Sunset on the Chao Phraya

I always find the greatest spectacles in Bangkok by the Chao Phraya…the beating heart of Bangkok jam-packed with an endless parade of barges, ferries, cruise boats, cargo vessels, and even fishermen’s sampans. Sometimes on my weekends I take the Chao Phraya Express Boat upriver just to watch the unfolding panorama. Sunset is the perfect moment along the river banks, or for an even more memorable and unhurried evening, aboard the magical Mekhala Cruise, a restored rice barge capturing the subtle oculars and moods of life on the river at an unbeatable vantage point. The journey up river is also a journey through time, providing a fascinating insight into how life on the river has changed over time.

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Take to the water

The river may be central to the city but people forget that Bangkok also has dozens of tributary canals. When friends of mine come town, I love to organise a private long-tailed boat that can take us through the labyrinth of canals on the Thonburi side of the river where they get to see a more leisurely water-borne Bangkok. The canals are lined with houses, each with its own little boat. Green grocers and postmen come and go on the water, residents bathe and launder clothes at the foot of their front steps, and no one complains about traffic.

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There are also many little local bars and cafes along the water for those looking for something quaint and simple. One of my favourites is Samsara on the edge of China town, where a Singha beer and a selection of snacks is the perfect end to a day of exploration. The open terrace of the Eagle Nest bar atop the Sala Arun offers postcard views, as does the Rattanakosin roof bar.

 

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A question of timing

These days, with tourist numbers increasing everywhere, the key thing is not just knowing where to go, but when. No one wants to be swamped by crowds. Most tour groups for instance go to the Imperial Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the Royal Temple, in the morning so I head there after lunch, about 14.30, when you can have the place almost to yourself. At 17.00, make your way from the palace to the Reclining Buddha, and you will find this most spectacular of Bangkok’s monuments in an atmosphere of meditative stillness. It’s all about timing.

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A new shopping experience

Thais love to shop and shopping malls – vast, luxurious, super-modern – have become central to Bangkok life. But before those air-conditioned palaces, there was Chatuchak Weekend Market where over 15,000 stalls sell everything from live snakes to the latest in trendy street fashion. Once upon a time it was a workers’ market selling housewares and gravel. Now it’s a vast emporium of labyrinthine alleys where new designers and artists are able to get a start with stalls of fashion, retro wear, furniture and décor, traditional arts and crafts, ethnic wear and textiles. If you make it all the way there, don’t miss Or Tor Kor, a fresh market (that made it on CNN’s list of the world’s top 10 fresh markets!) serving high quality produce and a jaw-dropping selection of ready-to-eat foods.

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Just around the corner

My house is located in an old town, historic district known as Charoenkrung – named after the first road built in Bangkok. While the neighbourhood has long been known for antique emporiums – River City is nearby – the old riverside warehouses and shipping offices of Charoenkrung are being redeveloped with a more creative bohemian edge. During weekend excursions in my neighbourhood, I usually end up at Warehouse 30, an abandoned world war 2 warehouse transformed into an art hub, fit with a co-working space, small boutiques and cafes. There are also usually some activities, workshops and art exhibitions going on too. What I love about this part of town is the ease of accessibility to century-old recipes of Thai and Chinese dishes such as Prachak Pet Yang nearby the BTS Saphan Taksin- a fourth generation Cantonese family serves mouth-watering roasted duck in their 1909 shophouse… the experience really feels like a step back in time! In search of a leisurely Sunday brunch, I usually head to French Street, an outdoor French provencal comfort food serving the most beautifully arranged meals!

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