Our pickup arrived sharp at 7 pm. Threaded our way through stifling rush hour Bangkok traffic to pick up a few more guests from neighbouring hotels. Onwards to the Si Phaya Express Boat Pier near The Sheraton Hotel. A pleasant 15 minute wait in the balmy evening watching the traffic on the river. Several photo opportunities. Met up with a few other dinner guests. Sharp at 8 pm our barge floated in and gently docked. What followed over the next 2 hrs can only be described as hedonistic! An amazing degustation menu of 20 odd items reflecting Thailands most exotic culinary traditions. Add to that the sights around the river. All washed down with a splendid Spanish Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon.
Thailand was mourning the passing away of the very popular Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama XI). That's why most of the Wats and Buildings on either side of the river were dark. Entertainment and gaiety was toned down. We missed the magnificient sight of shining Wat Arun. Indeed we missed it in the darkness. But the cuisine compensated for all that.
There are two options for dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya. Either the large glittering triple deck modern river cruisers or the slow small converted teakwood rice barges.
The modern boats carry 250 odd people over three decks, serve an excellent western buffet with some traditional Thai items. Large open bar. Lively entertainment, buzzing experience and party atmosphere. Prices vary between THB 1,100 to 1,800.
The converted wooden rice barges are an entirely different experience. Just one deck seating 30 to 40 people. Traditional Thai cuisine served course by course. Good wine list. A lady playing classical Thai music on the Khim (string intstrument like the Indian Santoor) with the occasional Thai clasical dance. Candle lit, romantic, wood and silk. Prices vary from THB 1,700 to 2,300.
Of the latter the Manohra Cruises and Loy Nava Cruises stood out from the TripAdvisor reports. We chose the Loy Nava because it was cheaper at THB 1,900, it had a successful history of 40 years, was stand-alone owner operated and TripAdvisor seemed to indicate the food was better. We were delighted with our choice.
We booked the cruise through our hotel concierge (we were staying at Centara Grand at CentralWorld. However online booking at the Loy Nava webiste is cheaper and easy .
Mains #1 (clockwise from bottom left): Marinated Sea Bass with Greens; Thai Jasmine Rice (smells a lot like Gobindabhog of Bengal but larger sticky grains); Crumbed Prawns; Another portion of Rice; Roast Duck with watercress and sweet tamarind sauce; Pork cakes with a palm sugar sauce.
Cruise route. About 1 hr to travel north during which dinner is served. The next 1 hr to return south. Time for dessert, cigar, liqueurs and photo ops.
We lost the hotel drop-off service. Made our way back to the hotel in a Tuktuk. Fast racy drive through late night Bangkok traffic.
As the last of the Mains was being polished off, we were approaching the magnificent Rama VIII bridge. Subdued lighting because of the National mourning. But still striking.
A bite of a respite from the incessant flow of food and an opportunity for a glimpse of traditional Thai dance.
The boat crosses the Rama VIII bridge and makes a U turn to head down river over the next one hour.
Mains #3: Scallops and Prawns with a spicy tangy sauce and salad greens.
< Our converted vintage teak-wood barge approaching to pick us up.
Welcomed aboard with Phuang Malai (traditional Thai garlands) made of Mogra (Arabian Jasmine), Crown Flower (Rak in Thai) and Rose buds >
Starters #2: Crab stick in a tangy lemon-ginger type of sauce; Chicken satay in peanut sauce.
Modern dinner cruise boats passing by. Several operators. Chao Phraya Princess Cruises is very popular with 4 boats.
Starters #1 (from left to right): Miang (one-bite-wrap) of Pomelo and roasted shredded Coconut on Betel Leaf; Quail egg in lime, sugar, fish sauce, cilantro and onion; Tofu with Capsicum jam and chilli (not hot but flavourful); Chicken fried in Pandanus Leaf with sweet Thai Plum sauce; Crab spring roll; Marinated Tuna with some sort of topping; Shrimps in some sort of sweet marinade and finally another Miang (Betel leaf with pomelo and coconut).
Soup: Spicy Tom Yam Goong soup with two large prawns.
Mains #2: Massaman curry of aged Australian Black Angus Beef.
Mains #4: Veggies and Chicken green curry.
Then they served dessert and liquers. Desserts are perhaps the weakest area of Thai cuisine. None of the items really excited. In another half an hour we were at Central Pier at Saphan Taksin.
< Tables were neatly marked and everyone settled down quickly.
We chose a Spanish Syrah (Shiraz) from the extensive wine list >
Cruising the Chao Phraya River with Dinner,
24 Oct 2016.
Gently cruising the placid Chao Phraya on a converted 60 year old rice barge, oozing history and character from its every teakwood beam. What comes along is a gargantuan Classic Thai dinner, impressive in its quality, quantity and variety.
Waiting at Si Phraya Express Boat Pier #3 near the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers for the Loy Nava cruise boat.
< She played classic Thai tunes on the Khim (Thai equivalent of our Santoor)
Polished teak, raw silk, candles, breeze off the river and subdued lights created a lovely warm ambience >