BANGKOK’S BOSSA NOVA
A new Renaissance hotel in the Thai capital haswondering why – until he gets to spend the weekend there
I’M BEMUSED WHEN the call comes from the PR company, asking whether I’d be interested in a weekend at the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel. Of course, I tell them, any opportunity to visit a city that ranks on almost everyone’s list of their favourites in Asia is always welcome, but a Renaissance hotel, why on Earth would I be interested in that?
Rightly or wrongly, what I’ve known of the hospitality brand till now can be summed up thus: founded around 30 years ago as an upmarket offshoot of Ramada Inns; acquired by Hong Kong’s New World around 10 years later; bought by Marriott International in the late ’90s during one of its periodic spasms of global expansion; and subsequently used as an alternative branding in cities where the chain already had existing hotels. So far, so unprepossessing.
According to the PR people, however, there are things about the Renaissance brand I’m not aware of. It transpires that the Marriott corporation, doubtless perplexed by what to do with this adopted child and presumably inspired by competitors’ lucrative forays into the niche of design-oriented hotels (best exemplified by Starwood’s W and relaunched Le Méridien portfolios), now envisages Renaissance as its (to use that terminally awful word) “hip” boutique brand. To that end, existing and new hotels bearing the name must now be the cool, contemporary and stylish kind of places that appeal to the fashionable, independent-minded, globetrotting hipster. People like me, for instance. Hmm.
I also discover that the opening of this Bangkok property in late 2010 completes a trio of Renaissance hotels and resorts in Thailand (the others are in Koh Samui, with 33 pool villas and 45 rooms, and Phuket, with 26 pool villas and 154 rooms), each to a greater or lesser extent reflecting the revised “values” that the brand now embodies. I’m told the hotel is in a pretty good location, too, standing a couple of hundred metres back from Ploenchit Road and just two minutes’ walk from the Chitlom Skytrain (I later learn that an overhead indoor link between the hotel and the station is planned, which should make access even easier). So it’s bang on the retail, dining and nightlife continuum that links Siam Square and Sukhumvit Road, and to which visitors to the Thai capital tend to gravitate.
My interest is sufficiently piqued, though that scintilla of cynicism – the “yeah, right” that greets every effort by buttoned-up corporates to make like Johnny Depp – persists. And what the heck, it’s still a weekend in Bangkok.
Cut to a couple of weeks later, when the Merc that’s picked me up at Suvarnabhumi Airport delivers me outside the Renaissance’s plate-glass frontage at 9pm on a Friday evening, and I have to admit this is not what I imagined. The door opens and I’m admitted into a trippy space, a cavern of light that more resembles a vast nightclub than a hotel lobby.
Mood lighting, some from a glittering forest of optical fibre cables, sparkles on the mirrored, coloured walls, and bounces off the stainless-steel fittings and the marble floor, while the interplanetary vibe is picked up in the rhythmic susurrus of lounge music wafting over from the bar that occupies one end of the L-shaped entrance hall. That mood is carried over into the elevator, which whooshes me upwards to a bossa nova beat, a hip-swaying groove so infectious that when I reach the hotel’s Club Floor it’s hard resisting the temptation to shuffle out the door with my Samsonite.
And now comes the acid test – the room, which is after all where I’ll be spending most of my time. The door swings open to reveal a bright and elegant space, done up with polished light-wood floor and panels, dark-wood headboard and furnishings, floral-etched mirrors that echo the motifs in the lobby floor and walls, and rich crimson carpeting and silk runner over the crisp white duvet. Adjacent to the bed is a freestanding bathtub enclosed by two walls of stainless-steel-framed glass, with full-length blinds permitting the modest to perform their ablutions in privacy. It’s all so stylish, comfortable and sumptuous that I can’t help but be impressed. I’d even go so far as to say it’s cool – very cool, in fact.
I’m still feeling that way 13 hours later after a deep sleep in my expansive bed, an excellent breakfast – plus a line-up of dazzling smiles from the delightful female staff at the reception desk – in the Club Lounge a few doors down the corridor from my room, and an opportunity to explore the hotel. There’s a 25-metre pool, open-air but sheltered from the sun and rain, a fitness centre (I keep well away from that) and a beauty salon. Down in the lobby, after poking around in a curious mirrored alcove that turns out to be a lift large enough to accommodate a limousine (the Renaissance has already accommodated several luxury-car launches), I’m introduced at the reception desk to Tim, a distinguished gentleman casually dressed in shirt and chinos who I at first take to be a professor or a doctor. No, he tells me, he’s actually the developer – whose full Thai name, M.R. Tinasakti S Bhanubandh, is rather more grand than his English one.
