Katja Henke is a luxury hotel GM with a big heart and masses of passion, coupled with a sense of humour (it is not everyone who will sit on a ceramic elephant in front of guests, and painters, at Bangkok’s premium ‘other side of the river’ hotel, The Peninsula Bangkok). But, as she told the gal at length, the three elephants who sit outside the hotel every day are very special. They are part of Elephant Parade, founded 2006 by two Dutch tourists, Marc Spits and his son Mike, who were so moved by a – real – baby elephant, Mosha, who had lost a leg by standing on a landmine that they set up a foundation (as Mosha grows, she needs yet bigger prosthetics).
Elephant Parade has its only boutique here at the hotel and it is gorgeous. There are arrays of already-painted elephants, and paint-your-own kits that you can take home. There is also a ten-seat studio where, for a mere 1,000 baht, you can learn how to decorate and paint a little animal – no wonder a recent 14-strong party of Chinese were addicted, like so many others, to taking a class. Katja Henke told me the hotel will also sponsor a lifesize ceramic elephant in the parade being planned for the King’s birthday, December 15th, 2015.
Before that, she has a lot of other things on her plate. In October she will host the hotel‘s second annual pink pop-up food festival. At least 30 local freestanding restaurateurs will have booths, and more than 200 foodies will pay to taste, with all income going to breast cancer charity.
Gosh, she is so busy it is amazing she has time to run her 370-room hotel! The spa at The Peninsula Bangkok, which is now training centre for all the group’s spas, is leading the way in innovative programmes. There is a weight management course, for instance, which includes cooking lessons to enable you to prepare wellness foods when you get back home. There are also help-you-to-sleep programmes, devised by ESPA. On your behalf, dear reader, I tried this. After a memorable dinner, I changed into spa gear and was escorted to the spa, at the end of the trio of pools. The two hour ‘treatment’ includes hot stone body massage, and head and face massages, after which I was escorted back to my room, where suitable music would have been waiting but I was already falling asleep… If I had more time I would have read about the city in the excellent PenCities by Luxe guide on Bangkok.
Part of this luxury hotel‘s wellness is also good-for-you eating. At dinner out at the lovely water-side River Terrace, chef Andreas Haugg tried hard to steer me to his tomato soup but I did try, and thoroughly enjoy, another of his ‘wellness dishes’, herbed chicken with quinoa. All his wellness dishes are OK-ed in Hong Kong, by the perennially-cheerful motorbiking chef Florian Trento (wonder if he also has to approve my wine, a Monsoon Valley White Shiraz 2013 made in Hua Hin by German triathlete vintner Kathrin Puff – it was just right, with lots of ice, for such a hot and sticky night). Next visit I might even stay inside, in air conditioning, and paint an elephant, though I am 100 percent sure that my effort would never achieve anything like the value of one that Jack Vettriano painted; his elephant sold for £155,000 at an elephant parade in London in 2010. ps: As I left my bedroom a bellboy was waiting, to carry my wheelie (and any elephants) down to my car – now that is service!