Anantara Dream’s is a funny old offering: some of the most expensive river-cruising accommodation in South East Asia, but on what you usually think of as one of the least picturesque rivers in the region.
Although the first day is spent sliding past some of Bangkok’s more industrial areas, I didn’t find that to be a bad thing, as it was absolutely fascinating to how the Chao Phraya is such an important communications route for Thailand, and to watch a bit of everyday life along the way.
I also quickly realised that we would never have got round to visiting all the sites we did on this tour if we’d just done them as day trips from Bangkok. The likes of the Royal Barge Museum and the Bang Pa In summer palace are a lot more interesting than they sound, and although we visited more than six temples and monasteries in just 72 hours, I was only just on the verge of temple-fatigue.
Anantara Dream is a two-cabined 55ft converted teak rice-barge that you charter exclusively for a 3 day/2 night cruise from Bangkok to the erstwhile capital of Ayutthaya. Along the way you visit a number of temples, markets and palaces, eat on board, and sleep tied up along the side of the river. All the while you are looked after by the three-man crew – a host, helmsman and chef.
Fifty-five feet is plenty big enough for four guests and three crew to live on very happily. The whole boat is wood floored and wood pannelled. Up top there is an open viewing deck that leads into a large lounge area with a barrelled roof. The eves come well down so that even if it rains you won’t be soaked, and when it’s very sunny you are still shaded when sitting on the sofas placed around the sides.
The two cabins downstairs are similarly sized with big, comfortable beds, large windows, traditional artifacts and furnishings, air-con, dimmer switches etc, and then downstairs again, in the bowels of the boat, you have the ensuite bathroom.
The cabins were really delightful, and certainly everything that I expected they should be.
I have to admit though, that when I first got on board I was a little bit peeved at the slight shabbiness of the upper deck. The pictures on the website gallery are true to life, but up close some of the wood is quite scuffed and there are stains on the sofa cushions. Both these issues are so easily fixed that I was quite annoyed that the Anantara hadn’t bothered to. When you are paying upwards of US$1,300 per person for a two night trip, I think you can expect the cushions to be clean!
However, that is literally the only complaint I have. Everything else about the trip was superb.
Johnny was our host, Witiya was our Chef and Milky was our helmsman and these three guys were just brilliant.
Johnny was an absolute fountain of information about Thai history and culture, and was super-willing to answer all of our questions about Thailand in general, ghost stories in particular and himself as well.
He took us to be blessed by the head of a monastery that we moored beside on the first night, and had organised gifts for us to offer in thanks for letting us stay there. He showed us how to fold lotus lilies, which we then bound together and took to offer at another temple later in the day. He also helped us haggle for goods in Koh Kred’s market, and took us on walks and around some of the lesser temples we visited.
All of this could sound very contrived, especially as I have an almost pathological dislike of guided tours, but because we were such a tiny group, and Johnny’s enthusiasm to show us his culture so sincere, we really had an awesome time, and even Mr H finally got into his flower arranging, although in a rather competitive way…
Finally there was Milky our captain who was always ready to answer our questions about what we could see along the river banks and about the river traffic itself. After hours of driving up or downstream he would then help Wity prepare dinner.
If you want to experience Thai service at its best it would be difficult to beat this team.
Having a personal chef for three days cooking some really, really good Thai food was a complete treat. We had to ask for less food by the end of the first day as we were overwhelmed by the quantities of dishes coming out of the galley. It was our guests’ first time to Thailand and I couldn’t have been more happy with the food that they were introduced to. It was traditional Thai fare, and a little easy on the chili, but the variety, quality and care taken to produce it was impressive. Our guests loved it.
Wity gave us a cookery lesson too on the final day, so we made a nahm prik and a prawn and green mango salad with him that formed part of our lunch.
Anne was our expert guide for all the main sites we visited like Wat Arun, the royal barge museum, Wat Panancherng, Ayutthaya and the Bang Pa In summer palace. She was hilarious. Not only knowledgable and engaging but had a really cheeky sense of humour that made our time with her a lot of fun. These on-shore tours were organised by Exotissimo and they did a great job. I can highly recommend using them across SE Asia, (we used them again for a day trip out of Hanoi later in the trip).
It takes all of the first day to really get out of Bangkok’s cityscape, and there is a good deal of industry and housing along the riverbanks. It’s not exactly picturesque, but it’s fascinating to see the day-to-day life on the river. From mid-morning on the second day you are out in the countryside so you feel much more in the rural rhythm of Thailand.
The trip was definitely worth the money. To begin with, when I got on board I did wondered what we had paid so much money for as I’d been totally focussed on how opulent I was expecting the vessel to be and it wasn’t quite there. But by the time lunch was served and we’d already visited a couple of sites I was completely won over because our hosts were fantastic and the food brilliant.
Floating around on a boat is a lovely way to spend a few days around Bangkok. As our guests were visiting three countries and four cities in two weeks I didn’t want to subject them to very long road trips or more internal flights when we were in Thailand. I needed to find something close to Bangkok to while away a few days.
I also knew it was going to be ridiculously hot in April, and so to be able to see so much at low speed and low impact, with ice-cold towels permanently on-hand, this tour was perfect for us.
Approx US5,500 (THB170,000). This exclusive charter includes two nights accommodation for four people. about one zillion meals and three days of guided tours and activities including entrance fees. Soft drinks were also included in the price, so we only had to pay for our wine or beer with dinner as we had brought our own Hendricks for some top quality sundowners.
Find out all about the tour at www.bangkok-cruises.anantara.com