Curious as to how an owner works with an operating company, I ask him what guidelines he’d received from Marriott while the hotel was under construction. Perhaps, I suggest, he’d had to make several revisions to the hotel’s concept and design? “Not at all,” he replies. “They seemed very happy with it. The main things they were concerned about were the fire precautions and sprinkler systems. Everything else is pretty much what I’d planned.” So that inspired decor isn’t the result of some diktat handed down by a chiselled suit called Ed or Chuck in Marriott’s headquarters near Washington DC, but entirely home grown. I find I’m liking the Renaissance Bangkok even more.
I spend much of Saturday as I imagine most hotel guests will, by visiting the nearby CentralWorld shopping “destination,” a prominent casualty of Thailand’s political crisis early last year when part of it went up in smoke, but I’m happy to see it’s now almost entirely up and running again, save for the former Zen fashion store. Bangkok’s bookstores are surprisingly good and with a branch of Kinokuniya and Central’s own B2S in this monster mall, there’s hardly any need for me to look further. I’m not only occupied for hours, but pick up several volumes I’ve never seen in Hong Kong. If only I’d travelled with a bigger suitcase.
An inexpensive but excellent green-curry lunch at CentralWorld follows, then it’s back, via a brief stop at the Erawan Shrine where I’m careful to offer up a prayer to Brahma, to the Renaissance’s Quan Spa for one of the oddest treatments I’ve ever experienced. Over the next two hours, I’m slathered in a wrap of tropical sand, subjected to powerful jets of steaming water while reclining full-length on a heated slab, then anointed with essential oil in a rather more traditional massage. Asked that evening what it was like, I’m at a loss for words. “A bit like water-boarding, but in a nice way,” is what eventually comes to mind.
Darkness sees me – admittedly a trifle oily but at least not unpleasantly fragrant – heading out for drinks on a soi off Sukhumvit, but after several beers beside a pond full of carp, I decide I’ve reached my limit. With three dining rooms to choose from at the hotel I’m back indoors by 9pm, and as the acclaimed Fei Ya Cantonese restaurant is predictably booked up, I opt for a respectably decent Italian dinner of antipasti and pizza from a wood-fired oven at the sleek La Tavola. These and a couple glasses of wine disposed of, I’m only too happy to disappear upstairs.
With the curtains wide open and the lights outside winking enticingly, I lie here wondering whether I really should be in bed, on my own, at 10.30 on a Saturday night in Bangkok. There are countless bars and clubs to hang out in, beautiful people to watch and mischief surely to be made. But then the room is so stylish that I want to enjoy it while I can, and the soft bed linen is so irresistibly comfy and…and…I wake up at 7am, perfectly refreshed but already desperately figuring out reasons why I really must stay at least one more night in this marvellous hotel that, whether hip, cool, trendy or whatever, has proved such a welcome surprise.
+ The Siam
+ Abu Ahabi
+ The Sarojin
+ 137 Pillars
+ Conrad Koh Samui
+ The Kensington Hotel
+ The Pavilions
+ Mandarin Oriental Paris
+ Waiheke Island
+ Hotel Icon
+ Phnom Penh
+ Buenos Aires
+ Shangri-La Paris
+ Passage to Hong Kong
+ Diving the Sweet Spot
+ The Far Pavilions
+ Hansar Thailand
+ Samui Wind
+ HOTEL DAS CATARATAS
+ The Ritz-Carlton
+ WALDORF ASTORIA SHANGHAI
+ Wolgan Valley
+ LA ISLA BONITA
+ SAIGON FOR MEN
+ ART OF THE CITY
+ Soneva Kiri
+ Langham Hotel
+ The Best of Boston
+ SULTANATE SUBLIME
+ SKYLIGHT VISTA – SEVEN STARS GALLERIA
+ MONGOLIA LUXE
+ The Plaza
+ INSTANT KARMA
+ HEAVEN SCENT, Phuket Pavilions
+ VINO, VIDI, VICI
+ ARABESQUE: A TASTE OF MOROCCO