Raising a glass to some of Bangkok’s best waterfront watering holes
In his crime novel, Breathing Water, the highly regarded author Timothy Hallinan mentions how his travel-scribing, crime-sleuthing protagonist’s favourite time of day in Bangkok is dusk, because the light changes four or five times over just a few hours. It’s an eye-opening observation. And if you want to test the veracity of that claim then find yourself a spot by the Chao Phraya River to drink in the sunset while you sip a sundowner.
One of the most magical spots is The Deck at Arun Residence, a boutique hotel tucked away in a little soi near Wat Pho (aka: The Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Its restaurant and bar is endowed with four different vantage points, spread over a like number of stories, to watch the day morph into the night as the sun melts into the horizon.
The hotel is situated right across the river from Wat Arun (aka: The Temple of Dawn), with the four ceramic-encrusted towers of this centuries-old temple providing a picturesque backdrop for photo ops aplenty. As the rainy season fizzles out this month you can be sure that there will still be a few electrical storms to show that the clouds have phosphorescent linings.
Apart from a decent selection of beer, cocktails and spirits, the best deal going is the free flow wine buffet, where you can down your fill of vino for three hours between 5pm and 10pm for B699, while nibbling on some bite-sized munchies like prawn spring rolls.
Another boutique property with a spellbinding vista of the Temple of Dawn is Riva Arun. The Thai family behind this property have a long affiliation with water transport, beginning with a small ferry business that blossomed into the Chao Phraya River Express. Head up to the terrace at the Above Riva restaurant and bar, which specializes in local takes on international dishes, and boasts a huge number of signature cocktails that meld Asian ingredients with Western liquors—which translates into mojitos with mango or lychee and a Tom Yam Martini that adds chili and lemon grass to the mix. The list of spirits, including Canadian Club Whiskey and Sierra Gold Tequila, is well suited to the more macho boozer and will put hair on your liver.
What’s more, the 25-room hotel has been designed with minimalist flair that spills over into the sleek design of the Above Riva, making for an ambience that perfectly complements the riverine views and liquor.
The Deck and Above Riva are both situated along the mid-section of Bangkok’s portion of this undulating waterway, so they’re both good starting points to launch your own little booze cruise (using local river transport). From these points you can head south towards the opulent hotels or north towards some of the more economical bars and restaurants.
Of the upscale venues, the most option-laden choice is the Riverside Terrace at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where a sundowner could be the prelude to the BBQ Buffet that starts at 6.30pm, before you move on to the famously classy—and recently remodelled—Bamboo Bar, where live jazz is the musical order of the night. Another swank riverview locale is Attitude, located on the 26th floor of the Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel. Situated quite far downriver (by the Rama III Bridge) the eye-popping views from here are unlike any others in the city—taking in the Asiatique waterfront shopping centre and Bangkok’s glittering skyline in the distance. And despite the name, there’s no “attitude” at this supremely chic but always cheerful rooftop venue.
Thanks to the river taxi, which runs until around 7pm, getting up and down the river is a breeze. From these speedy vantage points you can have a gander at some of the river’s backwaters—like the old markets and canals branching out from the Thonburi side—as well as a front row seat to some of the city’s grandest temples, simply by heading north past Wat Arun and the Memorial Bridge to the district of Banglamphu.
One of the most renowned riverside restaurants and sunset spots is the Babble and Rum Bar in the quaint boutique hotel of Riva Surya (the sister hotel of the aforementioned Riva Arun). Happy hour is truly joyous here, with a 2-for-1 special on wine, beer, and cocktails. And for those expats in search of a taste of home there are some Western comfort foods on the menu, like pizza and smoked salmon salad. From the outdoor terrace you can catch a glimpse of one of the river’s most cinematic sights at night—the Rama VIII Bridge, with its suspension framework and Thai-style pinnacle shining like a lighthouse.
By nightfall you can really appreciate the river’s nocturnal life, with ferries pottering back and forth between the opposite banks while the dinner cruise boats add neon flashes of Vegas-like razzmatazz to the scene.
Royal River Hotel
For a Thai-flavoured sundowner, this old relic of a hotel stands tall. Situated near the Krung Thon Bridge beside a main pier for the Chao Phraya River Express, the outdoor restaurant at the Royal River Hotel is not on the sunset side, but the view is unimpeded by any condos or office towers.
When the Thai customers outnumber the foreigners you know you’re in an authentic local foodie enclave—no watered-down tourist fare here—with plenty of seafood favourites like the steamed sea bass to add a little spice and ballast to your drinking time. Beer is the anchor of the drinks list, with B150 pints of Singha and Tiger draft during Happy Hour.
To wash away the stress of the workday, and the sweat of the commute, there’s nothing quite like sinking a few brews by the river. And if you’re not too tanked to notice, pay heed to what Timothy Hallinan wrote in Breathing Water about the shape-shifting clouds and living colours of Bangkok’s dusky skyline.
By Jim Algie