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New Life in Old Bangkok

A handful of new addresses in Bangkok's Old Town offer more reasons to visit. By JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN. Photographed by CEDRIC ARNOLD.

Published on Jan 17, 2017


PULL UP TO RIVA ARUN at the wrong time of day and you'll find that the street is flooded. It's just a couple of centimeters, but it's a solid sheen. This might not seem like a selling point, but wading through this wellspring should put a smile on your face. For it means you've arrived in the real Bangkok.

Riva Arun
Overlooking the spires of Wat Po from Riva Arun.

On the drive here, you likely passed the Flower Market, bursting with insanely cheap orchids and marigolds. The grassy campus of Museum Siam was your first landmark on Rattanakosin Island; come back to stroll the sculpture garden and see the interactive exhibits on Thai history and culture. And as you turned into Riva Arun's alley, you'll have noted that Wat Po, home of the Reclining Buddha and the four chedis holding ashes of the first four Chakri kings (Thailand's current ruling dynasty), is right across the road, and the Grand Palace just north of that.

Flower Market
The Flower Market.

These guidebook highlights sit cheek by jowl with a working neighborhood, a quiet little world nearly entirely unnoticed by the tourist masses clambering on and off the Chao Phraya Express Boats, having checked "temple trawling" and "street-meat eating" off their to-do lists. The alley housing Riva Arun empties onto the river, and sits on a low water table that's at the whims of the tides. The wee streets around it are a grid of wooden shophouses, filled with local residences, mom-and-pop stores, the famous traditional massage and medical school affiliated with Wat Po, and an increasing number of cutesy cafés. The area is cozy, serene and lived in.

And with the arrival of Riva Arun, it's a complete destination. The spaceoptimizing, smallfootprint, 25-room hotel joins stylishly mod Sala Rattanakosin and older homesteads Sala Arun and Arun Residence in enmeshing you in Old Town. This newest opening takes things up a notch, aiming to be a onestop cocoon of convenience and comfort, but still direct you outwards into the 'hood. Sandwiched between its namesake Wat Arun—that sandcastle across the water dedicated to the Hindu god of dawn—and Wat Po in its backyard, both of which you can see from its rooftop restaurant, this pretty little boutique feels like it's in the beating heart of Bangkok.

Riva Arun roofttop
Shaking up sundowners at Riva Arun.

In December 2016, saw the debut of Tuk Tuk Hop, a transport daypass service through Old Town whose designated stops include both Riva Arun and its upriver sister hotel, Riva Surya, giving guests speedy access to not only the latter's bankside pool but also a host of cool restaurants and livemusic bars on localhipster strip Phra Athit.

Riva Arun's friendly staff can arrange a private sail on a longtail boat to pick you up at the hotel's pier, direct you to River Books for souvenir historical and cultural tomes, offer suggestions on where to drink in Soi Nana, that hopping Chinatown artsy enclave 10 minutes away, or make dinner reservations. (Sit practically on top of Wat Arun at The Deck, or try the Err, a rustic-Thai casual place from the chefs behind acclaimed degustation specialist Bo.lan.) They can also book massages for you at the Wat Po school, or order one delivery to your room, courtesy of Khun Dokmai, the very strong, sweet woman who usually gives treatments at Riva Surya.

The Err
Inside rustic-chic Err.

It'll be just one reason you might have trouble leaving your room, what with it's cloud of a bed and cheerful emerald accents. The compact spaces feel bigger awash in white, and with smart use of mirrors, screens and windows. Get one of the three top-floor suites, and you'll have lots of room indoors and out: each has a vast deck with whirlpool tub—the better for soaking in river views. Request the northernmost suite, where your first sight each morning will be the golden roofs of Wat Po shimmering in the sunrise.





Riva Arun doubles from Bt4,400.

Err dinner for two Bt1,200.
The Deck dinner for two Bt1,000.
Sala Rattanakosin dinner for two Bt2,000.

Museum Siam adult foreigner admission Bt200.
WatPo Thai Traditional Massage School massages from Bt260.
Private longtail boat tour Riva Arun hotel manager Rattana Kaewsan can arrange a tour of the river and canals; Bt1,200-1,500.
Tuk Tuk Hop day-passes from Bt399 for one.


This hotel takes river views to greater heights.

The 26-story Avani Riverside offers some of the city's finest views of the Chao Praya snaking through the spectacular Bangkok skyline. On the top floor, Attitude is a great roof-terrace alternative to packed sky bars at Lebua and Banyan Tree. Gaze over the river from the comfort of a private table, while sipping the Moulin Rouge, a blend of Absolut Rasberry, passion fruit and prosecco.; doubles from Bt3,800.

Attitude bar at Avani Residence, Bangkok. Courtesy of AVANI Residence.





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The Temple of Dawn, as seen from a Premium Jacuzzi suite at Riva Arun.
  • Novice monks from a local temple school.
  • The hotel's calamari with salted egg.
  • The Temple of Dawn, as seen from a Premium Jacuzzi suite at Riva Arun.
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