All Quiet on Bangkok’s Riverfront

A new hotel—The Avani Riverside Hotel—and other venues are sculpting a neighbourhood that offers a slower, more local experience of the city.  
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The view from the infinity pool on the 26th floor of Avani Riverside Hotel shows the two contrasting—glitzy and quiet—parts of the city on either side of the Chao Phraya River. Photo Courtesy: Avani Riverside Hotel Bangkok

When I’ve thought of my visits to Bangkok, I’ve thought of noise, and people. Shrill calls from food-cart vendors, muted murmurs from groups of people discussing routes, a constant buzz, and the dazzling lights of hoardings. Then there’s people going somewhere in a hurry, people eating, people shopping, people doing things—lots of people, lots of things.

But this time was different. A new neighbourhood coming up on the quieter, southwest side of the Chao Phraya River, gave me the chance to experience Bangkok like a local. Sukhumvit, Chatuchak, Jim Thompson’s House, the glitzy malls and all those things that Bangkok is most famous for are across the river—and that’s the whole idea. With the new Avani Riverside Hotel, the Riverside Plaza Mall and the Anantara Riverside Resort, the option of staying in the Riverside neighbourhood and of diving deep into the other side of Bangkok has become more viable.

Of the two hotels, Avani is more affordable and trendier in both design and services, making it more attractive to younger tourists. Anantara is for people who like resort holidays with long lazy meals and relaxing days at the spa. At Avani Riverside, the Panorama River View rooms (on the 21st floor and above) offer sweeping views of the city framing the murky, silvery waters of the Chao Phraya River. And, there were no skyscrapers blocking my view.

Part of the Thonburi district, which is mostly devoid of grand structures and high-rises (even though it was the capital of Bangkok from 1768–1782), the Riverside neighbourhood is one of the few areas where the sky is unfettered. When I posted a photo of this view online, no one could guess where I was. For a traveller, few things are more thrilling than discovering a new side to a popular destination, and I was suitably chuffed.

Dining options at Avani vary from quick bites at the Pantry (right) to Thai and Continental specialities at Attitude (left), which also affords views of Riverside. Photo Courtesy: Avani Riverside Hotel Bangkok

Dining options at Avani vary from quick bites at the Pantry (right) to Thai and Continental specialities at Attitude (left), which also affords views of Riverside. Photo Courtesy: Avani Riverside Hotel Bangkok

The best view of the canals criss-crossing Thonburi is from the 26th floor that houses the hotel’s rooftop infinity pool, and the bar and restaurant, Attitude, which dishes out modern cuisine, tasty cocktails and more of the panoramic Riverside views.

At Riverside, life is navigated by boat and in 20 minutes free boat shuttles take visitors to Sathorn MRT station on the other side of the river, and from there a world of shopping and bars is a five-minute train ride away in downtown Bangkok. I opted instead, to spend my time exploring Riverside and the best way to experience the old Bangkok way of life is by taking a canal tour.

In Thonburi, low-slung flat long-tail teak boats are used to navigate the few narrow canals that still exist. Canals, or khlongs, were first built in Bangkok in the 16th century to transport goods quicker, and by the 18th century, a vast network developed that people began using to navigate the city. This lasted until the 19th century, which also gave the city the title of ‘Venice of the East’. Eventually, most of the canals were filled in to accommodate the city’s exploding population.

The adventurous canal tour offers a peek into the many personalities of Bangkok—floating markets, old-style wooden houses, the Wat Arun or the Temple of the Sun, and everyday sights like people washing clothes and utensils in the water of the canals. The water is dirty, often smelly, and the weather’s always humid, however, for those looking to see a different side to Bangkok, the three-hour tour will be time well spent.

ESSENTIALS Avani Riverside Hotel is about 45 km/40 min from Suvarnabhumi Airport by road (www.minorhotels.com).

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    Kalyani Prasher is a freelance writer and editor based in Delhi. She was executive editor of India Today's travel magazine till end-2013 when she decided to get out of the office routine for a few months to see what having a life feels like. She never went back.

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