Discover the undiscovered by the River of Kings.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
Ella Henderson’s famous lyrics aside, you don’t have to go down to the river just to pray – aside from the world-renowned wats, sprawling 5-star properties, and usual riverside bars and haunts, we’ve put together a list of lesser-known activities and destinations by the Chao Phraya River that you should check out, especially now that Thailand’s marginally-cooler ‘winter’ weather has started.
The riverside area is easily accessible by MRT or certain lines of the BTS, or you can drive there if you’re willing to brave the traffic. However, when exploring, I’d suggest either walking on foot or hiring a tuk tuk or boat. Hidden Bangkok Tours (Instagram: @hiddenbangkoktours) offers tuk tuk tours, as well as one of the best boat tours in the city. For THB 2,500 (1-5 persons, + THB 500 for each additional person), you can have two hours of a leisurely tour of not only the Chao Phraya River, but also the many smaller, picturesque canals beside it. Unlike most longtail boats, the ones they provide are comfortable, you can hire an English-speaking guide for just THB 800, and you can even sit on the prow of the boat for a prime view of the river.
One route can take you through Bangkok Noi Canal, where you can pass by Wat Arun and one of the many Sacred Buddhas along the river; or opt for their Bangkok Yai Route to visit the Reclining Buddha, Wat Paknam Giant Buddha, and Artist’s Village. For the purposes of this guide, you can also tell them where on the riverside you want to visit, and they can probably drop you off there.
On the edge of Bangkok’s Chinatown, Talad Noi is Bangkok’s true old town, comprised of an ethnic Chinese community that settled on the banks of the river. Perfect for exploring on foot, it’s replete with vibrant and funky street art, hidden alleyways, and nooks brimming with second-hand car parts. Make sure to bring your phone along, not just so that the directionally challenged (like me) don’t get lost, but as around every corner is an imminently-Instagrammable spot.
How to get there:
MRT Hua Lamphong or the Orange Flag Ferry to the Marine Department Pier or Si Phraya Pier
Places to visit:
Café Mother Roaster
A converted 40-year-old house, it’s the café equivalent of a speakeasy as to get there, you have to make your way through a garage full of second-hand car parts and climb up a staircase only illuminated by neon lights; all part of the rustic experience. Once you walk in, the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee hits you, and you’re treated to a surprisingly expansive space with a mix of traditional furniture and contemporary comforts, with a coffee bar in pride of place that serves you brews from around the world, all depicted on a chalk board.
The name is a reference to the 70-year-old barista, Khun Pim, who has been brewing coffee for over 30 years. A wide variety of coffee preparations are available, all roasted to perfection, and the café has a strict no-single-use-plastic policy. Facebook: @motherroaster
So Heng Tai Mansion
Dating from the 1800s and supposedly one of the oldest private residences in the city, this mansion, which is actually comprised of four connected houses, is certainly worth a visit for its preserved, Hokkien-style architecture, called si tiam kim; vibrant red pillars; and faded wall frescoes from the Bangkok of yesteryear. The main reason to visit, however, is the diving school, held in the central courtyard of the complex. Next time you want to go diving in the islands, you can get your certification here with your friends as they hold diving classes for groups of up to 30. Facebook: @Sohengtai
Baan Rim Naam
An intimate, one-of-a-kind dining experience right by the riverside, book ahead to reserve dinner from Wednesdays to Sundays, as only 10 spots are available. Located in a converted warehouse that is purportedly one of the last remaining ones from the reign of King Rama II, it’s over 200 years old, and has plenty of antique furniture, vintage furnishings, and art for you to explore. There is indoor and outdoor seating available, and the menu consists of delicious and authentic Thai favourites.
Facebook: Baan Rim Naam, Taladnoi
Hong Sieng Kong
This 150-year-old compound sits on one rai of land, and is comprised of six restored heritage buildings, and is an art gallery-cum-café right on the river’s edge. Deceptively large, when you walk in, it looks just like a regular café, with delicious bites, desserts, and drinks – I’d recommend any of their refreshing smoothies. However, as you walk past the entrance, you enter a building of vaulted ceilings bursting with antiques. You can spend many an hour exploring everything they have on display, and you can also rent the space for private parties.
Beyond the art gallery, you’ll find plenty of seating by the river, with picturesque buildings and trees growing into them, à la Angkor Wat. You’ve probably seen this spot on your Instagram, as it makes for a picture-perfect spot. It also has live music on occasion, and is the site of many events. Facebook: @HongSiengKong
Priscilla Ice Cream
Tucked into an alleyway, Priscilla Ice Cream is truly a gem of a find, with a staggering range of sublime home-made ice cream flavours, all around THB 50. This charming, black-and-white eatery also has coffees, cookies, and is worth a visit while you explore the riverside. Facebook: Priscilla ice cream
The Kudi Chin community is a prime example of different cultures and traditions living in harmony. A melting pot of residents from the Thai, Mon, Chinese, Muslim and Portuguese cultures, many of the latter have descended from the Portuguese warriors who moved from Ayutthaya over two centuries ago, as the royal land was given to them by King Taksin the Great. Because of this, Portuguese influence is clearly seen in the architecture, in the Catholic churches and buildings that are scattered through the area, and in the cuisine, which is a unique mix of Thai and Portuguese elements.
