The Diplomat’s birthday is due in the month of October so I thought we’d take a trip about 35km north west of Bangkok to the Sampran Riverside retreat – previously known as the Sampran Rose Garden Hotel.
As ever the journey claims to be 35 minutes but our SatNav is stuck firmly on telling us we’ll get there in twenty minutes for an hour. The main reason for this was the major extension to the BTS Skytrain being built up the middle of Thanon Kasem Phet from Talut Pho for about ten km. All great for the future Thonburi suburb of Bangkok to access the glittering malls, but terrible for anyone wanting to go west. In the event, it takes us 90 minutes. To be fair, we cater for it, but driving anywhere around Bangkok takes ages. Journey times on Google Maps are put there for a laugh by basement living IT people in California, I reckon, not by people who live in these places.
Eventually, we swing our ‘winning blue Ford Everest’ (as described by bitter Les Quebecois who paid $5000 more for the same car in dirty white) through driveway of a retreat that was clearly built in the 70s but has undergone some extensive renovations. I have decided to rent a two night Thai-style house – the one shown here – up on stilts, air conditioned two bedrooms, fan only “living area”. A slightly different experience to being in the hundred room hotel that is also on the grounds. There is an added advantage in being away from the festering crowds, on the edge of a a nice lake, being able to park the car right outside.
The place now trades less on its Rose Gardens and more on being both a conference centre and a retreat with an excellent massage spa, ozone pool, brand new sports bar – replete with new pool table and flush karaoke lounge, four restaurants serving organic, home grown vegetables along with both Thai and International cuisine, a large kids playground, hernal and floral gardens, and last, but by no means least, splendid sunsets on the River Ta-Chine which the resort nestles against.
What I do find fascinating at dinner is the discovery that the famous Siamese Twins, Inn and Chan, were born 40km up the road. This duo were known to the world as the first conjoined Siamese twins, born in 1811 in Samut Songkran. In 1828 Capt Coffin (you couldn’t make that name up) took them to the U.S on tour (after renaming them Chang and Eng Bunker) to make his fortune. Five years later the twins struck out alone, making their own money, and then marrying the sisters Sarah and Adelaide and settling in Virginia. Now Wikipedia claims they had 21 kids. However, this place says 22 and this time I am going to go with the local information. After one developed pnemonia aged 63 they both passed away despite the refused offers of an attempt to separate them to ensure one was kept alive. The upshot of this is that one of the restaurants in Sampran Riverside Retreat is inspired by the twins and is named Inn-Chan after them.
Samphran Riverside Retreat offers you the chance (between 10-12) to indulge (300Baht for hotel guests, 600Baht for everyone else) in traditional Thai crafts in the Thai Village. This means you get to attempt weaving, silk worm cultivation, carving, game playing etc. until lunch rolls around. Now, at the weekend this is good as there is a fixed “farmers’s market” where you can get all kinds of healthy stuff. Take a look…
If you don’t fancy that – and you can tell both Isla and Joshua enjoyed their 20Baht sweet crispy pancakes and orange juice – then there’s a Vanda restaurant or a coffee shop next to the Rim Khlong floating market. Now, it’s not a real floating market. It’s a fishpond with two bored old Thai people flogging fruit and plastic tourist tat from traditional longboats. The “jetty” has another gift shop and some local artisans selling more ‘tat’. Still, 20Baht to fling food at the fish is great fun for kids.
From 14:15 you can go see the Elephant and Culture show. This is the real daily highlight. Three elephants demonstrate log rolling, log moving, hula hoop spinning and general bored plodding to a Thai remix of a techno beat for about 15 minutes after which you are all herded into a large indoor arena for a show – which, I have to say, is pretty good. Of course the fight scenes inside are choreographed but the usual Thai disregard for H&S means one false move and someone’s going to get seriously injured. All of which makes it more palatable and authentic to watch. There’s also no adverts. You get music, Muay Thai Boxing, a marriage, martial arts practise, dance and, at the end, a chance for kids to go on stage and laugh and clap with the genial performers. Here’s the entrance of the elephants…
All in all, it’s a good weekend place. More for adults than kids, but if a two or three family group got together and rented one of the 8-bedroom Thai houses it would be some serious fun – especically if you bring nannies and then head to the karoake bar. The food is tasty and healthy, the welcome is great, the pool is excellent, the chance for solitude and relaxation darn fine.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?