Bangkok and I are old friends. It’s a city I always go back to — in my last seven month stint in the country, I made five separate trips there. And while I never, ever tire of Thailand’s sprawling capital, I do love exploring new corners of it. Ones that can make even a veteran visitor of the city look up in wonder.
Enter Bangkok Tree House.
Bangkok Tree House sits proudly in Bangkok’s so-called Green Lung, an apt nickname for the government protected oasis that is Bang Krachao. Cut off from Bangkok’s urban heart by the dramatic curves of the Chao Phraya river, crossing over to Bang Krachao is like going back in time.
Time traveling isn’t easy — but that’s half the point. A ride to Bang Na station on the MRT, a short cab ride to the pier, and a longtail boat across the Chao Phraya later, we found ourselves standing on the wobbly, bobbing pier of Bangkok Tree House, excited for two nights in the serene setting after getting bummer news in the big bad city.
We were greeted with a questionnaire about our stay — breakfast and dinner must be ordered in advance, so be prepared to commit to mealtimes upon arrival — and a rainbow-like array of herbal teas presented alongside a whole flower corresponding to each flavor. Grajiab (roselle) is an old favorite of mine, while anchun (butterfly pea flower), gek hoi (chrysanthemum) and matoom (bale fruit) were new to me.
I had been reading praise for Bangkok Tree House since it opened around five years ago, and anxiously awaited my own visit. The website read like it was written specifically to bait me — the hotel is dog friendly, bikes are complimentary, there’s an honestly bar with free sorbet, free firefly tours are given onsite, and the hotel is constructed of eco-friendly materials, powered by natural energy sources, and committed to clean. Anyone who has ever so much as glanced at the Chao Phraya knows that sadly, it functions as a floating garbage dump and Bangkok Tree House is committed to cleaning it by removing one kilo of trash per booking from the river.
And their special offers left me smiling — there are discounts for arriving by bike, presenting a Thai ID, or surrendering your iPhone or other mobile devices for a “digital detox” bonus of 15% off (available only to permanent residents of Thailand). How fun is that?
The undisputed highlight of Bangkok Tree House is its gorgeous rooms, known affectionately as tree top nests consisting of three-level cube.
Come on in! The first floor is a bathroom with outdoor bamboo showers and a toilet with glass underfoot (the serenity is interrupted by low tide and floating trash, unfortunately), while the second floor is a cozy bedroom with a beautiful balcony. And the top floor is an open-air sunbed perfect for enjoying the sunset, watching traffic float serenely by on the Chao Phraya, or napping with the river breeze.
I fell so hard in love with our bedroom, where we woke up each morning to palm fronds swaying in front of blue skies.
I had been super excited about the desktop computers in nest, which I’d read contained impressive libraries of eco-focused movies and documentaries. Unfortunately ours was not working when we checked in and our call to reception to report the issue was met with a giggle, so we gave up on that, and turned to our books instead.
One thing to keep in mind? You’ll have to specifically request having your room cleaned — we were disappointed to come back to an unmade room before we realized this.
And I truly couldn’t have been more in love with these tree top day beds. When I return to Bangkok Tree House someday, I’m packing a picnic and a bottle of wine and camping out up there for hours. They’ll have to pry me out.
If the nests themselves were the highlight of the Bangkok Tree House experience, leaving them was the lowlight — specifically in search of food. We were incredibly excited for the food at the onsite Reflections Restaurant, who’s menu we’d pored over online and which we’d repeatedly read hailed as organic, pescetarian and in-season.
