Revival of The River of Kings – Bangkok, Thailand

Most tourists to Bangkok usually prefer to stay at one of the ubiquitous hotels that are dotted along the lengthy Sukhumvit road and its environs as it is more centrally located. In the past decade, the advent of attractions such as Asiatique and Icon Siam has brought back a renewed vigour, buzz, and vitality back to the banks of the river of kings. All of a sudden, people are thrilled to flock back to the Chao Praya once more.

Bangkok’s famous riverbanks are the choice base for hotels such as the Shangri-La and the Peninsula, as well as the newly renovated grand dame, the Mandarin Oriental that has a very enduring history spanning more than 147 years. The Mandarin Oriental hotel recently received a milestone achievement and nod for the 10th place at the inaugural “World’s 50 Best Hotels” listings. We profile the new kids on the block that also won awards and positions at the “World’s 50 Best Hotels” listing, thereby putting the Chao Praya smack back on the world map as one of the coolest places in Thailand and on the planet to wine, dine, play, and stay at.

The Capella Bangkok

The ultra sleek and modern Capella Bangkok is enveloped by a cocoon of luscious green foliage that creates a cozy urban luxe riverfront oasis that made us feel completely at home. The hotel ranked 11th at the World’s 50 Best Hotels list, and also managed to bag the “Nikka Best New Hotel Award 2023”. The Capella Bangkok effortlessly accords the privacy and intimate sensation of being inside an elegant boutique hotel, yet without compromising on any of the creature comforts that one would expect from a luxury five star establishment.

All 101 rooms, suites and private villas feature wide frontage floor to ceiling windows to maximise the full frontal vantage views of the bustling Chao Praya river. The elegant looking rooms have soft muted warm neutral toned furnishings, and refined marble fixtures that are accentuated with incandescent mood lighting. For the most discerning of guests who demand absolute solitude and maximum seclusion, the exclusive row of contemporary style riverside villas each complete with private entrances, plunge pools, and manicured garden courtyards are the only riverside villa style hotel suite rooms in all of Bangkok. These villas have atmospheric skylight streaming down onto the front courtyard ponds of river reeds that are reminiscent of something you might otherwise only expect to find while in Bali or Tulum.

The hotel lobby, living room, restaurants, and grounds are sophisticated and have classy looking interiors yet somehow still retains a certain “Je ne sais quoi” charm, which I can best describe as a relaxed insouciance. Capella Culturists are on hand 24/7, and at your beck and call as your personal concierge to assist and direct you to the very best that the capital city of Thailand has to offer.

The hotel’s award winning Auriga Wellness Spa won the ‘World’s Best New Hotel Spa 2022” award at the World Spa Awards, as well as also recently garnering a five star rating by the Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards. The Auriga spa boasts a water jet therapy relaxation area that is one of the best that I have ever encountered in any hotel resort.

Auriga Wellness frequently hosts Buddhist monk led guided meditation sessions, yoga and Muay Thai classes, as well as holistic workshop classes and private sessions by visiting spiritual practitioners. On Global Wellness Day, I attended a delightful “Five Elements” workshop session taught by Portuguese spiritual practitioner Sebastian Bruno that was being organised by the Auriga Wellness Centre for all the hotel staff and guests to attend.

When it comes to dining at the hotel, we thoroughly relished an unforgettable macrobiotic lunch menu of light and healthy tasting fare over at Phra Nakhon restaurant. At dusk, Chef Kannika Jitsangworn, who is the talented Thai Chef de Cuisine at Phra Nakhon, beguiled and delighted our taste buds with a fiery concoction of authentic southern-style Thai dishes. Chef Kannika Jitsangworn has an incredibly meticulous eye and selects only the choicest fresh ingredients to put into her delectable dishes. Her passion and flair for cooking is evident as she had us licking every morsel off our plates. After dinner, we headed up to the “sunset cin cin hour” over at the quirky Stella bar for a digestif nightcap. Stellar features an eye-catching taxidermied white albino peacock as the centrepiece.

The stylishly suave and debonair general manager of the Capella Bangkok, Mr John Blanco, who has a calming demeanour and charismatic disposition, suggested in his mellifluously soothing voice, “There are all these little nooks and crannies around the property that gives you a moment of peaceful respite. A lot of people do not venture to our greenhouse area which features an organic herb garden that guests are free to explore.”

