The Siam Bangkok has made itself into a brand with none of the professional help of a major outside consultancy. But this one-off luxury hotel has been put on the map solely by its product, its beauty and the people associated with it. The gal had seen it before, but never stayed, and overnighting is essential to get the full impact, as you will see. I actually arrived around midnight, so had no idea of the beauty of the main area behind the hotel. In front is the Praya River. Behind is a network of Vachirapayabal roads, in the old part of town. This area, says Jason Friedman, one of the people involved who has made Brand The Siam, is soon going to be the chic part of town – for one thing it has now been added to Nancy Chandler’s annual stylized maps of Bangkok that are essential for any visitor to Bangkok who wants more than shopping for bargains and evening sorties to Patpong.
The Siam has just put into action a sleek slipper-like motor launch that makes regular half- hour trips south to Saphan Taksin Pier, by the Shangri-La (you can get straight on to the SkyTrain there). Some hotel guests love the river life so much they simply take a round trip on the shuttle with no intention of getting off. This hotel revolves around the river, as the Sukosol family, who own The Siam, know. Mama and her four children are all passionately involved in The Siam. By family consensus they turned to long-time Bangkok resident Bill Bensley to design the whole thing. He has been architect, interior designer and landscape conceptor. Look how already, less than a year after the hotel’s opening, the fixed metal cages are already filling up with lush greenery.
Some say the most coveted of the 39 rooms here is the former Connie’s Cottage, where Jim Thompson’s long-time friend and secret agent Connie Mangskau lived. But I would say the best is 101, one of four two-floor Riverview Villas, private villas, each with its own squash court-sized compound. 101 is to the left of the photo. You can see its upper floor, a sun terrace reached by a 21-step wrought-iron spiral staircase from the outside terrace of the whole.
You enter your space via a 12-foot high ancient door (use a pressure pad but push hard), and immediately want to climb up there, on top, to see the view down to the river. You walk across, about 20 feet (down four steps, up four steps, Bill Bensley is big on steps) to the house-part of your squash court. Sliding doors reveal a two-level bedroom with desk – you go up four steps to the bed part. The floor is almost as dark as the wood for cupboards, cabinets and so on, like almost black. Go on, through a dressing area with lovely circular dressing table mirror looking into the plants of an inner courtyard. You get to the bathroom, an Art Deco delight, rising to about 20 feet, white tiles, black outlines, black-hung hanging lamps with long flapper-girl tassels falling down.
The big bathtub is fed from a wall-set spout. There is another tub, if you want to call it that, back in your main courtyard – it is a plunge pool, just enough for a couple of strokes. With dining out here, on your terrace downstairs, or upstairs, looking down at the river, why would anyone want to eat anywhere else? But there are nooks and crannies and rooms, some outside and some inside and air-conditioned, for eating, what you want and when you want.
They call breakfast ‘a la carte buffet’ which turns out to be a la carte, but forget the printed menu, just say what you want and, in my case, it came. At dinner, the menu offers Thai and international, say organic slow-roasted beetroot salad followed by a simple steak frites. But you are going to leave your suite, of course. Around the building you discover a cooking school and chef’s table, and a full-size billiard table, and antiques and dozens of old things (cameras, typewriters, books) collected by Krissada Sukosol Clapp (usually known as Noi).
You could keep in shape in the Thai boxing ring in the gym – look out over the gardens – or simply by running up and down the steps that lead from the main building to the river-side grounds. And the main pool, down there by the river, is, well, beautiful. You keep fit, too, by exploring the area outside, heading to the Royal Palace, and to the amazing Chatuchak Weekend Market (known as JJ Market), with over 5,000 stalls. At weekends, head for Talad Nam Peung floating market. Jason Friedman, in his quest to make this THE hotel in town, is also becoming a first-class concierge in his own right.
After all the touristy things and all that exercise, my neck and upper back were saying Thai massage time. I do not know his name but the young man in the Opium Spa here sure does a great job – I wished my half hour could stretch to a couple of hours. But – time flies as always and I wanted to watch the sunset from the pier. A shuttle boat arrived just at that moment, bringing yet another crowd of visitors to come and admire the hotel. This is already becoming one of THE sights in town. Next visit I will explore more, especially in the area. For now, quality was there, every minute, and of course Jason Friedman was there to see me off from ‘his’ luxury hotel…