How to get there:
From BTS Taksin Station, take the Chao Phraya express Boat to Saphan Phut, then cross the ferry from Atsadang Pierto the Wat Kanlayanamit Cross River Pier.
Where to visit:
Baan Kudichin Museum
If you’re historically-inclined, this museum, although small, is a must-visit. Housed in a three-storey home, the top three floors are dedicated to ancient Portuguese artefacts, photos, and historic evidence of the settlement in the area. There are also information sheets for you to read about the history of the area. The rooftop is also open for you to get a 360-degree view of this unique community. On the ground floor is a café where you can try a delicious local snack, called suppayak, among their lush gardens.
Facebook: Baan Kudichin Museum
Macaroni by Chris
Nestled in an enlove beside the iconic Santa Cruz Church, this restaurant is a hole-in-the-wall that is easy to miss. Run by its namesake Chris, who was a former pilot, the space is enclosed in intimate walls and trees, and is open on Tuesdays to Sundays, with space enough for 15-20 people. Their menu isn’t large, but they do serve Portuguese-inspired classics in generous portions. Facebook: Macaroni by Chris
You can’t visit Kudi Chin without trying their signature khanom farang, named after the Portuguese settlers whose cakes influenced this recipe, and named as one of Bangkok’s six ‘local wisdoms’ worth preserving. When you enter this bakery, don’t expect seating as instead you can watch the delicacy made in person, in a coal-heated barrel (don’t get too close; you’ll get a sunburn!) The bakery has been making this buttery treat for 150 years, so they’ve clearly perfected the art.
PAK KHLONG TALAT
Forget those overpriced blooms at Emporium or Bangkok’s many floral shops – go straight to the source at Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok’s biggest and freshest 24-hour flower market. Sprawling and chaotic, you’ll have to explore its many stalls to get the full experience – one side is dedicated to flower offerings in temples, while you can get roses, orchids, lilies, and other bouquet flowers on the other side. There is also an adjoining market with fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure to get there at dawn for the freshest blooms!
How to get there:
MRT Sanam Chai Station, or take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Memorial Bridge, Yodpiman, or Rajini
Where to visit:
Floral Café at Napasorn
The ultimate romantic coffee spot, this place is brimming with floral décor which changes according to the seasons, and has quirky elements such as a ceiling made of old coffee cups, sweeping pillars of dried sheaves of wheat, and old-style hanging chandeliers. They have an array of cakes and drinks on offer – I’d especially recommend the Rocher chocolate which was rich and indulgent in the best way.
Facebook: Floral Cafe’ at Napasorn
Farm to Table, Hide Out
If you’re looking for more sustainable dining, this is your best bet. A delightful building surrounded by verdant grounds, all their offerings are made with fresh and local ingredients that come straight from their farm in Chiang Rai. Not only are there are an array of local Thai dishes, but also intricate but refreshing drink concoctions, and homemade gelato that is a must-try. Facebook: @farmtotablehideout
Unique to other museums, this ‘discovery museum’ celebrates ‘Thainess’ in all forms, and is a truly interactive experience, with the option of an audio guide in six different languages, including English. An exploration that can last the whole day, it not only gives you the history of Thailand and the many settlers over the years, but also how ‘Thainess’ has evolved, from drinks in plastic bags, to yadom sticks and even all the iterations of the ‘Thai smile.’ There are plenty of puzzles and interactive elements that are sure to keep the whole family occupied, and there are also a range of events throughout the year. Facebook: @museumsiamfan
Not quite a hidden gem but still worth mentioning, as many don’t know that it also serves as a restaurant and bar, Sirimahannop is a repurposed triple-masted trade ship that has been converted and is now permanently docked at Asiatique The Riverfront. Owned by Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, the ship showcases olde-worlde treasures and photographs, and has a rich and storied history as the ship use to assist the old Thai navy.
Both the upper and lower decks are available for use, so it’s not only the perfect spot for small or large-scale events or themed parties for up to 300 people, but it can also be an intimate and unique dinner location – especially in the Captain’s Cabin, which you can book in advance. The menu consists of elevated preparations of heritage dishes, inspired by King Rama V, and the innovative cocktail menu uses local wood that is the star of each drink. Facebook: @Sirimahannop