything from slow-cooked ribs in a dark rum barbecue sauce to foie gras risotto, fried shrimp cakes to sea bass steamed with chili and lemon. The cocktail menu was also designed with thought; there’s a vodka Tom Yum drink made with chili and lemongrass, and the Rivajito uses Thailand’s signature Mekhong spirit in place of rum.
For Those in the Know: Steps away is a dock where the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat stops every 15-or-so minutes, which is the easiest way to hop to all the major sites along the river—Wat Pho, Wat Arun, China Town, and the flower market among many others. This boat company is also owned by the hotel’s owners, who have been in Bangkok’s boating industry for some 100 years.
Phra Athit, Chana Songkhram, Phra Nakhon; 66-2/633-5000; Riva Surya; doubles from US$220