Man can not live on penis alone is, I’m fairly certain, how that old adage goes. Not that many gay visitors to Bangkok don’t try to prove it false. But even the most devoted sex tourist has to come up for air occasionally, and turning to a different forms of sustenance when you do is often the second most popular tourist pastime. Quickly grabbing a bite to eat from the nearest street food cart so that you can get back to doing what really matters is the answer for some. An equally quick meal under the golden arches does it for others. Sitting down at a table for an actual meal may not be the most popular choice when sex is on your mind, but the perfect romantic setting can make Round #2 – or Round #8 as the case may be – just all that more enjoyable and fulfilling. Your boy du jour did, after all, tell you that he lubs you. And the quickest way to a bar boy’s heart is through his stomach. As long as your wallet participates in that experience.
Other than previously noting that some of the best photos you can take of Wat Arun is when motoring past on one of the Chao Phraya river boats, I haven’t written much about what is one of the more heavily visited temples in Bangkok. It is one of the city’s more identifiable and iconic structures. And it, along with the near-by Grand Palace and Wat Pho routinely make it to travel writers’ Must-Do Bangkok experiences. Which, as you may well have guessed, means it is not on my list of recommendations of the top places to visit in the Big Mango. But that doesn’t mean I think it should be completely avoided. The magnificence of the wat is worthy of your time. Just not in actually visiting the place.
The area around the Grand Palace is undoubtedly one of Bangkok’s most heavily touristed neighborhoods. With the grandeur of the palace, Wat Pho’s Reclining Buddha, Wat Mahathat, and the amulet market all competing for attention, hordes of farang faces fill the area in hectic pursuit of the city’s sites. It’s a scrum of nationalities all pushing and shoving to get to whichever is next on their list, within the limited time their holiday schedule allows. Which means there is limited time for just sitting and soaking up the atmosphere of Bangkok’s most historical district. But then the average touri winningly trades in history for hysteria, and when the latest boatload of pale farang faces shoves off from Ta Chang Pier, the momentary lull that descends along Maharat Road reminds those still remaining what is truly important in visiting a foreign land: doing absolutely nothing. And enjoying every minute of it.
If it wasn’t that eating goes so well with sitting, and drinking is the trifecta’s cherry on top, the only choice for dining riverside in the Grand Palace area would be the market at Ta Chang pier. Culinary choices abound, you can snack on a variety of quick treats, or have a full meal – or both. For a newbie to Bangkok this is a perfect place to be introduced to street cart food. And it’s cheap. As a dining locale, however, the market leaves something to be desired: seating.
There are a few small nooks stuck away inside the pier’s ancient wooden structure where you can find a table with bench seating, but the view is only of the crowds of touri shuffling by, and the air don’t circulate as much as it does oppress, perfectly defining the phrase hole-in-the wall (assuming ‘hole-in-the-wall’ always comes with scurrying cockroaches). Dining at the Ta Chang market isn’t so much about wondrous views of the Temple of the Dawn a it is about soaking in an ambiance worthy of The Dawn of the Dead. But just up the road you can go upscale and The Deck – part of the exclusive 7-room Arun Residence boutique hotel – has been providing the perfect Wat Arun sight-seeing experience for decades.
Located directly across the Chao Phraya from the fabled wat, The Deck is both an indoor and outdoor restaurant, offering a menu of European and Thai fusion dishes at, unfortunately, Western prices. But you get what you pay for, and part of what you are paying for at The Deck is a postcard-perfect view of the Ratanakosin skyline while dining, or drinking, at an historic riverside Sino-Portuguese, 17th century ‘Bangkok Period’ residence. It’s a cozy, romantic setting cooled by river breezes with the famous silhouette of Wat Arun as a backdrop. And the food presentation is equally as stunning.
Divided into three levels, the 80-seat restaurant and bar is popular enough that you need to arrive early for prime viewing seats if sunsets are your thing. But then it’s not as packed, nor do you have to dress up, as when taking in the setting sun at the Sky Bar at LeBua either. On the downside, the restaurant’s riverside frontage is narrow so most views of the river are from along the side of the dining area if you don’t manage to snag a good table. And the up close and personal views of the Express Boats often block the view of Wat Arun from the lower floors.
The Deck’s first floor offers an al fresco dining area set on the restaurant’s wooden verandah with only a couple of tables that are well-spaced from each other. Up a spiral staircase, on the second floor is the restaurant’s main dining area, offering inside, air-conditioned seating able to accommodate a large dining crowd, which while spacious for what is still a small area also means the establishment’s cosmopolitan charm suffers somewhat. The Deck’s Amorosa Bar is on the third level – you need to climb up a flight of metal steps to reach it – but it is here that the view really shines.
Within the bar, there are only five or six tables that offer a direct view of Wat Arun. And Amorosa only offers finger food and drinks. But it’s a perfect spot to enjoy doing nothing, where you can find a cozy corner to chill out with friends while enjoying a world-class view. And even its simple fare takes on exotic flavors; its Thai version of nachos alone are worthy of a visit. (Note that the third floor bar is only open to those not staying at the Arun Residence from (around) 5:30 p.m. on).
Back down on the lower levels fusion is the name of the game with Asian influences spicing up what would normally be considered European dishes. The menu offers a range of pasta creations featuring seafood such as prawns, scallops, and frog legs, and while these days it seems I’m putting my citizenship as an American at risk by not being a fan of bacon, The Deck’s spaghetti with garlic and bacon is to die for. I’ve yet to be disappointed with anything I’ve ordered at The Deck, but admittedly, the portions are small. On the plus side, that means you’ll have plenty of room left to sample some of their outstanding desserts. Their roasted banana in peanut butter sauce with ice cream is a crowd favorite, the mille feuille with fresh strawberries and marscarpone cheese mousse looks almost too good to eat, and the tiramisu & panacotta is guaranteed to give you a chub.
Thai dishes tend to run in the 80 to 250 baht range, main courses of European flavors are slightly higher at 250 to 700 baht. Without alcohol – as if – you can expect to pay around 1,000 baht per person. I’ve never tried their lunch menu, served from 11.30 – 2.30, but have dropped in (once) for breakfast and if you are looking for a cup of caffeine the way the gods intended it to be made you can’t do much better. And then after your morning meal you can walk across the street to Wat Pho and thank Buddha for the excellent start to your day.
Open from 8am to 10pm Wednesdays through Thursdays, and from 8am to 11pm on weekends, reservations aren’t a bad idea, but you still need to get there early for the best seating at dinner/sunset time.
The Deck’s setting and menu is not your typical Bangkok dining experience, it’s more of a Mediterranean waterfront cafe type of affair. But with the Temple of the Dawn glowing in the background and a hot Thai hunk sharing your meal it make for a perfect romantic setting you’ll love to enjoy before getting back to what really matters: making arun of that poor boy’s body.
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