New cruise offerings on the Chao Phraya provide the perfect excuse to revisit Thailand’s River of Kings.
The Chao Phraya River is one of Bangkok’s most underrated attractions, its curving banks lined with skyscrapers and gold-tipped temples all too often overlooked by even seasoned travelers. All the more reason to applaud the debut of a pair of bijoux cruise experiences, each designed to take full advantage of the Chao Phraya’s mix of modern and ancient riverine tableaux. The Banyan Tree Bangkok hotel’s new Saffron Cruise involves a sleek double-deck riverboat that raises anchor from either the Icon Siam or Asiatique piers and then plies its way along the watercourse to take in scenic highlights such as the Grand Palace and the ever-fabulous Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn. Conceived by Banyan Tree’s founder Ho Kwon Ping as a sybaritic floating restaurant and bar, the 38-meter-long Saffron can be booked for private charters to stage cooking classes, weddings, or even indulgent spa outings manned by staff from the hotel’s spa. The boat’s regular offerings, though, are one-hour sunset cruises or longer jaunts capped by a five-course dinner. Prefaced by a cocktail around the alfresco bar on the Moon Deck, the menus for the latter, conceived by Banyan Tree head chef Renu Homsombat, feature Thai standards such as tom yam soup and massaman curry.
Luxury cruise company Loy Pela Voyages, meanwhile, charts a more ambitious itinerary with the launch of two boats that sail at a serene clip from Bangkok north toward Ayutthaya over four leisurely days. Retrofitted from rice barges, the two-cabin Loy Dream and the four-cabin Loy River Song are dressed in a Thai-lite mood board of warm hued timber panels, geometric patterned textiles, Thai silk, and antique chests. Onboard butlers supervise diversions that range from morning yoga and indolent lounging on daybeds watching the bucolic scenery slide by, to slightly more strenuous guided excursions by foot, car, or longtail canoe to off-the-beaten-path temple ruins. The cruise’s marquee moment, though, is probably overnighting at the old summer palace of Bang Pa-in, just downriver from Ayutthaya. Gastronomic pleasures loom large, too, as chef Thitid Tassanakajohn of Bangkok’s Le Du restaurant parlays his Michelin laurels into a lavish Royal Thai menu, alongside a brunch of Canadian lobsters and caviar followed not long afterward by afternoon tea. Consider us duly smitten.
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2020 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Current Affairs”).