The marine and spiritual heart of Bangkok lies at the Chao Phraya River. Here the 372 kilometre river snakes through Bangkok ending at the Gulf of Thailand and cruising along the river at night is one of the most popular ways to see Bangkok. The wind lifts the hair and cools the skin while monuments, temples, palaces and notable addresses present themselves at every turn.
I board the restored antique rice board on the Anantara Hotel's Manohra cruises that starts at the Anantara Riverside hotel's private pier. A cold towel is handed out, a merciful treat at the beginning on this hot, sticky evening but once the elegant barge starts slicing through the water, the cooling breeze takes over.
Our first taste is brought to us in a dark wooden box. Opened up, it holds shot glasses of ginger, dried shrimp, chillies, lime, toasted coconut peanuts and a gorgeous sweet tamarind sauce that I want to make immediately. The idea is to take a wild betel leaf and fill it with your choice of filling and eat the whole thing. The sensation is sweet, sour, salty and spicy-the classic Thai flavour pillars with an appealing crunch to it. I could imagine eating quite a few of these!
The mixed entrees are a mix of the familiar and the new. The familiar are beef satay skewers and fabulously aromatic and juicy fish cakes redolent in kaffir lime and lemongrass. The new ares yam plah dook Foo, a crispy, crunchy catfish and green mango salad served in a little leaf basket which ends up being my favourite. There are also fat scallops topped with the moreish sweet tamarind sauce.
The cruise's most famous stop is the Wat Arun temple, lit up in golden splendour.
Tom Kha Gai
Our soup course comes next and it's a chicken coconut soup served in a young coconut. It's filled with chicken and herbs and a delicious coconut broth.
Time for the mains which come out all at once share style. The beef curry is nothing short of divine and it's hard to stop at one scoop. Strong with star anise and sweet, the beef melts in the mouth and I end up going back for three serves of this.
Choo Chee Pla
The Choo Chee Pla is made up of snake head fish, sea bass and mackerel rolled with young galangal stem topped with choo chee curry and kaffir lime leaves. It's a wonderful combination of textures and the sweet coconut based curry sauce and I particularly like the hit of kaffir lime at the end.
Hoy shell phad nam prik pow
The Hokkaido scallops are stir fried with sweet basil and chilli are nice but to be honest I really had eyes for the two dishes above.
Phad Noh Mai Farang Hed Hom
The last dish was vegetables, stir fried asparagus and shiitake mushrooms in oyster sauce which were also excellent. Jasmine and organic brown rice were served with the mains.
Kaew Niew Muaung
By now my folly eating so much of the beef curry meant that I barely had room for dessert. Kaew Niew Muaung is Thailand's most famous dessert: mango and sticky rice. The fruit in Thailand is wonderfully sweet and the sweet fleshed mango contrasts well with the slightly sweet white glutinous rice. Ka Nom Mor Kheang is a slightly firm egg custard pudding which sat alongside a tropical fruit salad. One bite into the pineapple and I remember eating endless skewers of it on my last trip to Bangkok over 10 years ago.
The boat stops at Sathorn pier and I alight, the memories of past visits here swirling about in my head.
So tell me Dear Reader, can food evoke memories and transport you to another time?
NQN dined as a guest of Anantara Hotels
Manohra River Cruises