When visiting a city as large and diversified as Bangkok, Thailand, there’s no better location—or level of understated luxury—than that offered by Chakrabongse Villas. This seven room boutique hotel provides elegance and indulgence on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in the heart of the Old City.
This riverfront hotel is within walking distance of some of the city’s top sites: the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, the National Museum, and more. Wat Arun, another famous landmark, is directly across the river. The hotel features traditional Thai architecture and furnishings and beautifully landscaped grounds. It’s family-owned, with Royal lineage and my stay surpasses my anticipation.
A Home with a Rich History
Chakrabongse House was built in 1908 by HRH Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, son of King Chulalongkorn (known as Rama V, one of Thailand’s most revered kings) and Queen Saovabha. The house passed to his son, Prince Chula Chakrabongse, and eventually down to Prince Chula’s daughter, Narisa Chakrabongse. Ms. Chakrabongse maintains the main house as her Thai residence, but added onto the property to create her boutique hotel. She is also an author and activist and, since 1990, the publisher of River Books, dedicated to publishing books on Southeast Asian culture, arts, history, and food. The hotel allows her to share the beauty of the property and, at her hotel restaurant, her heritage of Royal Thai cuisine.
A Property Fit for Royalty…and the Rest of Us
Each of the seven available rooms is unique, and my Thai-style suite, the Riverside Villa, is stately and beautiful. Enter through sliding glass doors into the wood-paneled sitting room with comfortable rattan furniture and floor-to-ceiling windows. The separate office is furnished with a beautiful wood desk and chair.
My bedroom has a comfortable king-sized bed fitted with luxury bedding, covered in a multicolored silk bedspread. The bedroom offers plenty of room to spread out, a large flat screen television, DVD player, and an I Pod docking station.
Off the bedroom is a walk-in closet and kitchenette, room safe, a well-stocked mini-bar and fridge, and complimentary tea, coffee and bottled water. Throughout the apartment, table lamps and spot lighting create ambiance.
The bathroom, oh-my-yes, the bathroom… sports a glistening round tub the size of a hot tub and a separate shower with both hand-held and rain shower heads. Most of the room is tiled in marble.
Outdoors, the tiled verandah sits just over the water. There is a teak day bed I want to take home. I am just across the river from Wat Arun, built in 1767, truly one of the city’s most beautiful sites, as well as the Naval Fort and Wat Kalaya (aka Kalayanamit). Wat Prayoon, its gleaming white chedi is just to the south, and beyond that, the downtown city skylights. At night, each of these sites is illuminated and outright magical.
The Chao Phraya is a busy, working river that spans 231 miles, and I make a point of seeing my little portion of it at all hours. At Chakrabongse Villas, I am connected to the river, an intimate part of the comings and goings of river buses, dinner cruise boats, private yachts, long-tails, fishing boats, and tugboats and barges.
The hotel features three other suites; the Chinese Suite, the Thai House, the Garden Suite, as well as three small “B&B rooms.” Each are individually decorated and offer their own charms. Rooms not on the river have close riverfront viewpoints from several points of the property, and all guests have access to the cozy library and the pool, which is ideal for a dip. Just passing it as I come and go is relaxing.
Lush Grounds and Breakfast
The tropical grounds are impeccably kept. There’s an archway of white orchids, the blooms fresh and brilliantly white. Lush banana trees, palms, grasses, and flowers grow alongside stone, tile and brick walkways. There are pots of water lilies and floating marigold blooms. The scents are amazing, even more so after a brief rain. At night, the grounds are lit softly by lotus flower fixtures and lanterns handing from the trees.
At Chakrabongse, breakfast is served at the time you request the day before, with your choice of Western or Thai selections. I walk outdoors to a private little breakfast area just off my room. The table is beautifully set and the pot of French press coffee is fragrant, strong, and hot.
I enjoy a hearty and flavorful bowl of Thai rice porridge and condiments, and a fresh fruit plate. (On different days, I order it with pork, chicken and shrimp.) Breakfast is restful with my views of the river and gardens before I head out for busy days of site seeing.
Exploring the Old City
I explore the Old City, also known as Rattanakosin district. I love the energy on the streets, the daily life vignettes, the storefronts and the street kiosks. I’m charmed by the smiles and eye contact, and the polite courtesies everyone grants to one another.
I visit Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha, and enjoy a massage at the School of Thai Massage. I wander the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, the Queen’s Textile Museum, and the National Museum. I take the Chakrabongse Sightseeing Walk using their booklet that is a travel guide. I allow myself to get lost in the neighborhood streets and alleys and marvel at colorful Flower Market Pak Klong Talet. All of these sites are within walking distance of my hotel.
Enjoying the Canals on Chakrabongse’s Long-tail Boat
I also take a khlong (canal) tour on the hotel’s own long-tail boat. Bangkok has been called the “Venice of the East.” Water travel used to be the main mode of transportation around the city and it’s still popular.
There are many ways to enjoy being on the water and what could be better than taking the river launch just steps away from your own room? I join a couple of other hotel guests, a lovely Australian couple, and we venture out for a two-hour ride. We cross the Chao Phraya and head straight into the Khlong Bangkok Yai, one of the city’s main canals.
We pass family homes; some big, some small, some new, some old, some well-kept, some in need of repair, but no two alike. We streak by spirit houses, garden fruit trees, and flowers in landscaped backyards. We make a stop at an orchid farm and enjoy the floral beauty.
We pass canal-front snack shops and restaurants, and several schools, shrines, wats and monasteries. We spot herons and egrets, and four-foot long monitors (big lizards). As we motor by, people are cooking and hanging laundry. They smile and wave as we pass. This is yet another aspect of life inBangkok, one not visible from the street. I’m grateful for the hotel’s recommendation and for the chance to see this.
Riverfront Dining on Royal Thai Cuisine
All this sightseeing has me famished and I’m grateful the hotel offers guests and other Bangkok visitors and residents a beautiful riverfront spot to savor traditional Royal Thai cuisine. The restaurant appears on many of the city’s “Best of” lists and my flavorful meal there explains why (watch for my full review of this restaurant).
Chef Worawat Thonglor (also known as Chef Wat) creates a daily prix fixe menu using ingredients he purchases that morning at the local outdoor markets just blocks from the hotel. Many of the recipes he uses originate from the Royal family.
Tranquil and Graceful Beauty
Throughout my stay, Ms. Atom and her staff take care of every detail. Within these walls, the pace is tranquil, the beauty graceful, and the smiles genuine. Readers who stay here will consider Chakrabongse Villas a lucky find that makes their trip to Bangkok all the more unforgettable.—Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro, NW Wine, Brews, & Spirits Editor
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