River Side Hotel Dinner Cruise – Bangkok, THA

River Side Hotel Dinner Cruise
195 Ratwiti Road
Bangkok, Thailand
+66 (0) 2883 1588

Just about everyone who’s read a book in their lifetime, knows the age old expression “when in Rome (do as the Romans do)“.  But who knew the Thai’s would be coming along for the ride… literally.

The Chao Phraya River, though not an impressive sight during the day, becomes this magical waterway lined with some of the most incredible ancient structures that are lit up with lights, thus providing a breathtaking view that differs from what you can see from land during daylight.

Led by a Finn of all people, along with folks from Indonesia, the UAE, China and other nations, I found myself in a large group being taken for an unexpected dinner cruise aboard a vessel docked at the River Side Bangkok Hotel.  The taxi ride to this older part of the city was a bit doggy, but I must admit that it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get me to go.  After many trips to Thailand, I was running out of new things to do, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, as well as get a free meal to boot!

As I alluded to in my opening, I truly expected this to be a complete tourist trap, but low and behold, the entire ship was packed with Thai couples, families and friends out for a weekday dinner.  No other foreigners, aside from our group, to be seen for the entire voyage.

Before our ship set sail, we discovered this uncovered beer garden near the dock.  With at least an hour before we were to board, this made for a great opportunity to get going with some refreshments, and nothing beats a few cold bottles of Singha after a long day of networking.

I could imagine that this is a popular spot a little later in the evening (we were only there around 5pm) for those who aren’t interested in paying for the trip down the river, but would just prefer to have their drinks and food in the comforts of this wide open space.  If I was working nearby, I could see this as being an almost daily stopover on my way home…

The River Side Luxury Cruise is a journey aboard a massive boat.  It easily holds a few hundred people, complete with two decks (the top uncovered), and a large dance hall on the main floor with live entertainment provided by the in-ship band.  With numerous servers floating about catering to all the diners, it makes for a chaotic environment which is coupled by the gentle swaying of the ship as it gets into the open waters of the river.  Thankfully, our waitresses quickly delivered the many bottles of beer, wine and spirits that our group requested.

Despite the pleasant start to our journey, there was a part of me that was still hesitant about the food.  Would it be any good?  After all, it is aboard a ship, which probably had to have a restricted cooking space and the limitations that go along with it in terms of putting out great food.

Now I haven’t posted all of the possible photos of the food that arrived, but our first dish of a vegetable Thai curry was a solid opening volley.  A rich, creamy texture with the requisite spicy kick that pervades the food of this culture, I was really pleased with whoever ordered this for our group. The battle over the steamed rice quickly ensued and we had to order more.

Of all of the places that I’ve visited around the world, Thailand has always struck out one of the fantastic places for fresh seafood.  Even aboard a river patrolling ship this held true, as these giant prawns were amazing!  With the delicate slightly salty scent that suggested they were recently plucked from the sea, each bite into the juicy meat was met with a satisfying grin.  They were also very easy to separate from the shell, so this made scarfing them down all the more pleasant.  I can’t even remember how many plates of this were ordered, but I surely raised my cholesterol level as a result of one too many.

The simplicity of a fresh steamed white fish always makes for a great meal in my books.  Coupled with the taste enhancing ingredients like fine sliced onions, mushrooms, ginger, cilantro, lemongrass and the distinct access of fish sauce, I can honestly say this was as good as I’ve had in other places across Thailand’s coastal regions.  The fall-of-the-bone meat was oh so satisfying.

Leaving the food angle, and as described earlier, there was some in-ship entertainment, comprised of a six person band that went through various songs, Thai and English.  They really only got going later in the night after all the dining was done, and people were really getting into it to my surprise.  The dance floor in front of the stage was packed with locals bouncing around to the beats.  Quite the bit of entertainment in and of itself, just watching the crowds rather than the band.

Lastly, I thought I’d close this review by showing you the “views” from the ship itself, that I took from one of the outer walkways.  Some of the most impressive wats in Thailand are along this river, including my personal favorite, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).  I’d gone during the day earlier in the week and climbed up to the highest deck that you can.

