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River Books Shop and Chakrabongse Villas & Residences are a must visit in Bangkok

In Bangkok’s heart, Narisa Chakrabongse, of royal descent and environmental advocate, shares her journey as River Books’ founder, preserving Southeast Asian heritage and literature, while nurturing cultural connections through her publishing house.

We head down by the riverside at the Chao Phraya, Bangkok River of Kings, for the first episode of Trends in 2024. We’re in conversation with acclaimed author, publisher and environmental activist, M.R. Narisa Chakrabongse. The formality of her title, M.R., denotes royal lineage that enriches her narrative. As the Founder and CEO of River Books Publishing, Khun Narisa emerges as a guardian of Southeast Asian heritage through the written word.

Narisa, a visionary who founded River Books in 1989, embarked on a noble quest spanning over three decades. Her mission, a testament to a profound commitment to the preservation of Southeast Asian art, history and culture, mirrors the ebb and flow of the Chao Phraya River itself. The River Books repertoire, a treasury of tomes, acts as a guardian, capturing the essence of vanishing cultures and venerating the splendour of art and architecture across mainland Southeast Asia.

Among the gems in Narisa’s literary collection gleams “Katya and the Prince of Siam,” a magnum opus that resurrects the love affair between a Siamese Prince (her father) and a Ukrainian maiden against the opulent canvas of the early 20th century. A work both poignant and historical, it echoes the heartbeat of a bygone era.

Under her literary leadership, River Books annually publishes approximately ten books, spanning genres from novels to historical and artistic treatises. Collaborating with authors such as Philip Cornwel-Smith, she prints “Very Thai” and “Very Bangkok,” envisioning a follow-up with Phil covering Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Narisa’s bibliophilic adore is not confined to her own River Books publishing. She harbours a love for her father’s book and cherishes the timeless classic of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Especially the part where Elizabeth travels to Derbyshire and meets Mr Darcy.

In the old part of Bangkok city, located adjacent to the entrance of Chakrabongse Villas, you will find her River Books shop filled with literary treasures with new prints and a selection of second-hand books.

The ebb and flow of Narisa’s life down by the riverside mirrors the dance between two worlds — she grew up and was educated in Cornwall, Southwest England and also schooled at the royal Chitralada Palace in Bangkok, cultivating a duality of Thai and British education. This unique dichotomy forged in her the rare ability to translate Thai literature into English, bridging cultures with a literary finesse.

Narisa’s porjects for 2024 include a new book launch with her cousin. It’s an ode to the symbiosis of humanity and nature. A tale birthed in Thailand, its English iteration is poised to grace bookshelves around the world in 2024. A must-read which resonates with a profound call to protect the delicate equilibrium of our planet.

Putting books to one side, the focus switched to the fabulous surroundings of Chakrabongse Villas & Residences, an exquisite riverside oasis. Chakrabongse Villas stands as a living testament to the illustrious past of Prince Chakrabongse. Erected in 1908 as a retreat from the rigors of palace life, it is now home to Narisa. And under her stewardship, the villas in garden have been transformed into an intimate boutique hotel. Here, history breathes anew and the splendours of Thai art, cuisine and culture unfold like the petals of a lotus.

Serenaded by the sounds of the Chao Phraya, the luxury suites and rooms within the gardens bear witness to the confluence of history and modernity. Guests are graced by a garden centrepiece of crystalline statue and pond, scenic terraces, secret walkways and a profound sense of being transported to a bygone era, enveloped in the charisma of yesteryears.

Narisa’s aspirations extend beyond the written word to cultural advocacy. She echoes a poignant observation — the oversight of books in the government’s Soft Power campaign to promote Thailand’s creative economy through the five “F”s – Food, Fashion, Film, Festivals and Fight (Muay Thai boxing), Narisa urges the inclusion of a “F” word for Thai cultural literature, as she stands as a beacon for literary enlightenment in a world captivated by other facets of creative expression.

As 2024 begins with new hopes and wishes, Narisa Chakrabongse, with her regal grace, dreams of publishing more best sellers. Narisa’s drive and commitment is a testament to the enduring legacy of River Books and the indomitable spirit of an amazing writer with a pen truly mightier than a scepter.

David Barrett
Managing Director - DBC Asia

David Barrett is a MICE Consultant, Marketing Strategist and digital video advocate. Founder of DBC Group, Member of Institute of Place Management (MIMP) his motto is “Everybody has a story to tell. Let me tell yours.”

David is a long-term resident of Bangkok having lived and worked in the Thai capital for more than 32 years. He is recognised in the Thai tourism and hospitality industry for his passion for promoting Thailand, his love of Thai food, and his creative approach to marketing.

64 years young, David is a Brit in Bangkok. Born in St Helier, UK, he returned to the UK and set up home in Cornwall during the COVID pandemic. With business back as usual, David has returned to Thailand. He’s a man on a mission to interview leaders and trend-setters in business, sustainability, the arts and entertainment. You can watch his weekly conversations on Trends YouTube channel.