The Story Behind – Riva Surya Bangkok

by Thailand, The Story Behind

The Ladies of the River …

The owner of Bangkok’s riverside Riva Surya Hotel, Khun Supapan, is the third generation of a family of inspirational women dating back to the last century. These are women way ahead of their time – women who challenged, shaped and smashed the status quo.

Here is the extraordinary story about the females of her family who through their hard work, intelligence and ingenuity, built up a highly successful business that changed life on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River forever.

From lady-in-waiting to wife …

One hundred years ago, a young girl, Boonphan, was serving as a lady-in-waiting to the royal family. After a long journey by elephant from Chiang Mai, she arrived in Bangkok to be greeted by a young officer from the King’s palace, Phraya Ratchamontri. On setting eyes on each other, they fell in love and were soon married. They set up home on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, from where Boonphan began operating a small rowing boat across the river as additional income for the family. The journey cost just one cent.

From palace to university …

The couple soon had a family. At the age of 12, the youngest daughter, Supatra, also began serving in the palace as a lady-in-waiting. When turning 16, this strong woman left and applied to Thammasart University in Bangkok to do a law degree. She was accepted and proudly graduated as one of the first batch of women law graduates in Thailand.

During her university days, she made a living from the ferry business, earning an average of 300 baht, or 10 dollars, per month.

From rowing boats to engine boats …

Supatra had been given one precious gift from her mother – a gold box inlaid with rubies. With no other option for acquiring money to expand the business, she sold the gift for about 13 dollars to buy her first engine boat ‘SP1’.

Her fleet gradually grew to 32 boats operating from 14 different piers. Supatra painted the boats in red and white after the Red Cross, meaning to help people.

From Thailand to the UK to the USA …

Due to the growth of the business, Supatra was able to send her eldest daughter, Supapan, to school in Switzerland. At 14, Supapan moved to England to live and serve with a Thai princess and her daughter at their mansion in Brighton.

At the age of 20, she also graduated with a bachelor degree from the American University in Washington DC. Taking over from her mother who had acquired the express boat operation from the government, Supapan carried on the family business for over 40 years from 1971 to the present day.

From boats to boutique hotel …

On the Bangkok side of the river, an apartment building stood on the location of a former pier, once used to load sand onto boats to ship to the north. Supapan and her family bought it and lived there for 24 years. Realising the potential of the building, in later years they set about converting it into a beautiful boutique riverside hotel.

In 2012 the Riva Surya opened its elegant doors to reveal smart, spacious rooms in colonial style – and a freeform pool overlooking the boats and river that had played a starring role in their incredible story.


Please contact us for more information about the Riva Surya Bangkok and our other ‘hotels with a story to tell’.