The Navalai is a fun, funky boutique hotel and has to be one of the best-value addresses in Bangkok right now.
Navalai River Resort, Bangkok
This is not a hotel to be judged on first impressions. Its location, on Pra Arthit road, is busy and the taxi drops you off at what is effectively the back of the building, as the Navalai is situated right on the waterside of the Chao Phraya river. There is no doorman so you have to carry your bags yourself to the reception. But everything changes dramatically from then on. The lobby is smart and elegant, courteous Thai staff immediately make you feel welcome and at home and the bellboy suddenly appears from nowhere to whisk you up to a surprisingly plush room. Although the term "resort hotel" sounds a bit grand at first, you will realise why when you see the romantic riverbank restaurant with perfect views and the panoramic rooftop pool.
The location of the Navalai is nothing less than perfect. It sits right on Bangkok's breathtaking Chao Phraya river, and you can walk straight on to the pier to catch the public water bus, ideal for getting around town. It also provides a link to the Skytrain transit service - crucial for avoiding the horrendous traffic jams. All of Bangkok's must-see cultural sights - the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew, the National Museum - are within walking distance or at most five minutes on a tuk-tuk (the city's motorised rickshaws). Just across the road from the Navalai lies Banglamphu. It once was a haven for backpackers, but is now one of Bangkok's hippest neighbourhoods with fun bars, eclectic restaurants, art galleries, spas, designer boutiques and a lively night market on Khao San road.
Word of the Navalai has quickly got around to other south-east Asian capitals, and the hotel is often fully booked on Saturdays and Sundays, with expats flying in from neighbouring Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong for a party and shopping weekend in Bangkok. During the week, the clientele is a mix of European families, spending a few days visiting the temples and palaces, and affluent young travellers who do not need to stay in backpacker hostels and are here en route to the island resorts of Phuket and Koh Samui. The Aquatini restaurant is just as popular with local Thais as hotel guests, and is very lively at night, from cocktails at sunset to romantic dinners alongside the river.
Bangkok hotels have the best service in Asia, and the Navalai is no exception, with a staff that is discreet, impeccably helpful and friendly. Although there is no professional concierge, the guest relations manager is on duty during the day for practical advice on sightseeing and at the entrance to the hotel there is a travel agency, a no-frills serious massage spa and a convenient 7-11 store open 24 hours a day.
For a boutique hotel, there are a lot of rooms - 74 in total - but they are all very spacious, come with a private balcony and a host of amenities - tea and coffee-maker, free bottled water (it is not advisable to drink the tap water), free Wi-Fi, a large Flatron TV with satellite channels and a DVD player, which is perfect if you succumb to the temptation of buying cheap CDs from the surrounding shops. The decor is bright, modern and minimalist, complemented by traditional Thai antiques and each room is decorated with its own signature painting by a young local artist. While the standard rooms are very comfortable, it is well worth splashing out US$30 (Dh112) extra for one of the 15 deluxe River Views, which have wonderful vistas out over the Chao Phraya and fun, spacious bathrooms with glass walls.
The room service menu has to be one of the longest I've ever seen, offering every dish served downstairs in the restaurant, but it is only available until midnight. A copious buffet breakfast is included in the room rate, served on the waterfront terrace, with a big choice of tropical fruits, local Thai noodles and soup, traditional Continental fare, plus tasty surprises such as grilled asparagus. The chic Aquatini restaurant is an excellent surprise, serving high-quality cuisine at very reasonable prices - a much better bet for dinner than most of the eateries in Banglamphu. While the European dishes may look tempting, this is the place to discover delicious local dishes such as stir-fried coconut palm shoots with prawn, baby squid cooked with salted egg yolk or deep-fried soft shell crabs with a tangy tamarind sauce. The prices are very reasonable - around $5 (Dh18) a dish.
The rooftop pool and Jacuzzi. Great in the morning for swimming laps, in the afternoon for sunbathing and, in the evening, for sitting in the water sipping a drink as the sun sets over the Chao Phraya.
While the rooms are air-conditioned, for petty cost-cutting the public areas are only cooled by fans and waiting at the reception or for the lift can get pretty steamy when daytime temperatures are over 30°C.
The Navalai is a fun, funky boutique hotel and has to be one of the best-value addresses in Bangkok right now. Book soon before the guide books start discovering it, as prices will have to rise at some time for this ideal mix of superb location and just enough luxury to make you feel pampered and spoiled without all the pretensions of classic five-star hotels.
Double rooms including breakfast cost from $74 (Dh270). A deluxe room with river view is $105 (Dh384). American Express is not accepted. Navalai River Resort, 45/1 Pra Arthit Road, Bangkok (www.navalai.com; 00 66 2 280 9955).