The Newest and Most Luxurious Ways to Cruise the Chao Phraya River

A fleet of luxury boats is plying Bangkok with some of the classiest cocktail hours in town and meals that’ll sate the most selective sailors. By Jeninne Lee-St. John

Apr 3, 2020

One of Bangkok’s iconic roof- bars has taken the plunge. You can now find a Moon Bar, the violet ellipse atop Banyan Tree hotel, down on the waters of the Chao Phraya River. It’s the centerpiece of the upper deck of the new Saffron Cruise, a high-end, drinking- and-dinner boat from the luxury-resort brand that’s one of a few vessels bringing the regal back to the River of Kings.

For years, nightlife on this waterway was dominated by neon-lit, noise-polluting party cruises rammed with the over-enthused throwing their hands in the air at barely 7 p.m. or soporific dinner cruises in whose too- brightly lit dining rooms you could spy patrons seeming to doze off. But this new generation of boats tosses a lifeline to those who want less cheesy, more chichi. All classy, aspirational and most importantly fun, with a priority on good food steering the ship, each offers a unique design and experience to suit your type of sea legs.

Courtesy of Banyan Tree

Late one recent amber afternoon, my mom and I boarded the Saffron Cruise for the full shebang, sundowners straight into dinner. Little things like pre-ordering your first drink (Khun Amp makes an on-point mojito) make the sailing smooth; a spacious layout with skybridges to give the illusion you’re floating makes it smart. The “five-course” menu is actually seven contemporarily plated dishes made with high-quality ingredients on varying degrees of the Thai spectrum: the sinus-cleansing Northern-style seafood hotpot with morning glory, Thai basil and glass noodles—high; the perfectly seared salmon fillet with pomelo—closer to fancy-fusion. By the time you get to the wok-fried beef tenderloin with chili you’re going to want to toss in the towel, but don’t, because it’s damn tender. (T+L Tip: The downstairs dining room has great picture windows, but if you prefer al fresco, make a special request to have your dinner served on the top deck. They can accommodate—wind and weather depending, of course.)

I admit to having been a bit daunted by the prospect of close to five hours on the same riverboat, but the time flew by. The course circles Bangkok’s iconic sandcastle temple Wat Arun (your first passing is right before sunset—hello, IG love) to the north and tourist-playground Asiatique to the southeast a few times, then on the last loop it heads up past the golden-gate Rama VIII bridge. There’s plenty of staff to take all the photographs you could ever need, and from the best angles, plus a professional aboard so they can print and present you a souvenir snap at disembarkation.

Courtesy of Banyan Tree

The circular route turns out to be a secret blessing, for once you’ve seen (and photographed) all the pretty things on shore the first time, for the rest of the cruise you can sit back and enjoy the breeze, the appropriately volumed pop music, and the company. And whether it was my chatty mom, or a big group of friends, with whom I took just the sunset sailing on another evening, that was the main point.

banyantree.com; 66-2/679-1200; daily sunset cruise including one drink Bt550; daily dinner cruise including one drink Bt3,200; private charters for weddings or other events are available, with custom activities such as spa treatments and cooking classes.

Three more floating feasts

Pick your pleasure among these culinarily curated riverboats in Bangkok.

PRUEK CRUISE

Courtesy of Pruek Cruise

This three-story teak yacht is a stunner, a fave of the hi-so set for its photogenic decks and private-charter menus by the chefs of Le Normandie (two Michelin stars), Saawaan (one star), and Lenzi Tuscan Kitchen (Michelin plate). Saturdays, its dinner cruise is open for public bookings, and that five-course fare is nothing to sniff at either. Have your locavore river-prawn salad al fresco or in air-con, after your welcome flute of Piper-Heidsieck at the marble bar.

pruekcruise.com; Saturday dinner cruises from Bt4,500 with free-flow cocktails.

SUPANNIGA CRUISE

Bangkok’s favorite Thai grandma-recipe restaurant has its own cruise sailing from its own pier, near Wat Po. The late-afternoon trip comes with fancy tea and treats, or a cocktail-and- savories pairing during the week, or, on weekends, a Taittinger taster. You can hop off for a prioritized ressie at Supanniga’s riverfront eatery at Tha Tien. But with a galley turning out specialties from Trat and Chantanburi, their cute rustic-chic boat beckons for dinner, too. From land or water, the view of Wat Arun is superb.

supannigacruise.com; sunset cruises from Bt700, dinner cruises with a glass of Taittinger Bt3,250.

MANOHRA CRUISE AND LOY PELA VOYAGES

Courtesy of Anantara

Anantara Riverside has a veritable fleet of boats to wine and dine you, all with new menus from Michelin- starred Le Du. Manohra Cruises aboard antique rice barges embark for dinner nightly; they’ve just added weekend lunch cruises, too. If one meal’s worth isn’t enough fresh air, the newly christened Loy River Song and sister ship Loy Dream sail the River of Kings to the ancient capital Ayutthaya. In addition to fine cuisine, your multi-night private charter comes with sunrise yoga and muay Thai on deck.

anantara.com; Manohra Cruises lunch from Bt1,800, dinner from Bt3,900.

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