Enjoying a river cruise and dinner in Bangkok is one of the nicest experiences in the city – yet tourists usually don’t know that there are many companies which operate distinctly different cruises on different boats traveling in different routes and serving completely different target groups. There’s a big difference in terms of the boat class, the service level onboard and even the foods.
The following article reviews several boats and cruises of different classes so that you can make the right choice for you.
* On the picture to the left – Grand Pearl ship
Generally speaking, you can divide the different boats which offer the combination of river cruise and dining to 2 types: the ‘Thai’ boats, that are mostly unknown to tourists and thus unvisited by them, and the ‘tourist boats’ that are designed mostly for tourist crowds and are thus popular among them. There are different levels and qualities to these tourist boats and I will elaborate on that in this review.
The review contains 3 different boats which I have surveyed for you:
- A ‘Thai’ boat – where most guests are Thai people
- Chaopraya Princess – a low-class tourist boat
- Grand Pearl – a high class tourist boat
There are many companies which operate their boats for river cruising and dining purposes, and so I’ve chosen a sample which represents different operators.
There are huge differences between these– starting with boat structures (open/closed deck), through the quality and type of food being served (Thai food by usual order as in any restaurant, or an open buffet with both Thai and western food), different target groups and more.
Additionally, there’s a difference in the cruise route of ‘Thai’ (blue) vs. ‘tourist’ (red) boats as you can see on the map I’ve prepared for you. The circles mark the points of departure/return.
Now, let’s head to the comparison:
The ‘Thai’ boats are designed for local visitors, and function as floating restaurants serving Thai food. The fresh food is ordered from a menu and the made on-site.
The boat structure – allows for a fun experience of sitting in an entirely open-air deck and seeing Bangkok’s wonderful night views, while enjoying a pleasant breeze throughout the entire cruise.
The ‘Thai’ boat has a lower deck, which serves the visitors in case it rains and hosts disco dancing to those who are interested, but the main attraction is the huge open-air deck where all diners can sit and enjoy their meal.
The boat route – is almost twice as long as the ‘tourist’ boats’ route, so that you can see areas of Bangkok most visitors don’t reach. The route starts from Krungton bridge, passes under the lovely Rama 8 bridge and continues by all the famous sites such as the King’s Palace, Wat Arun and more; the route continues by Asiatique Night Market and then goes under Rama 3 and Krung Thep bridges; finally, the boat turns to the west to Rama 9 bridge and continues to the beautiful Kassikorn Bank building and then sets on its way back.
In conclusion: for those who like Thai food and don’t care for ‘fancy’ gestures and tourist displays such as white staff uniforms etc. – this is the most recommended boat, for a lovely evening cruise. Its only shortcoming is that a tourist will find it difficult to reach its starting point.
Chaopraya Princess – personally, I take my guests and friends on the ‘Thai’ boat cruises, but I have reviewed 2 tourist boats for this article, the first of them is Chaopraya Princess, which belongs to the lower level, cheaper tourist boats.
We were accompanied by friends and I can say from the very start – this wasn’t a very pleasant experience (to say the least). The cruise departs from River City pier but the feeling was similar to entering a third league soccer match – the place was packed full with Indians and Pakistani crowds who were waiting for 4 boats carrying the same title, and although the tables on board were numbered – the crowd kept pushing through as though people feared the boat would sail without them.
We waited until the crowds finished stampeding over each other, and then entered and sat by the numbered/marked table, where the second ‘experience’ awaited (which I certainly expected) – the minute the boat started to move and the buffet covers had been removed – the crowd ‘attacked’ the buffet as though people had never laid eyes on food before.
Once again, we waited for the calm after the storm, and I will say this – the reasonable food was immediately refilled by the staff so that we could get up and fill our plates.
The boat structure – presents its major downfall as there is no upper open deck, and the experience is far less exciting, as the cruise becomes redundant and is hardly felt.
The boat route – as the vast majority of tourist boats, the cruise begins from River City shopping center next to Sheraton Orchid hotel. The boat begins its path by sailing north to Rama 8 bridge, where is heads back, passes by the departure point and under Saphan Taksin bridge and turns back again towards River City.
In conclusion: the service and food are reasonable, yet Chaopraya Princess has major shortcomings – essentially the lack of open deck and type of crowds on board – which considerably harm the cruising experience.
For your convenience – I took a short clip of the boat
Grand Pearl – belongs to the ‘tourist’ boats, and popular among this target group, yet it’s far classier, more luxurious and comfortable than the Chaopraya Princess. The cruise is more expensive, and thus the visitors on board are entirely different – a graceful girl welcomed the passengers, who entered the boat peacefully, without shoving or pushing as they went on-board. Everything was calmer and far more pleasant.
The Grand Pearl also begins its cruise on River City pier, though it departs from its remote side, away from the Chaopraya Princess chaos and rush. All cruise operators depart around the same time – 19:30 (the cruise lasts some 2 hours). The free buffet is far richer and more enticing, the food variety and quality is particularly impressive, the service is exceptional and the inside décor is lovely. Additionally, throughout the cruise, we enjoyed a folklore show of Thai dances – when two performers danced their way through the decks.
The boat structure – the boat has 3 decks including an open upper deck (which I recommend asking for, in case you are booking a cruise with dinner on the boat).
The boat Route – same as the aforementioned (and similar to other tourist boats)
In Conclusion – those who are interested in an open buffet which includes western food as well as Thai food – this is the boat for you. Here you will also find live music and a kind, hospitable staff in squeaky-clean white uniform, which will welcome you on board and bid you farewell with a salute – a nice and harmful addition to a pleasant, though a bit more expensive experience, which is far more exciting than a low class boat. It is certainly worth every penny (or rather baht, for that matter…)
FYI: TipTop-Travel Private Family Adventure Tours includes the Grand Pearl river cruise and dinner in its Bangkok tour programs (Bangkok classic evening tour #2).
Here as well, I’ve prepared for you a short clip of the Grand Pearl boat which includes some of the cruise experience and even a family birthday party for a cute, 9-year-old Thai boy…Enjoy!
Dr. David – Thailand Expert
Thailand Travel Guide