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.

May Flower Restaurant – Zhuhai, CH

May Flower Restaurant
Jiuzhou Avenue, Jida District
Zhuhai, Guangdong, China
Tel : 881 44 1889 7423

Recently, one of the movies in the X-Men trilogy was broadcast on local television. It reminded me of that age-old question that seems to pop up whenever a superhero-action movie is played. If you could be blessed with super human powers of any kind, what would you want it to be? To make matters slightly more interesting, let’s see how that might tie into food or eating out.

For me, if I had the choice, I’d really just go for a basic Superman package.

Being able to fly super fast where and whenever I wanted, is all I would really desire. Perhaps its from my many years of tedious air flights to international destinations that makes me wish I had my own personal form of ultra quick, long distance transportation.  If I felt like having Italian food, I could jet over to Rome in minutes and not have to head over to the nearest restaurant facsimile here in Canada. Fresh sushi?  No problem.  In minutes I could be back at my favorite Ginza sushi bar.

Could you imagine the possibilities? Dining out would be taken to an entirely different level.

But being as I don’t hold such abilities of lightning fast flight, I had to make due with regular modes of transport on a day’s journey that took me through three border checkpoints and resulted in a total of six immigration stamps and one visa applied for.  Beginning in Hong Kong, we took a TurboJET across water to the port of Macau, spent a few hours exploring around, walked across to a land border station to enter mainland China, shopped and ate, walked back across to Macau, and then the speed boat back to Hong Kong.

A lot to do for a single meal don’t you think?  Now you know where my super power preference comes from…

My Hong Kong-residing friends kept telling me that if I wanted large quantities of fantastic seafood for absurdly cheap prices, then we needed to go to the mainland.  They said it would save us a bundle and we could see other sights as well. Me, not being a hard sell, jumped at their idea and off we went.  Their suggestion, the May Flower Restaurant was apparently well known, but finding it, that was another challenge.  Trying to navigate around a strange town in China after the sun had set is something that I will not attempt ever again.

For after a nightmarish taxi ride which felt like I was in the midst of a video game with all the swerving and ignoring of traffic lanes and even lights(!), and getting ripped off on the change (the sneaky driver folded two bills to make it look like four notes – hey, I know its a small piece of change but its the principal, or rather lack there of from the Chinese driver, that really got my Hong Kong friend’s ire), we made it to the district area where the restaurant is.  The strange presence of an actual airplane in the parking lot threw me for a loop, but then I realized we were so close to Macau, which is trying to copy the tackiness of Las Vegas, so perhaps it was not entirely out of the question.

Soon enough, the sight of large tanks of fish and other underwater creatures calmed down our mate after we were seated and instructed to go check out what was available.  Other than in Thailand, I’ve never had the opportunity to go and select what I wanted to eat myself, and so I loved they had this system here.  With all the choices though, it made for an interesting dilemma, but my eyes immediately locked onto the lobsters.  If you’re the type who prefers straight ordering of a menu, then you might be out of your element here.

This unfortunate pair that were huddle in the corner together, as if to avoid my gaze, were the innocent victims that I instructed our waiter to pluck out of the pool and serve to me.  A little Lost in Translation took place as I was offered to select from a few styles of preparation, but I was able to finally persuade the man to see if the kitchen could just steam them.  I wanted to avoid anything like a heavy sauce that would totally mask the flavor of the meat.

This is what eventually came out, a little too “perfumed up” for my liking with the base sauce in the plate adding a distinct scent, and was contrary to my instructions of asking for a bare-bone treatment. But alas, it was not a total loss as the meat was succulent and rich with that definitive flavor that these crustaceans possess.  As guilty as I felt for ordering these two to their untimely demise, I knew in the end that they had found a well appreciated home in my belly.

A platter of boiled shrimp with soy-based dipping sauces was the choice of my Hong Kong pal.  De-shelling these tasty morsels was a bit of a hassle but they were so fresh and juicy that they were soon polished off.  It was interesting netting these guys out of their tank, and probably the most combative opponent we had among our selections.

Crab claws stir-fried with assorted vegetables.  I can’t say I enjoyed this dish as much as the others, just based on my personal preference for allowing the seafood ingredients to take centre stage, rather than the sauce in which it is cooked.

Steamed fish, provided its incredibly fresh, is always one of my favorite things to order in a seafood-specialty restaurant.  The simplicity of it all just appeals to me.  With a light soy/ginger-based broth giving it some added punch, the delicate white meat just fell from the bone structure without any deliberate picking.

And lastly, a bowl of chicken feet.  I must explain.  Ordering this is a running gag with my friend and me.  He knows I’ve never had it, and can’t stand the sight of it.  But nonetheless, he reveals in getting this brought to our table whenever I am in Hong Kong.  Oh, the comedy!

Through the course of this day, traveling through border crossings as if they were just neighborhoods in my own city, I learned one thing.   There is never a barrier to finding great fresh food is you are willing to seek it out.  You don’t need super powers to accomplish this, but just a mad crazy, change cheating Chinese cab driver to drop you off at the door.