Monday, 30 January 2012

Riverside Serenity in Bangkok

As the former deputy editor of Holidays with Kids magazine, I’m often asked for suggestions for family-friendly hotels in Bangkok – somewhere affordable, in a clean and safe area, close to transport and shops, and somewhere where the children can be kept occupied while the parents indulge in more adult pursuits (and by that I mean eating, dozing by the pool, sitting at the bar... you know.)

One property which I never hesitate to recommend – and where I’ve personally stayed on several occasions - is the old Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa, which offers the perfect combination of style, family-friendly amenities and a great, breezy location on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It’s probably the closest thing to a true ‘resort’ in Bangkok, a chill-out oasis in 11 acres of sprawling tropical gardens, seemingly worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet only a leisurely 20 minute boat ride from the excitement of the Big Smoke.

Now rebranded as the Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa (both Marriott and Anantara hotels in Thailand are owned by the same company, Minor), the hotel has been spruced up in typical Anantara style, with one wing already refurbished and a complete overhaul well underway. While there’s nothing wrong with the original Marriott rooms – they were always spacious, comfortable, and beautifully decorated in traditional Thai style – there’s no denying the new rooms have that ‘wow’ factor, with muted, contemporary Thai silk furnishings, backlit mirror panels, etched ancient Thai inscriptions and makha wooden floorboards. The sort of rooms you walk into and coo, “ooh, nice!” – particularly the Deluxe Premier Rooms with river views.

Lobby and atrium areas have also been redesigned, with two quirky new indoors gardens – one a Japanese zen design, the other a Polynesian tiki theme – lending a touch of the bizarre. There’s a swish new fitness centre and club lounge; while in the past six months two of its signature restaurants – Benihaha and Trader Vic’s – have been given subtle aesthetic upgrades without fixing what ain’t broke. And with such a wide choice of eateries – including top-notch Italian at the extremely yummy Brio – there’s really no need to venture off the property for a good feed.

Having said that, there’s a cute new innovation called Streetwise Guru, where guests can join a local expert in discovering the delights of street food, trawling the sois and markets of Bangkok in a tuk-tuk, secure in the knowledge that their guide has the best interest of their stomachs in mind. A great introduction to one of the city’s unsung delights, and a fantastic experience for first-time visitors to Thailand.

While Bangkok regulars might baulk at Anantara Riverside’s location on the Thonburi side of the river, I find its isolation one of its most appealing features. There’s always something mesmerising to stare at on the working river, while it always seems to be a couple of degrees cooler in the tropical garden, river thermals negating the choking smog from across the way. And if you do want to head into town for a meal or shopping, regular shuttles ferry guests across the river to Saphan Taksin pier and the Skytrain in just 20 minutes. Not ideal for a big night out on the town, perhaps, but for families, there’s no more pleasant way to travel.

And of course, the Anantara Riverside boasts one of the nicest pools in Bangkok – not the swishest or most modern, perhaps... but what a location, what a view, an oasis of serenity which screams “I’m on holidays!”


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