Temple superfans will dig Sala Rattanakosin, a tiny boutique hotel on Bangkok’s ancient Rattanakosin Island with an excellent location between Wat Arun and Wat Po, offering outstanding views of both. The selections in the 15-room hotel feature full walls of windows, and all guests have to do is pick their poison — a view of the riverfront prang of the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun), or the multi-spire beauty of the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Po).
Can’t decide which side to go with? That’s OK. The hotel’s rooftop bar, a casual drinking spot that offers visitors the chance to walk across the roof and get views of either side, makes it easy to see both temples. So, if you’ve got the kind of friend who needs their serving of culture and history with a side of booze — here you have it.
We started at the bar, hunkering down over a Tom Yam Martini (THB320/US$9.5), which combined Pepe Lopez Silver tequila, triple sec, lime, lemongrass, chili, and kaffir lime in the most intoxicating (literally) way, and a Pear Gin Fizz (THB399/US$12), which featured Caorunn gin, lemon, pear, and clove dressed with a cinnamon stick and star anise.
Whether you choose the bar, the Arun-facing restaurant below, or a room by the river, you’re not likely to forget the views of the Temple of the Dawn afforded at Sala Rattanakosin. The historic sanctuary has been obscured by scaffolding for the last four years as it underwent renovation and has only became fully visible again at the tail end of last year, making it an excellent time to visit the boutique hotel — whether you’ve been to the temple before, or not.
Sala Rattanakosin opened in 2013, just months before the long renovation began. So, except for the guests who stayed there in the opening period, the full glory of the view has not been available until now.
The hotel is located a few baht ferry ride from Wat Arun, but also a block away from the Grand Palace and Wat Po, making it an ideal stay for history and royalty buffs that hope to be near these attractions.
Rattanakosin Island was one of the old city centers of Bangkok, dating back to 1782. Tourists used to only visit this part of the city to see the palace and Wat Po, however, in the last few years, loads of restaurants, cafes, and boutique hotels have popped up and lent new life to the still-traditional neighborhood, where the old-world scent of traditional Chinese medicine is the predominant smell in the air.
On a recent night, we stayed in a River View Deluxe Room (starting at THB5,000/US$149), which featured one and a half full walls of windows, letting guests watch life on the river close up as well as see Wat Arun in all its glory at any time of the day or night.
The fittings in the room were simple and the design industrial-style, in black and white with cement floors. The TV got less than 15 channels and there was an old-school stereo sharing the console. However, the basic amenities drove home the concept that the view is entire purpose for the hotel, an idea confirmed by Noppawan Sirinoppakun, Sala’s Assistant Marketing Communications Manager.
When the staff brings you to your room, the shades are drawn. They want visitors to open those thick white curtains themselves — to add dramatic effect to that big reveal: the famous temple in floor-to-ceiling grandeur.
Though the rooms have minimalist vibes, it’s obvious by the care paid toward design that this place is basically a love letter to the temples on both sides. The sofa, the open-plan sink, and even the shower and bathroom face the view, letting guests contemplate the temple while doing all daily activities.
You don’t necessarily have to stay at the hotel to get those views, though — dinner at the Sala’s restaurant also affords full temple views.
As for the food — the restaurant offers Thai dishes off the menu, all of which are meant for sharing, as well as a handful of Western options. Fresh seafood features heavily on the menu.
We started with a well-prepared Yum Puu Nim Med Mamuang (THB340/US$10), a traditional somtam with tempura soft shell crab and roasted cashews; and Ped Yang Pad Cha (THB310/US$9), a roasted duck dish stir-fried with basil and whole, young green peppercorns, which added lots of fresh spice, setting it apart from most Thai dishes that get their heat from chili. Duck can often feel heavy on the tastebuds, but the fresh taste of the peppercorns lent this plate a lighter feeling.
There’s also Pla Sam Rod (THB550/US$16.5), a whole fried white snapper with garlic, onions, peppers, and fresh coriander and a side of sweet chili sauce; and Massaman Kha Gae (THB540/US$16), a rich curry featuring an oversized braised lamb shank ascending from the center and dramatically presented with a smoldering stick of cinnamon poking out, leaving a trail of smoke as it arrived at our table.
The aromatic and satisfying massaman had the traditional fittings: large chunks of potato, shallots, and plenty of ground, roasted peanuts in the sauce. The lamb had a sweeter, mellower flavor that we thought of as mutton-y in the best way possible.
The restaurant certainly provides a satisfying meal, but ultimately, we can’t help but stress yet again — that view from the hotel room is truly stunning. By night, the vantage point also provides a twinkling, undulating reflection of the temple on the river. It’s easy to keep the TV and phone shut off here. You’d probably much rather sit and stare pensively out the window (in a good way).
The view feels more intimate and — apologies for being dramatic — even profound as the hours roll on. Even when I woke up in the middle of the night and saw more of the temple and nighttime life on the river, it felt wonderfully relaxing. The boats and barges pass by steadily and silently at all hours, and it takes quite a bit of willpower to finally draw those curtains closed so that you can take a break and get some sleep.
39 Maha Rat Road