The Capella Bangkok attention to detail is second to none. The hotel has some of the most refined in-room amenities such as toiletries and stationary. Their rose gold embossed letterheads and fine nib rose gold hued pen feels substantial in the hand, and writes smoothly like a dream. We actually took home the hotel stationary as a memorabilia keepsake of our fantastic stay.

A few days after checking out of the hotel, when I returned back to the reception desk to collect a dress shirt that I had forgotten about and left behind; a random hotel staff member at the lobby whom I do not recall bumping into during my stay actually addressed me by my name. I was flabbergasted and very impressed. That is the hallmark of great hospitality, which makes us want to keep returning back to the Capella Bangkok time and again.

Four Seasons Chao Praya

Right next door and within the same compounds as the Capella Bangkok and the massively towering Four Seasons Residence is the Four Seasons Chao Praya hotel which earned the no. 3 position in the World’s 50 Best Hotels list. This is a pretty amazing and well-deserved feat for a fairly new urban hotel with an extremely strong managerial team that is spearheaded by hospitality veteran and regional general manager, Mr Lubosh Barta. He teased, “We are doing up the final finishing touches for our new 40-seater catamaran boat which will arrive later this year. It will be the most beautiful shuttle boat that Bangkok has ever seen.”

Big, bold and brazen, the Four Seasons Chao Praya comprising of 299 guests rooms across 11 different room types is spacious and expansive for a city hotel as evident by its enormous high ceiling lobbies and palatial courtyards. Luxuriously furnished and capacious contemporary style suites with private terraces overlook the main riverside pools that appear to cascade into the river below. Renowned hotel interior designer Jean-Michel Gathy did an excellent job in creating the illusionary appearance of free flowing water features, public spaces and courtyards that integrates into the Chao Praya river. JMG was also responsible for designing the fabulous Four Seasons Otemachi in Tokyo, which opened approximately about the same time as the Four Seasons Chao Praya.

This is the place to see and be seen; as well as to be photographed. During our stay, we caught sight of a handsome groom and his blushing bride decked in a classic Vera Wang wedding dress having their bridal portraits professional taken by a camera crew. You can watch as guests dressed to the nines in the latest sartorial garbs saunter pass the main lobby to eat at one of fine dining establishments that surround the entire complex, which was intentionally built to be a destination for all guests to come and enjoy.

The Michelin-starred Yu Ting Yuan is the pride and flagship restaurant at the Four Seasons Chao Praya that serves up gourmet Cantonese cuisine fit for an emperor. Executive chef Andrea Accordi heads up a talented culinary team over at the Riva Del Fiume Ristorante, where I ate the best pizza that I ever had in my entire life. I was extremely impressed as I usually do not fancy pizzas. My dinner companions commented that the Italian dishes served here are even better that those that you get over in Italy.

People flock from all over Bangkok to socialise and sip award-winning Argentinian themed cocktails such as the “Evita” over at the BKK Social Club, which is inspired by the opulence and old glamour of Buenos Aires back in its heydays. The BKK Social Club clinched the no. 3 spot on Asia’s 50 best bars 2023 listing. Hotel manager Mr Simon Barnett recommends his favourite drinks there, which are the “Aviator” and the “Negroni” cocktails. After dinner and drinks, guests can often be seen heading over to the Art Space that is curated by MOCA to gawk at the monthly rotating art pieces.

The hotel’s gargantuan 26,900 square feet Urban Wellness Centre is a riverside sanctuary that offers a serene haven of self-care and peaceful tranquillity that guests can escape to, and go on an inward journey to achieve a holistically balanced equilibrium of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. The Urban Wellness Centre features a dapper looking gentleman’s barbershop, naturally lit state-of-the-art gym, a fully equipped aerial yoga studio, a 35-metre lap pool, as well as beauty and hair salons.

The centre also boasts a competition-sized Muay Thai ring. Some guests even specifically stay at the hotel just so that they can have private Muay Thai training sessions with the energetic and experienced kickboxing instructor Khun Boy, who was incidentally named “The Employee of the Year”, which is testimony to his greatness. “Together as a team, we have spent countless hours researching, testing, building, and training an offering of truly transformational full body treatments,” said Mr Benjamin Carter, the Director of Spa, who leads the entire family of staff and visiting holistic wellness practitioners over at the Urban Wellness Centre.

