Friday 26 May 2017

Thai-m traveller: Bangkok

 

The floating market boats are still piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens - located right on the boat
The floating market boats are still piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens - located right on the boat
John Masterson relished the luxuries of modern Bangkok at the Avani Riverside Hotel

John Masterson

Bangkok is a long way to go for the weekend, but it was a long weekend. It was extreme for a city break... extremely good that is. And I knew I was going to the new Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel - I had looked at the website. And the pictures didn't lie.

I have a friend who likes to eat well and sleep cheap. I like to eat and sleep well, and travel cheap. The Aeroflot route via Heathrow and Moscow served me well. Travelling overnight I slept soundly but my heart sank at Bangkok airport when I saw the lengthy immigration queue. Fortunately, it was followed by the best queue management I have ever seen. In no time I was being greeted by the immaculately dressed Avani driver in a red silk jacket and being driven along a four-lane highway for the 40 minute journey to the hotel.

My first impression is that Bangkok is a big city. There were so many cranes it reminded me of driving from the airport in Orlando. There were golf courses too. And sunflowers and bananas growing in small-holdings at the side of road, and lots of men and women on Honda 50s - not all of them wearing helmets.

Reception in the Avani Riverside is on the 11th floor. It is hard to check in while your mouth drools at the view of the Chao Phraya river and city backdrop. My corner suite had even better views. The mat in the lift tells you what day of the week it is - something I could do with at home.

Rather than sleep I headed straight to the infinity pool on the 26th floor. This is slightly unsettling for someone like me who does not have a great head for heights. Here I am with one of the best views in the world and I am wondering if I will swim over the edge. I do a few laps and keep away from the long drop. A middle-aged German couple do their exercises in synchrony. Trying not to laugh out loud cures my vertigo. I thanked the Goddess of Self-Consciousness for always keeping an eye on me and preventing this type of silliness. Calories shed, the couple emerged from the pool to reveal multi-coloured Speedos.

I deserved a reward - a margarita in this paradise costs about eight euro - and a Caesar salad because my body is a temple. But it is far from the only temple in this wonderful city.

It was time for some shut-eye before heading back to the 26th floor to Attitude, a restaurant which by this time has a night-time view. After a beautiful meal of tuna and a glass of chardonnay I was ready for the town.

I hopped on one of the courtesy ferries that are shared with the Avani's sister hotel, the Anantara Riverside, and made the five-minute trip up and across the river to the Asiatique market with its easy-to-spot ferris wheel. Asiatique offers a multitude of stalls where, among other things, you can have a caricature done, put your feet in a fish tank and let them nibble, have a massage as passers-by watch, or shop.

I bought a Montblanc rip-off watch for about €20. There were stalls with leather goods, shirts (I bought a suitably loud one), toys, carvings of elephants, great T-shirts, everything. Some money spent, I headed for my room where I found freshly delivered orchids and the TV set to play beautifully relaxing music.

I breakfasted like a king each day on the 11th floor from the buffet. It was so good I almost got over my lifetime hatred of buffets. I feasted on omelettes, cold meats and fish, green chicken curry and rice. I could not resist the maki sushi rolls. It is always a pleasure to eat with one's fingers.

At ground level I watched the preparations for elephant polo. Yes. There's a lot of prep as each elephant comes with its own mahout and family.

The Avani Riverside has been open for just a year and is the last hotel downstream of the city. It is designed with a philosophy of modernity and simplicity, and is suitable for people on the move. It is almost paperless and soon will be completely. It prides itself on 'honest' food... traceable, local and you can watch it being cooked. You can help yourself as you work or relax on the wide range of interesting furniture. The hotel also has its own hydroponic garden.

I needed to see the city upriver, and the Avani Riverside arranged a guide to show me as much of Bangkok as one could see in a day. Enter Diamond Thongserm. You will find him on Facebook pictured with hordes of smiling tourists. He is also known as the Streetwise Guru, works with the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort, and has got to be the best in the business. We crammed a lot into our day. Diamond speaks good English and knows everyone.

We went by boat up to Saphan Taksin which is a good central starting point. There I fed the fish at the Wat (temple) Yannawa. You just throw in a lump of bread and watch the feeding frenzy of well-fed fish. Pigeons try to get in on the act, and there were signs everywhere telling you not to feed them.

I saw a fair few temples that day and in fairness found them all fascinating. All were filled with trainee monks who looked to be still in their teens. There was always a respectful air. Many people were leaving gifts behind and at one a clothes line included pegs for money.

Mostly we walked, though occasionally Diamond would stop a tuk tuk to save some time. I love these machines which are a mixture of car and motorbike. But Bangkok is very walkable and we regularly stopped for street food. I drank from coconuts, ate various fruits, enjoyed pumpkin pie and eventually shouted stop.

I had it in mind to get a suit made - but I settled for two silk shirts instead. I was measured at Sawasdee Tailoring and the completed items, which fitted perfectly, were delivered to my room in time for dinner. They came with two kimonos which I bought in a foolish "they will be handy presents" frame of mind

On our way to the flower market we stopped at another 'feeding' temple. At Wat Prayoon schoolchildren were offering lumps of cheese on pointed sticks to snapping turtles. One young woman sat quietly working on a very good watercolour of the scene.

Then we headed into the canals, which are a whole other world. These form the oldest part of the city (much of modern Bangkok dates from the 1860s when King Mongkut built what is still known as the New Road). Long narrow boats with huge outboard engines line up at the lock and then all head in when the gates lift. Once there were floating markets here but today just the odd boat sidles up and offers touristy things. The canals have homes, businesses and of course, temples. We stopped at Wat Rachaorasaram, a Royal Temple, which was splendidly renovated by King Rama III's son and houses a magnificent reclining Buddha complete with seven pillows.

On my final night I had dinner outdoors at the Anantara where each night they put on the enjoyable Monkey King musical. To my horror I discovered the Thais have their version of Good Friday - Buddhist Makha Bucha Day happens in February and it extends to hotels. They have a wonderful ginger beer which I was quite happy with, and I had a superb dinner and by now had rewritten all my prejudices about buffets.

Throughout the Anantara you see beautiful model elephants, some quite large, painted by artists from all over the world. These are all for sale as part of a conservation fundraiser called Elephant Parade.

I headed for my room which will form the template if I ever get to design an apartment. The orchids are on my pillow, the soothing music is playing on the TV. But to hell with bed. I am off to the 26th floor for one last Chang beer and margarita. Never let it be said I don't have Attitude.

I stopped over in London for a night on my way back and stayed in the beautiful and wonderfully central Dukes Hotel in St James's Place, about a five minute walk from Piccadilly Circus.

All in all this was a long weekend that will take some beating.

Getting there

Overlooking Bangkok’s bustling Chao Phraya river, the Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel is well situated. Shuttle boat services to the BTS skytrain at the Saphan Taksin boat pier make connecting to the city’s commercial, shopping and entertainment districts a breeze. The hotel has 248 guest rooms including 23 suites.

Nightly rates at Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel start from €156.84 per night for 2 adults sharing an Avani River View Room, inclusive of daily breakfast, taxes and services. The best time to travel to Bangkok is between October and February when the temperatures and humidity are not as high, making it favourable for touring around this City of Angels

See avanihotels.com/riverside-bangkok

See dukeshotel.com

TAKE TWO: Top attractions

Elephants need help

There are currently fewer than 50,000 Asian elephants left. If we don’t do something soon, the species will be extinct in 30 years.

See elephantparade.com

Reclining Buddha

With his right hand supporting his head, Buddha is resting. This represents Buddha during his last illness. He is tranquil and has achieved absolute detachment before entering Nirvana.

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