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The Chao Phraya River’s illustrious history goes back centuries. The famed River of Kings not only served as a royal route for transportation and sources of sustenance but still connects Bangkok with the rest of the country.

Over time, riverside attractions have continued to be heavily concentrated around Bangkok’s royal part of town, known as Rattanakosin, which is home to the world famous Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and even the notorious backpacker hub of Khao San Road. Yet, in recent years,  new developments have flowed downstream, creating distinct, vibrant districts beyond the historic hub that are drawing visitors further down the river.

WHERE TO START: THE SIAM

Exploring Bangkok’s riverside districts is best done from the comfort and convenience of an exquisite riverside hotel. Though slightly removed from the concentrated centre around the Grand Palace, The Siam (thesiamhotel.com), serves as a unique urban escape, while still providing convenient access to the rest of the riverside hotspots thanks to a complimentary boat shuttle available exclusively for hotel guests.

Designed by famed hotel architect Bill Bensley and operated by Thai hospitality magnates, the Sukosol family, The Siam often tops Asia accommodation lists. One step onto the property and it’s clear to see why. To employ an overused term, The Siam is stunning, but not by traditional luxury hotel standards. Offering just 39 suites and villas, the eclectic, foliage-filled property offers an intimate oasis in the city complete with an array of unparalleled amenities. Of course, there’s the expected world class spa and infinity pool overlooking the river but also unexpected facilities ranging from a speakeasy-esque lounge and Muay Thai boxing ring to a handsome vinyl room and even a private sak yant tattoo studio where guests can be blessed with a sacred Thai tattoo from a revered master.

Each suite and villa is individually designed with original turn of the century artworks and antiques, and is catered to by a personal butler available 24/7 to answer questions, make reservations and arrange transportation, such as the hotel’s private boat that departs every hour and a half from 10:00-22:00 hours cruising south to Sathorn Pier.

Considering Bangkok’s highly congested streets, journeying along the river not only offers a picturesque but efficient way to explore the riverside districts.

RATTANAKOSIN: GET OFF AT MAHARAT PIER

As Bangkok’s most regal neighbourhood, Rattanakosin is a must-see district for first-time travellers to Bangkok and always offers more to discover for those returning to the city. First things first, the trifecta of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho (home of a massive 46-metre-long Reclining Buddha and the birthplace of Thai massage) and Wat Arun (or Temple of the Dawn) directly across the river all must be experienced at least once.

On the road heading north from the northwest corner of the palace grounds, you’ll find the intriguing Talat Phra Chan, one of Bangkok’s biggest amulet markets, where you can marvel at rows upon rows of Thai Buddhist amulets, prayer beads, spiritual relics, herbal balms and more. Additionally, within walking distance just south of Wat Pho, you’ll also find Museum Siam (museumsiam.org) for a crash course in Thai art, history and culture. Continuing further south, you’ll soon come across the bustling Pak Khlong Talat, the city’s largest flower and produce market. Open 24 hours a day, the sprawling market is especially busy late in the evening or early in the morning as deliveries from all corners of the country arrive and businesses make their purchases for the day.

For dining, the district is riddled with tourist-oriented eateries that leave much to be desired. Fortunately, a few hidden hotspots offer just the type of Thai atmosphere and food you would want in the old city. Tucked away on a small, half soi leading to the river, Err (errbkk.com) features rustic Thai fare plated with old school style from the owners of Michelin-starred Bo.Lan. Nearby and right on the river, Supanniga Eating Room (supannigaeatingroom.com) offers a unique blend of eastern Thai cuisine mixed with southern Thai ingredients based off the owner’s grandmother’s recipes while its Supanniga Cruise (supannigacruise.com) runs daily early evening cocktail cruises as well as dinner cruises serving delicious dishes from the restaurant paired with Thai flavour-forward cocktails and Champagne Taittinger.

YAOWARAT (CHINATOWN): GET OFF AT RATCHAWONGSE PIER

Named for the neighbourhood’s main road, the Yaowarat district, or Chinatown, is a feast for the senses. Tuk tuks, taxis and buses all vie for space on the streets as delivery motorbikes piled high with boxes weave through the stalled traffic to streetside vendors. The scent of freshly caught seafood, Peking duck and incense wafts through the air as people jostle on the sidewalks to shop for unidentifiable herbs, gold necklaces and joss paper.

