From Lebua, Bangkok, it is only ten minutes walk to Sathorn Pier. This is the main staging place for all the luxury hotels along the Chao Phraya River. Anyone staying at all but one of the ‘river’ hotels uses this pier to get to the Sathorn Taksin station of the Sky Train – the exception being Shangri-La Bangkok, right next to the station. Sky Train, by the way, has confounded all sceptics, those who said no-one would ever use it. It has become the main artery of getting around in the city, and if you have a meeting, your interlocutors will now be on time. The gal remembers meeting people two hours late… One tip, though. Trains’ windows are, from outside, opaque, covered with advertising. A local expat recommends waiting until the doors are open and looking inside to check the occupants.
He always gets in if there are young Thai ladies inside. Once he did this and just as the doors were about to close three young men from a certain sub-continent rushed in, putting all six hands, arising from six armpits that obviously badly needed washing, high up overhead to grasp the ceiling rails. My friend said that he and all those lovely local ladies all obviously swooned, and not in admiration. Back to the river. As well as the criss-crossing and diagonals of hotels – The Siam, Anantara Riverside, The Peninsula, Millennium Hilton, Royal Orchid Sheraton and Mandarin Oriental – taking their guests back and forth, there are constant upstream and downstream juggernauts, up to four enormous barges all pulled by one small tug.
And then there are pleasure craft and tourist boats, doing day and night cruises. There must also be some who want to explore as much as they can of the entire 231 miles of the Chao Phraya (‘Grand Duke’), from its source, at 82 ft above sea level at the confluence of the Nan and Ping rivers at Pak Nam Pho, in Nakhon Sawan province, right to its mouth, Samut Prakan Province in the Gulf of Thailand. The first engineering along it dates back to 1538, when King Chairachathirat ordered a three mile canal, Khlong Bangkok Noi, which cuts about nine miles from the route taken by the juggernauts.
Time to muse on other luxury hotels by famous rivers. In London, The Savoy always had best views of the Thames, and for the last four years The Corinthia has made the most of its proximity to the water, and its river transport. Now, as of this year, Shangri-La London at The Shard, in Europe’s tallest building, can claim the most extensive views of the Thames. From room 4903, I looked down across the river at H.M.S. Belfast, and what seems like the tiny-tiny Tower of London. From here, at ground level, run along the South Bank to Festival Hall, or take a river taxi to Greenwich and other tourist sites. Immediately below, the underground runs direct to Bond Street, for some of the city’s best retail stores.
When I sailed the glorious M.V. Zahra, managed by Oberoi, I viewed the Nile’s historic river-set hotels right from the water. In Luxor I once again saw the 1910-vintage Winter Palace. At the end of the week-long cruise, with its superb food, outstanding service and a Banyan Tree spa as well, there was the Old Cataract, now run by Sofitel – this beauty was built in 1899 for F.H. Cook, son of Thomas Cook’s founder, and it has just been redone by Sybille de Margerie (whose other designs include Mandarin Oriental Paris, now entitled to call itself a Palais).
What of other famous rivers and luxury hotels along their banks? In Europe, the Elbe has the Louis C. Jacob; in Geneva, the Rhône has (just) Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues and (certainly) Mandarin Oriental. In China, sailing along the Huangpu River takes you past, along The Bund alone, Indigo on The Bund, Waldorf Astoria, Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Fairmont Peace Hotel, and finally, Peninsula Shanghai – for real style, instead of taking a commercial cruise, turn to The Peninsula’s own superb yacht. Which brings this musing back, dear reader, to the capital of Thailand and The Peninsula Bangkok…