It’s our last night in Bangkok and we’re going to spend it aboard a floating restaurant as it cruises gently up and down the city’s arterial river, the Chao Phraya. The experience comes highly recommended. Far from being the garish, noisy river cruises aimed at tourists, this is the foodie cruise favoured by in-the-know locals.
Not that our taxi driver is one of them, of course. Earlier, no fewer than three hotel employees has pleaded, implored and cajoled him into using his taxi, and his taxi-driving skills, to taxi two people to their destination, in exchange for some money. I think he was happy with the money part. He was quite looking forward to that bit. It was the having to do something to earn it that seemed to be causing the protracted negotiations. But eventually he consents to doing a bit of driving and off we go. Inevitably there are a few dead ends and wrong turnings but at least we arrive on the same day and without having to stop and ask for directions.
We board the vessel and head straight for the upper deck because that’s where all the action is. Well, there are some people there. The lower deck is all toilets and storage and folded-up furniture. We choose a table – the boat’s only about half full – and order our food from well-thumbed menus. Thank god for pictures on laminated menus, I say.
It works like this. The food is cooked on dry land then raced up the gangplank to the waiting diners. When all the orders have been delivered and we’re all tucking in, the vessel is untied from the shore and we get underway.
The food is delicious. I had (note to self: ask Carol what I might have eaten here. Prob chicken but make it sound more adventurous) washed down with Singha beer. There’s a welcome breeze. The other passengers do indeed appear to be 90% Thai, and if they’re not frowning at their phones they’re setting about their meals with studied resolve. Nobody talks.
The hideous, clichéd touristy ships with their vulgar flashing lights and thumping Western pop music are in stark contrast to our refined and more sedate craft.
As for music, we have a DJ playing lively Thai tunes that are frequently interrupted by pre-recorded announcements telling us about the various landmarks we pass. Most of these seem to have been made possible thanks to the generosity of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, who’s easily Starbucks’ least popular customer.
After a while a gent from a table nearby gets up and takes the microphone. Oh good, we’re on a karaoke cruise. He trots out what is probably a Thai version of My Way before resuming his seat to applause from two people – a member of his family and me, causing the non-clapping members of his family to give me a funny look. Meanwhile, another of the brightly lit and appreciably faster tourist boats passes us by, this one featuring a live band and lots of young people whooping and dancing about.
Not to be outdone, our DJ grabs the mic to deliver a spirited rendition of Dancing Queen (‘…leetl beet rock museec…’) The other diners, in groups of four to 20 or so, continue to eat or look at their phones. There are few conversations taking place and nobody appears in the slightest bit interested in the constantly changing nighttime scenery. Mind you, neither are the passengers in the tourist boats. They’re too busy dancing.
And so ends our third and final night in Bangkok. Given another day or two I’d liked to have visited the red light district and some of its, er, interesting bars, and had a beer at the top of the ludicrous Lebua State Tower. But there’s a dress code and evidently shorts and sandals are not part of it.
Next up: Phuket, let’s hit the beach