For a leisurely way to explore Bangkok, take to the magnificent Chao Phraya River on a long-tail boat and pick and choose your stops, from floating flower markets to sparkling temples

Imbued with bars sitting cheek by jowl with temples offering meditative contemplation, Bangkok is the ultimate Asian city for sampling the extremes of Thai society, from excessive luxury to roots-y street style. Bisecting it all is the Chao Phraya River, carving a watery, coiling path through a city where sleep appears to be anathema.

From the Riverside Terrace restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, the views out over the choppy, frothing, silver glinted waters make the ideal accompaniment to a spectacular breakfast or a languorous lunch from the immense international buffet featuring fresh sushi, Lebanese mezze, Japanese teppanyaki and barbecued meats.

The Riverside Terrace at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

The Riverside Terrace at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

The best way to spot the best of Bangkok's riverside gems from here is to privately hire a long-tail boat (the hotel can assist you with this), so you can pull in at whichever of the numerous port stops along the river takes your fancy.

Long-tail boats on the Chao Phraya River

Long-tail boats on the Chao Phraya River

An afternoon trip on these sturdy wooden crafts upriver from the hotel takes you past the bellicose bustle of the city's Chinatown district and, with its multi-coloured canopy and floral garlands fluttering in the breeze, steers a course past the city's flower market, Pak Khlong Talat. Here, riotously large bouquets of roses, lilies, jasmine, chrysanthemums, gerbera and orchids are offered at astonishingly low prices, all within view of the Memorial Bridge, a vast multi-span construction that opened in 1932 and was built, incredibly, in Middlesbrough in the north of England.

Flowers at Pak Khlong Talat market

Flowers at Pak Khlong Talat market

Continuing north, as darkness begins to smother the city, the long boat sails past the Grand Palace; dating back to 1782, this was the centrepiece of the new capital city, so-crowned after a Burmese invasion of Thailand. You'll only have tempting views of the temples' glittering spires, though, as this is still the centre of the Royal Household and therefore off-limits to the public. You can step ashore to do some craft shopping at the Queen's Support Foundation stores while here, but it may be best to simply sail on to arguably the city's most recognisable and brilliant sight, in the form of Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), which is spectacularly illuminated at night.

The central tower, or prang, is encrusted with numerous pieces of coloured porcelain, originally used as ballast by boats sailing from China, while the riverside edge is home to six distinctively Chinese-style pavilions, all in shades of dark green granite, with separate landing bridges. Climb the prang and you'll be rewarded with panoramic views over the river – still jostling with river taxis, industrial trawlers and yet more colourful long-tail boats.

Wat Arun, encrusted with coloured porcelain

Wat Arun, encrusted with coloured porcelain

Gracefully flowing through the centre of Asia's most dynamic city, this vital artery of an ancient, thrilling river continues to be the lifeblood of a city which not only refuses to sleep, but also seems to become more dynamic and beautiful with each winding turn.

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Rob Crossan

London-based Rob Crossan is a travel writer and broadcaster who writes for publications including The Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, GQ and Tatler. He also presents the BBC disability talk show Ouch! and is a regular contributor to From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4 as well as the World Service.

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48 Oriental Avenue,
Bangkok 10500, Thailand

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