Knowing how fast hotels were being booked up over the Christmas period I was keen to make sure Mo and I decided on what we were going to do for New Years Eve, and book it in advance.
I searched for ideas and we both agreed it would be oh so romantic to embark on a Chaophraya Cruise and see in the New Year sailing along the river. We chose to go with the Apsara, hosted by the Banyan Tree, an absolute gem discovered by Mo (he really is quite smug about finding it, but credit where credit is due, eh).
For anyone lucky enough to spend NYE in Bangkok there are a number of dinner cruises out there, most of which we passed as we sailed. All of which were on bigger boats, had club like dance floors, lots of people and quite loud pumping music. Mo and I were looking for a more intimate affair where we could hold a conversation without having to shout at each other. If this is you, then the Apsara is EXACTLY what you are looking for. I repeat, do not look elsewhere.
It was early December when we emailed the reservation desk to save two spaces. They replied to our emails quickly and efficiently, we were early enough to qualify for the 10% early bird discount and specify our dietary requirements; in our case we required halal food or if not available fish/vegetarian options. We were also sent a floor plan of the boat to ensure we were happy with our table which I thought was a nice touch.
On the 31st of December the email stated we arrive at the Banyan Tree hotel no later than 7:00pm. Scared of missing the cruise and worried about horrific NYE traffic chaos like we get in the UK we left our hotel an hour early. Waaaaay too early. FYI, the streets of Bangkok are dead on New Years Eve. We later found out that because it’s a national holiday, the majority of people travel back to their local towns, so the only traffic to be worried about are on the roads leading out of the City Centre.
Nevertheless, we were there (we weren’t the only ones either). We all waited patiently in the comfortable lobby area of the hotel until all the guests had arrived. We were offered a welcome drink, champagne for those that drink it, but we opted for some fizzy orange instead. Beautifully dressed traditional Thai dancers danced around us as the Cruise hosts came round to double check our meals, pre-order drinks and issue us with our tickets. We were very pleased to see that the Banyan Tree had prepared a seperate menu for us with halal meat, no pork and no alcohol. Exciting!
When everyone had arrived we all boarded a luxury coach to take us to the riverside. Where we waited on the pier for our traditional Thai boat to sail in.
It looked beautiful. If I wasn’t wearing killer heels I would have jumped for joy.
Once it docked the crew quickly came out and set up a red carpet style entrance and all lined up to welcome us with floral corsages and necklaces. As we stepped onto the boat and we were escorted to our table, we looked around in amazement, it was so much more than we expected. I think I was expecting a normal boat with tables and a buffet in the middle so all the little details and finishing touches the Banyan Tree pulled off, really took my breath away.
We all sat down, our drinks were brought out straight away by our waiter Moi, each table had their own personal server who looked after us for the whole evening (and they really did look after us).
As the boat set sail we were treated to entertainment from live singers, interrupted only by occasional performances from traditional dancers and Muy Thai boxers.
Whilst all this was going on we were served our dinner. a whopping eight courses. EIGHT. I have to admit I did struggle to keep going once we got to the fifth course but we both persevered simply because it was extremely delicious. I’m drooling just thinking about it. I could gush about each dish but that would make this post even longer so all I will say is that even on a boat in the middle of the river, the Banyan Tree served up a five star quality meal.
Not only was the meal sensational, the timing of each dish being brought to us was perfection. The servers were on top form. We never had to wait for each others food to arrive, they cleared our tables efficiently (even took time to wipe away any clumsy crumbs we left) they explained each dish to us and answered any questions, smiled throughout and they all managed to do this without causing chaos on what was really quite a small boat.
We sailed up and back down the Chaophraya taking in the sights, the most striking being the Temple of the Dawn which looked magnificent lit up in the night sky.
At about half eleven the boat came to a stop, the waiters were at hand to make sure everyone’s drinks were topped to toast in the New Year, shakers and party poppers were passed round and we could see the bank were filled with party goers getting ready for the countdown. Our lovely host, Bee, told us exactly where the fireworks would be launching from so Mo and I could get a good spot at the end of the boat to watch the show.
The last half hour went so fast and before we knew it we could hear crowds of people shouting out the final ten seconds of 2014. Bursting with excitement, the words Happy New Year were being exclaimed (and screamed) all around us… but there were no fireworks? We could hear a few distant ones and we all searched around thinking we were maybe in the wrong place but we should have known better than to doubt the Apsara.
One by one, the fireworks from the official display took off… the boat launching them was right in front of us. They soared into the sky and we were so close we could smell and feel them as they exploded. The view was spectacular and it was without a doubt the most magical sight I’ve ever witnessed.
The Apsara NYE dinner cruise is one I really struggle to find fault with. There was a mixture of guests on board; families, couples, friends… everyone happy and enjoying themselves, it was such a wonderful atmosphere. When chatting to Bee, she told us it was her first time working on the Apsara and it was so heart warming to hear how all the staff genuinely wanted to make it a night to remember. Up until the very last moment when we arrived back at the Banyan Tree hotel they looked out for us, it was actually quite sad to get in a taxi and leave everyone behind.
After all the dramas we’d encountered during our stay in Thailand over the last few weeks, Mo and I ended our trip feeling on top of the world and it was the most perfect way to see in 2015. I only wish we could go back and do it all over again.
Thinking of booking the Apsara? Here’s a few things to note:
- The Apsara cruise does run all year round, obviously the cruise I’ve described above was for NYE so there were a number of added extras.
- If you book in advance you can take advantage of the 10% Early bird discount – again this applies to NYE bookings.
- The upfront price you pay for the cruise and meal doesn’t include the evenings drinks – worth bearing in mind. Mo and I don’t drink alcohol but we managed to spend approximately £20 on water, a couple of cokes and a fresh juice.
- Booking early also means you can choose a good table, we were lucky enough to have one by the space left for performances so we always had a good view… the tables towards the back of the boat would have had to get up and walk over to watch.
After such a phenomenal night I’m going to have to step up the search to beat it this year… any suggestions??