The Siam

We patiently waited for The Siam staff to come to pick us up using their hotel shuttle boat from the jetty pier that is conveniently located right by the Four Seasons. The shuttle boat journey took just shy of 40 minutes, and meandered through the Chao Praya river passing by iconic tourists landmarks such as the Grand Palace, Wat Arun & Wat Po. When the boat finally arrived and docked at The Pier, we were being greeted by the smiling faces of the hotel staff who gave us a warm reception and check-in complete with refreshing scented towels and a lemongrass-infused welcome drink.

The most striking feature of The Siam has got to be the lush and luscious open-air central lobby courtyard of hanging ferns and colossal traveller’s palms amidst gardens and ponds which all look even more majestic in real life then in photos. Natural skylight streams down and illuminates all the public spaces with dappled sun lighting that magically transforms an old converted warehouse into an exquisite hotel that is really more like an antiques and historical relics museum.

The Siam was designed over a decade ago by legendary hotel and landscape architect Bill Bensley, whose signature monochromatic black and white chessboard art deco style is observably evident and prevalent throughout the entire property. Each riverside pool villa has an outdoor plunge pool, and roof top lounge terrace to watch sunsets from. The bedrooms and spacious bathrooms features extremely high ceilings. Brass basins in the bathrooms even doubles up as singing bowls, which I discovered by chance when my toothbrush accidentally struck the sides of the round metallic sink, and then it resounded with a melodious tone. How delightfully fun!

The hotel is the crowning jewel of the Sukosol family dynasty’s portfolio of hotels, and is helmed by famous actor and singer Krissada Sukosol Clapp who is a household name in Thailand. Khun Krissada acts as the hotel’s creative director. With just 38 rooms and villas, The Siam attracts a discerning niche clientele with eclectic and esoteric tastes. Zany curios, nostalgic movie memorabilia, and vintage art permeate every wall, room, and corner of the hotel including the gymnasium and lavatories. The eccentric quirkiness and peculiarity of The Siam’s decor reflects the idiosyncratic tastes of its uber cool owners and radical builders.

Even members of the Thai royal family have been through The Siam’s gilded doors. Hollywood celebrities with the likes of Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and Mick Jagger have also spent nights here, adding to the ever-burgeoning list of well-heeled socialites and dignitaries that consider The Siam as their top favourite hotel pick in the Asian “City of Angels”.

One cannot help but feel totally immersed in history and culture simply by spending some time here. The memories, stories, and energies of the historical relics and cultural artefacts rub off on you. Little wonder that The Siam managed to out beat many others to clinch the 42nd spot in the World’s 50 Best Hotels list.

Friendly, hospitable and approachable general manager of The Siam, Mr Nick Downing remarked, “Every room at The Siam is literally different. There is really nothing quite like this hotel. Bikes hanging off walls, movie posters, shop signs, etc. Change is the most unique and evident thing about The Siam; which is always constantly evolving and transforming. Each time guests return back, they comment that it is a different look, feel, and experience.”

Outside in the garden courtyards close to The Pier and Bathers Bar, there is a Jim Thompson retail store with an art gallery above on the second floor that sells and showcases some of architect Bill Bensley’s whimsical paintings. The dimly lit Opium Spa resembles and reminds me of an opulent Chinois style opium den, albeit with some Moroccan Arabic style motifs and influences thrown in. As an extension of the Opium Spa, there is even a specially consecrated and well-decorated tattoo parlour devoted to the sacred art of hand inking traditional Thai Sak Yant tattoos.

A hotel as prolific, and with an antiques collection as extensive as The Siam’s deserves the undivided attention of its history loving guests who typically stay for an average length of 3-4 nights, and who rarely leave the hotel. Fortunately, the dining options available over at The Siam are distinctively tasty and satiating. You would not ever need to leave the hotel grounds in search of good food as The Siam’s two main restaurants “The Story House” and “Chon Thai” are more that capable of fulfilling most gastronomical desires. We even made requests for comfort food items that are not found on the menu such as popcorn, and the hotel could fulfil them. In the event that you might wish to leave for some sightseeing or majestic river sunsets, guests can easily skip the mayhem of Bangkok’s maddening and chaotic traffic jams, and cruise down the Chao Praya in comfort and style by simply getting on one of The Siam’s boat shuttle cruise with multiple daily departures up and down the river.

Images: Luke Elijah

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