x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Travelling with Kids: the best of Bangkok by boat

As we sailed down the Chao Phaya, the illuminated temples on the river banks began to glide into sight.

It was New Year's Eve, and we were about to embark on the most touristy thing we've ever done in Bangkok - a dinner cruise down the Chao Phaya River. "This is great," my husband said, trying to drum up some enthusiasm as we arrived at 6pm at Pier 1 outside River City mall.

Neither Calvin, our eight-year-old, nor I responded. It was a cold, grey sort of day. A few tourists stood about, staring at the murky, slightly smelly waters of the river slapping against the metal boarding docks. Long swathes of water hyacinth, tangled with soft-drink cans, drifted everywhere. Now and again, we caught glimpses of unbelievably enormous fish (my husband actually stepped back in shock) surfacing every few seconds.

"This sucks," said Calvin, putting my thoughts into words. "Why couldn't we go to the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre instead?"

"Because they've shut it down," my husband snapped.

"Well, I'm bored. We have two hours to go before the silly boat arrives," sighed Calvin.

With nothing to do, we decided to check out River City mall and, after a few minutes of aimless wandering, found ourselves in the main atrium. A stage and chairs were set up here, with a hanging banner that read "Joe Louis Puppet Theatre Performance".

Calvin, barely able to contain his joy, seated himself at the front and watched wide-eyed as a group of young artistes trooped on stage carrying puppets, beautifully painted to look like an apsara and Hanuman, a character from the Ramakien. At the end of the captivating performance, the dolls were brought into the audience for a funny interactive session and great photo-ops.

Happy at last, we rushed back to the pier, jumping on board just in time. As the boat chugged away and we made our way to a table on the candle-lit upper deck, the temples on the river banks, illuminated and glittering spectacularly against the inky night sky, began to glide into sight. Calvin, who knows every one of them, pointed them out as they went past: "Wat Arun - look, Mum; it's the most beautiful of the lot ... And there's Wat Pho, isn't the stupa magnificent? ... Oh, the Grand Palace, I love the shiny roofs ... Dad, can we do a temple tour tomorrow?"

"Of course," my husband said absentmindedly, forgetting that we'd already done it the previous day.

Dinner turned out to be a very bland "Thai and Continental" buffet but, mesmerised by the views, we hardly noticed the food. At the end of the cruise, a couple of Thai performers danced for us (Hanuman in hot pursuit of an elusive apsara again), and the boat turned back, slowly sailing past all the temples once more. As we prepared to disembark, we found Calvin, my husband's camera in hand, smugly showing "Hanuman" - who still had his mask on - pictures of himself kissing an apsara puppet.

A 60-minute dinner cruise on the Chao Phaya Princess costs 1,500 Thai baht (Dh178) per adult and 1,200 baht (Dh142) per child. Visit www.thaicruise.com.

ciyer@thenational.ae