OPINION by Bill Barnett of c9hotelworks.com
Despite the global pandemic, Bangkok’s rapid-fire megacity growth trajectory has remained largely in place. While life in Covid-19 times is a bit like sparring with wild gangs of chaos monkeys in a dead-end ally, thankfully one of the singular guilty pleasures of these strange times is the ability to at least travel domestically.
Last week, in the country where time stands still or at least it seems that way, as the waning days of the lost summer blaze away, I bumped a ride on the big bus in the sky up to the streets of Thailand’s capital. New hotels were on my mind, as my pulse raced along with a staccato beat. Or maybe it was the third double shot Americano.
Glancing at my phone, thinking out loud who still wears a watch? It’s only ten in the morning and here I was amped and ready to roll. Bright sight’s, big city, drum roll, please.
First stop, down Langsuan to the expansive Sindhorn Village, landing me on the front door of the new Kimpton Maa-Lai. Being from the US, I have some history with the Kimpton brand which is part of the IHG brand stable.
Yet, for those in Kingdom come, the name is a blank slate here in Asia, with the City of Angels providing an opportunity to cut its teeth as it looks to rep-up. My first impression is that of a gentrified West Coast vibe, posh dog walkers (part of the Kimpton brand DNA is pet-friendly) glide by, and rightly so in the age of dining dogma, the focus is on food and beverage from the get-go. Scions of the leisure class are a common sight, leash in hand.
Most memorable is the rooftop Bar Yard, which has Bangkokians buzzing, but I did love Craft on the ground floor and is an homage to a variety of stunning Thai coffees. Ex-IHG F and B concept guy Shane Giles who is now out on his own, leading consulting start-up – Blue Salt is behind the current and soon to be expanded offerings. It’s a big ask with all the bars and restaurants in this hotel, but let’s just say it will be an interesting ride. The hotel rooms will open in October.
Shifting the chit chat to Sindhorn Village on a warm breezy day you can take a look into the future and feel the vibe of great things to come within a New York Central Park way. Lumpini as it goes is starting to see a massive set of mega-projects in the peripheral area such as Bangkok One and Dusit Central Park. It’s a strong promise of lifestyle in the margins, without a dancing bear. Some of the city’s most expensive addresses will are yet to come with uber-luxury dog walking crash pads.
Keeping the flame burning, my next stop takes me past the wall of voodoo and down to the resurging Chao Praya River. One of Asia’s most notable accidental tourism phenoms has to be how the two-decade-old commissioning of the BTS sky train shifted tourists away from the river and Silom, and up into Sukhumvit and beyond.
Today, the culture club is seeing a virtual renaissance in the area. In the mood for art, I took some ‘me time; to head over to the River City complex to browse the Andy Warhol Pop Art exhibition which runs through 24 November. On display are 128 original works of art from the king of pop, and what am amazing happening for Bangkok. My recommendation – just do it.
One organisation that is getting thing rights is the Bangkok River collaborative project that is being led by a stacked deck of leading hotels, retail, and travel players. The connection to the creative district that is driving some of the most exciting urban redevelopment in the region. Hats off to David Robinson for some inspired thinking and giving creativity a sense of belonging.
Near but oh so far away I was about to be blown out of my tattered green, road-weary sneakers. There was no dancing bear, but a quick looksie at the new Four Seasons left me gobsmacked. Everything about this place speaks luxury, from the design of Jean-Michel Gathy and Denniston to an articulated horizon of river life on the move. General Manager Lubosh Barta poked his head around corners, to point out a series of memorable discoveries.
Part of the mega complex which includes the towering posh Four Seasons Residences is the sleek, low key chic Capella. Talking to the GM John Blanco, my first line was “it just looks like a Capella.” Understated, intimate, and boutique the sizing suite size rooms and riverfront villas, make it a formable object of desire. The bottom line is with October openings, these twins are both stunning yet provide a distinct yin and yang to Bangkok nouveau lux.
Meanwhile back on the BTS, clutching my tattered, massively worn-down Rabbit Card, that looked like it had been chewed on by some beat weasel, I masked up in Anglo Batman style and rode the rails to Sukhumvit. It was time to scuddle down Soi 8 to the spanking new lyf from Ascott. Bright, brash, coliving in a social setting. I love it. It’s a spontaneously engaging entry for affordable travel, with a somewhat sophomoric tongue in cheek sense of place. It was in all a coolio moment.
As the afternoon waned, cocktail time neared, my trip to the big smoke was indeed a look behind the curtain of tomorrowland. Bangkok’s splitting atoms is seeing a new set of districts or mini-metros that look to throw a curveball into the current marketplace. Had I seen too much, or did it only wet my appetite for another trip?
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