As a result of my four hour journey on this dinner cruise ship, I learned that I should never let any preconcieved thoughts affect my expectations…especially when they involve food.  This was a great lesson in having an open mind.

Nam Sing Restaurant – Bangkok, THA

[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]

Nam Sing Restaurant
39-47 Soi Texas, Th Phadung Dao
Yaowarat, Bangkok, Thailand

Yaowarat. YAO-wa-rat. I just liked saying that word when I first heard it. Apparently it means Chinatown in Bangkok. Reminded me of when I first heard of the website Yahoo. Just made me want to repeat it again and again…

Although I’ve been to Bangkok several times over the past decade, on my most recent visit I made my way down to the Chinatown district for the very first time. Amid all the eating options, from street side vendors to enclosed restaurants lining the many side streets in the area, one could get lost in deciding just where to have a meal as every option seemed full of interesting possibilities.

We stolled along the streets, consumed by the powerful and delicious smells of cooking food coming from various carts and open air kitchens that we passed by. We then came to what I think they had been searching for all along, the Nam Sing Restaurant. Just outside there was a huge outdoor grill with layers of giant prawns being delicately tended to by a young cook, along with tanks of fresh fish and a table laid out with fresh oysters, escargot and shrimp on a layer of ice. Looked promising as we stepped inside. Strangely enough, a few steps in and I thought I might have been in a gift shop, as there were displays full of boxes of food products such as birds nest – apparently one of the popular delicacies at this place as well.

The entire place seemed much larger than it probably was, as many of the walls were tilled up with large squares of mirrors. There was a group of larger circular tables with lazy susans in the central part of the first floor, with square table seating along the walls for parties of four. The tables themselves were ghastly yellow-orange in color and reminded me of long ago cafeterias or shopping mall food court furniture. I was hoping the design of the place would be the worst part of this restaurant, and judging from the packed room, my hopes were high.

[The massive feast began in earnest, but now that a few weeks has passed, I am somewhat at a loss to recall everything that came to our table. I do have some limited photographs of some of the dishes, so I will simply comment on these, although there were many more that were on the final bill.]

Giant donut-shaped wheels of deep fried shrimp – I think on this trip, I had WAY too many things that were cooked in a boiling tub of unhealthy vegetable oil, but alas these were impressive. Not only for the sheer size (easily the same size of a man’s hand) of these things, but also for the intense shrimp flavor inside the crispy external coating. The minced shrimp inside was densely packed, not airly and fluffy as one might imagine, so there was no skimping in the kitchen when preparing these creations. If you could not want to scarf down more than one of these golden brown discs of heaven, I think you don’t love your seafood.

Grilled prawns – These were the same ones I had seen being cooked outside the restaurant’s main entrance. And judging from the quantity on the grill, I know they must be a popular item on the menu. The flavors were good (I could tell they were fresh), but I felt they were cooked a bit too long for my liking, a little dried out and not retaining the moisture in the meat as much as I would have hoped. Next time, would probably pass on this item.

Sea Bass, steamed and served in a lime/garlic soup – Finally some Thai flavors coming out, albeit in a Chinese restaurant. The broth was fantastic with its mix of tartness from the lime and aroma from the garlic, and it went well with the tender, soft and flaky white meat of the bass. I usually associate sea bass as being a bit “gummy” (probably as I’ve eaten it more raw than cooked), but I know now that steamed it is as good as any other white meat fish there is out there. I think in the end when the fish was gone, I was busy ladeling some of the soup onto my steamed rice, as I was so intrigued by the flavor combination, and also probably still hungry. 🙂

On the menu, there are a lot more extravagant and expensive items, such as the afore mentioned birds nest, shark fin soup, and of course abalone. Unfortunately budget came into play and I could not enjoy the abalone as much as I would have liked. It seemed though, those around us were not going for the high end fare either, so took that as a good sign that perhaps even the “regular” items available were more than satisfying for locals with a discerning taste for Chinese cuisine in Thailand. Lastly, I must mention the interesting rock sugar drinks that were brought out, apparently for free, to our table. In these narrow plastic containers, they looked like a faint colored orange juice but were overwhelmingly sweet. Probably a bit too much for my liking too, but no doubt an interesting drink to have for the first time if you ever make your way to Yaowarat. Yao-hoo!