“Take me to the river And wash me down Won’t you cleanse my soul Put my feet on the ground” The Reverend Al Green never sang about Bangkok’s shrieking shopping malls, pavement potholes or nightmare traffic jams, but he was bang on about the redemptive power of the river. For decades, the city affectionately known as Bangkrackers was a place you left with a hangover (no wonder they used to sell oxygen at the airport). But now that’s all changing, thanks to its emerging riverside area, Chao Praya. It is the city’s most fascinating scenic area; by day, the river offers up a constantly changing scene of whizzing water buses, rice barges, tugboats and klong taxis. By night, as the sun dips behind Wat Arun and Thonburi, it becomes bejeweled in twinkling lights. Bangkok resident, Paul Ehrlich, Editor-at-Large of Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, has watched the Chao Praya move slowly upmarket over the last five years. It began, he says, in 1999 when the new Skytrain opened with a stop on the riverfront. “These days a Chao Phraya residence has become choice property for locals and foreigners,” says Ehrlich. “Renovated colonial buildings and knockout high-priced condos are spawning new restaurants, art galleries, jazzy shops, outdoor cafes.” So now that it’s possible to spend an entire weekend on the river without venturing into the jungle madness of the city center, where are the best places to visit? The River Feeds Book yourself onto an immaculately restored antique barge for an intimate dinner cruise. Two of the best are The Manohra (+66 02 476-0022), and Tahsaneeya Nava (+66 02 437-4932). Both offer a romantic experience, with great Thai food and stunning nighttime views as you drift past the famous Wat Arun, the Grand Palace, The Royal Barge boat-house, and numerous other temples. For a great buffet of Western and Thai food try Flow Restaurant, one of five great restaurants at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok. Chic, casual and bang on the river, it has an open kitchen and seating that spills outdoors, lit at night by huge flaming torches. If it’s local Thai flavor you want there are a number of well-established riverside venues, for example Ton Po Riverside Thai Restaurant (Phra Athit Rd. Daily 11am-10pm, +66 02 280-0452). Specialties include “Steamed Snakehead Fish with Curry Paste” and “Spicy Gurami Soup with Tamarind Leaves.” The River Gives Take a river taxi and explore the canals (Klongs). Arrange to stop off at one of the several tin hut shack coffee shops opposite Wat Arun at sunset to enjoy one of the finest sights in Bangkok. Klong boats can be picked up at Rivercity or Saphan Taksin Pier. You should pay around USD$27 for a couple of hours. Also check out the River City Shopping Complex next to the Sheraton Hotel. With over 100 antique stores and galleries, it’s a great one-stop shop and all the stores can arrange shipping back to Hong Kong. Venture off the beaten track and stop by the Siriraj Hospital and tour its macabre Medical Museum. It contains a collection of Siamese twins in formaldehyde and the world’s only example of the human nervous system in a glass case (Open Mon-Sat, 9am-4pm). The River Heals Bangkok has gone spa crazy over the last few years and the latecomers on the riverside like the Peninsula Bangkok and the Millenium Hilton are the ones stealing the show. The Spa at the Millennium Hilton is set in a stunning pavilion with 12 treatment rooms built around a pair of ancient Banyan trees. Its signature treatment is the Equilibrium Therapy, which includes a black sesame scrub, Thai herbal pack and wild mint massage. But the Peninsula Spa is the big boy on the block. Their purpose-built “Thai-colonial style” spa houses 18 treatment rooms, including two “spa suites” with Jacuzzis, rain showers and balconies overlooking the Chao Phraya. A great idea is to go for a morning “Spa Journey” which includes a healthy lunch beside their three-tiered pool. (+66 02 861-2888) The River Protects The hottest riverside hotel is the sculptural The Millennium Hilton Bangkok (+66 02 442-2000). With its funky open lobby, the sleek hotel celebrates the river like no other. River views are a given and the “island paradise” infinity pool gives the impression you are about to dive into the river itself. Next door is the Thonburi river ferry – a thriving market hub that includes an outdoor food centre with Thai classics going for pennies, as well as stalls selling disposable clothes and, no doubt, a pirated Al Green CD.