My friend and I are racing at the back of a “tuk-tuk” in the scorching 35 degree Bangkok heat in mid-day traffic as the driver swerves to avoid a collision. He doesn’t seem too worried. My skin seems to be melting, my heart is racing because we are late for our first appointment and my friend is holding onto me for dear life. She wants to see the best of Bangkok’s hotels and I thought I would bring her around town the local way: in an exposed metal makeshift half car/half bike, Thais call it the “tuc tuc”. Somehow I know it’s going to be ok and we will survive the ride. This year, Bangkok holds a place as a second most traveled tourist city in the world after London, followed by Paris, Singapore, and Dubai. Bangkok is a magical world in many ways; one of which is, you can afford to stay at the very best hotels by western standards, for a fraction of the price. A very small fraction! So as an ‘expat’ resident and hotel connoisseur of sorts myself, here is my list of Bangkok’s most excellent hotels – hopefully you can shortcut the reviews and find yourself in one of them soon!
Okura Prestige Hotel – The Business Sophisticate
Located in one of the most impressive office buildings in Bangkok, Park Ventures houses this business hotel on the top 12 floors overlooking the city. Having traveled to Japan on a regular basis, I notice the same familiar bow from the waist by the doorman when arriving at the hotel rather than doing the traditional Thai “Wai” prayer nod. I immediately realize this hotel has in its philosophy its Japanese roots. I am escorted to the 24th floor, where the magnificent lobby overlooks the city. Remarkably, this hotel is nothing like the traditional Okura hotels in Japan which tend to be simpler and cater more to the mid-range business market. As I am ushered into the elegant and strangely authentic in-house Japanese restaurant for a quick lunch, I now understand, why this one adds “Prestige” to its name. The two floors of high ceilings and architectural metallic on glass vastness of the lobby lets in a lot of light. The staff appears extremely attentive and well trained to understand the needs of the sophisticated business traveler, but also simply those who have come to Bangkok to relax in elegance. This philosophy on pro-active caretaking is well communicated to the staff. I hop up to the 25th floor. The infinity swimming pool here is a state of art as it protrudes high up from the building and is almost black. Their version of litchi mojito specially crafted as their signature drink is a perfect refreshing combination while enjoying the spectacular view from the pool. Dean & Deluca cafe on the ground floor only adds to the New York look and feel of this building. Tokyo in New York, but in Bangkok…very original!
The St. Regis Bangkok – The High Flying Adventurer
If you are the typical well-travelled bachelor/bachelorette or jet savvy couple on a holiday in Bangkok, you probably want to stay in a hotel with the best address in the whole city as it is located on the land owned by the royal family. You can even live here because half of the hotel are St. Regis residences and until they open the long delayed Ritz-Carlton residences being currently built, there is nothing in this city even close to the luxury at the St. Regis in terms of services, location and the prestige. What adds to the high touch feel of this place is the fact that when you buy an apartment here, it comes with leasehold, which means you are guaranteed the ownership only for 30 years. The highly sophisticated contemporary chic interior makes this hotel one of the best designed in the city. Its central location makes it a perfect base for a single bachelor in town ready for an adventure. Your personal butler will take care of all your needs from neatly unpacking your luggage, to getting you restaurant bookings to fresh cup of tea or coffee day and night. St. Regis hotel is also a home to the famous Japanese Zuma restaurant from London, which branches can be found in New York, Hong Kong and Dubai among others.
Hotel Muse – Mr. and Ms. “Modern Chic”
As a part of the Accor’s MGallery collection of the most unique high-end hotels, this small hidden oasis is the gem of boutique hotels in Bangkok. Privacy together with personalized service is much easier to deliver in a hotel of this size. This is an advantage that the larger hotel brands cannot offer. The swimming pool is small, but very lush and never too busy. The only places that get busy here are the Italian restaurant which became a hot spot immediately after the hotel’s opening in 2011, as well as its rooftop bar that has DJ nights on the weekends, attracting the young and trendy mixed crowd of expats and locals. This small hotel has it all. From an amazing 216 m2 penthouse with a jacuzzi, to complimentary canapés and cocktails in the evening, what more could a groovy guest or couple want. There is even a cigar lounge for gentlemen decorated in carved wooden walls, with dimmed lights and heavy leather sofas, where Hendrick’s gin with tonic can be savored for hours. Now Hendricks, that says it all.
Sukhothai Hotel – The “I’m Looking for Thai with a Modern Twist” Traveler
My friend – the one from the “tuc tuc” earlier- wants to see a Thai style 4/5 star hotel, so I bring her here. We have come to view the rooms and are whisked away as promised, escorted by the most gracious host dressed in what looks like a traditional Thai outfit. She has that specific air of warmth and modesty I associate with Thai hospitality; I immediately want to stay a while longer and savor this place, but we can’t. She ushers us through the long lobby hallway through the magnificent fish pond garden with palm trees surrounded by the hotel on the sides until I finally reach one of their suites. The rooms here are tastefully decorated in what I would call “Thai with a modern aesthetic”; I am certain this place would be exciting for a first or repeated time visitor to Thailand who is here to experience as much of the local culture as possible but doesn’t want to sacrifice her taste for clean lines, stunning comfort and modernity. This hotel is locally owned and its fine dining restaurants are among some of the best in town, however, one might note, Sukhothai is mainly known for having one of the best Sunday champagne brunch buffets in Bangkok. Small warning: do not expect any spectacular city views, as this is a low-rise building enclosed inside a courtyard, giving it a resort-feel while in the center of one of the busiest cities.
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok – First Class, Old World Traveler
As I’m sitting in an old wicker armchair in the Author’s Wing, the original part from 1887 of the very first Mandarin Oriental hotel in the world, I’m feeling as if I am back in British colonial era and that authors such as Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, and James Michener wrote their books right here where I am standing, after which the lounge received its name, Authors’ Lounge. While I’m being served the traditional high tea in a unique and elegant setting of the lounge that opens its doors only for this occasion, I’m getting the feeling of the old noble Siamese culture with exquisite service that Thailand is known for; it is preserved in time right here. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel or “The Oriental” (as locals call it) was the very first 5-star hotel in Bangkok and also the first of this hotel chain. All of its nine restaurants are among the top in town. Nothing less can be expected from this hotel chain. Entering the lobby, I notice the stunning floral arrangements hanging from the ceiling like if they were flying, making up for beautiful photos from your trip. Mandarin Orientals are also known for the artistic skills of their pastry chefs, who can create cake sculptured from dresses, teddy bears to object that just defy gravity. Welcome to sheer indulgence, with some history to make you feel better about it!Follow my adventures on Instagram @MRLUSTIN
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