While Chinatown can be overwhelming, that’s part of its charm. Make your way to Wat Traimit, home to a 5.5-tonne, 700-year-old gold Buddha statue, then saunter back to Yaowarat Road to take in the sights and snack on roasted chestnuts or fresh pomegranate juice along the way. The atmospheric Soi Plaeng Nam is worth a wander with its historic shophouses and open-air restaurants. If you go in the evening, however, head to the corner of Yaowarat Road and Soi Phadung Dao, to reach the bustling T & K Seafood Restaurant (facebook.com/tkseafood). Here you’ll find packed communal tables of diners digging into plates of steamed sea bass, fried oyster omelettes and more. Wat Mangkon Kalawat is also an intriguing stop as the district's most revered temple, particularly during holidays when it becomes an explosion of colour, people and offerings.

THONBURI: GET OFF AT NES PIER OR ICONSIAM PIER

On the east side of the river, Thonburi is a primarily residential district with a royal history. After the kingdom of Ayutthaya was sacked in the late 1700s, Thonburi briefly served as Siam’s new capital before King Rama I moved the royal centre to current-day Rattanakosin. Today, travellers head across the river for cool eateries and massive malls. From NES Pier, head straight to The Jam Factory (facebook.com/TheJamFactoryBangkok), a trendy mixed-use space combining a homeware store, gallery, bookshop and architect studio. The connected restaurant, The Never Ending Summer (facebook.com/ TheNeverEndingSummer) serves elevated Thai dishes in an urban, converted warehouse setting. For the shopaholics, ICONSIAM (iconsiam.com) is Bangkok’s latest shopping Mecca and entertainment centre right on the water with its own pier and waterfront promenade. Opened at the end of 2018, the megamall encompasses two glamorous shopping complexes housing the main retail and entertainment venues and a luxury wing.

CHAROENKRUNG: GET OFF AT RIVERCITY OR MANDARIN ORIENTAL PIER

Situated along the oldest road in Bangkok, Thanon Charoenkrung, the Charoenkrung neighbourhood has quickly become one of the city’s coolest hangouts known for blending retro charm with contemporary art, culture and cuisine. Go late in the afternoon to catch the current exhibits and the Thailand Culture and Design Centre (TCDC) (tcdc.or.th) located in a grand old post office then wander the nearby sois in search of hidden street art. Stop in at Warehouse 30 (facebook.com/TheWarehouse30) for even more art, design and workshops, before making it to a dinner reservation at one of the city’s most innovative restaurants, 80/20 (8020bkk.com). This industrial-chic fine dining restaurant serves up modern fusion cuisine without any fussiness. For something more classic, the Mandarin Oriental’s Michelin-starred French restaurant, Le Normandie (mandarinoriental.com/bangkok), is always a treat. After dinner, take to the streets to seek out Charoenkrung’s hip bars that are small in size yet big on personality like the Thai culture-focused Tep Bar (facebook.com/TEPBARBKK), Asia Today (facebook.com/asiatodaybar), which uses rare local ingredients to infuse creative concoctions, or the iconic Maggie Choo’s (maggiechoos.com) jazz club by famed Bangkok-based bar designer, Ashley Sutton.

ASIATIQUE & MORE: GET OFF AT SATHORN PIER

Sathorn Pier serves as gateway to the rest of the city. Hop on the Skytrain at the connected Saphan Taksin BTS station to go into the city centre, hail a taxi to the nearby Sathorn and Silom districts, or take the complimentary ASIATIQUE (asiatiquethailand. com) shuttle boat leaving from the pier every 10-15 minutes from 16:00-23:30 hours. With 1,500 shops, 40 restaurants, and a selection of unique entertainment options and attractions, including Bangkok’s version of the London Eye, Joe Louis Puppet Theatre featuring traditional Thai puppetry and Calypso Bangkok ladyboy cabaret, one could easily spend an entire evening at Asiatique. Afterwards, jaunt off to a rooftop bar to end the night or head back to the hotel to rest up for another big day in the city.

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