Well, this was our first hint that some things have changed drastically since Bangkok Tree House first opened its doors, but that is not what the restaurant is all about at the moment. During the day, the only food on offer was french fries and chicken wings (I’m not kidding) and a menu of smoothies that we picked from. Nightfall brought a dinner menu full of options, but I won’t sugar coat it — it wasn’t good. I can only assume that the management has changed as the beautifully presented photos I’d pored over bore no resemblance to what we were served. To be fair, the ma haw was beautifully presented and delicious (a holdover from the old menu?), while the other two dishes we ordered looked like something we’d get at a roadside stall, but unfortunately tasted a fraction as good and costed multiple times as much. We couldn’t finish them — which might not mean much coming from a picky eater like me, but from Ian? That was a bad sign. Breakfast was fine, but the homemade local fruit jams I’d read about have officially been replaced with cheap jelly packets.
So sadly no, I can’t rave about the food at Bangkok Tree House. Luckily there’s plenty else to get excited about.
Like exploring Bang Krachao. The biggest draw in the area is the weekend floating market, though we found plenty to entertain us while lazily biking around on a weekday, including marveling at the mix of humble local homes and what we assumed were posh weekend getaways of the Bangkok elite. We also stumbled upon the gorgeous, crumbling Wat Bang Nampueung Nok, bought bananas and snacks from roadside stands, and shrieked with delight (okay, maybe that was just me) when a chihuahua-sized Asian Water Monitor muscled across the path in front of us.
People seemed genuinely happy to see us ride by, and we returned so many friendly waves that I finally got the hang of riding one-handed. I sometimes raise my eyebrow at Thailand’s Land of Smiles slogan, but here? It was true.
Biggest tip? Enjoy getting lost — and don’t fall in! Many of the narrow paths are guardrail free. For those looking for a more structured experience, tours are available.
Can you believe buzzy Silom is just six miles away?
As night falls, the sleepy Green Lung of Bangkok fades to black with little fanfare. But while evening entertainment is limited — sunset from the day bed and the firefly tour just about overs it — it’s pretty magical.
Cameras are strictly forbidden on the firefly tour, lest you disturb the gorgeous, synchronized blinking of these fairy tale creatures. I grew up chasing fireflies and thus was skeptical how much the tour would wow me, but I was quickly corrected as we approached the seemingly star-studded mangrove a short boat ride from the hotel.
One thing to keep in mind is that the guides speak only Thai, which makes sense considering not only were we in Thailand but also Bangkok Tree House caters primarily to domestic tourists. Still, something about it rubbed me the wrong way — obviously the onus is on us to learn the local language when we travel or live in a foreign country but we weren’t even acknowledged with a smile, and when the other guests — a young couple from Bangkok — kindly attempted to translate into English for us, the guide just plowed over them by speaking in Thai again. If you’re Thai isn’t quite up to snuff, I recommend bringing headphones and just enjoying the show without the stress of trying to understand what’s going on.
Our experience at Bangkok Tree House was definitely mixed. The hotel shows clear signs of aging, we weren’t greeted with the cold coconuts and welcome note on a leaf that many reviews raved about, the kitchen has obviously undergone a major change (and not for the better), staff seemed skittish around us and service was slow. But all that said — we loved it and we will totally be going back. While it might seem I had quite a few complaints throughout this post, the design of the hotel is just so stunning and the overall experience just so unique, it really does weigh out to a net positive, and I’m sure we will appreciate it even more upon return with our expectations properly adjusted.
So, is Bangkok Tree House right for you? If you’re into design, sustainability, quirk and getting away from it all, then yes. If you’re a first time visitor to Bangkok looking to tick off every major sight, then no. If you’re a Southeast Asia expat or a Thailand local (Bangkok residents on staycation make up the majority of the hotel’s guests) or are just looking for a different kind of capital city experience, then yes again. A two night stay is perfect.
And when to go? If you want to visit the local floating market, enjoy a lively atmosphere and rub shoulders with Bangkok hipsters, weekend will be your jam. But, be prepared for crowds of day trippers taking pictures and hanging in what you’d expect were guest-only portions of the hotel — while I didn’t personally experience this as I visited during the week, many reviews complained of it. If you’re looking for a peaceful respite like we were, head over on a weekday. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.
And it was quite a place to behold.
Would you stay at Bangkok Tree House?