Bangkok’s nominal city-centre, Siam Square isn’t easy on the eye, nor is it easy on the pocket. Nevertheless, the area — a hive of consumerist frenzy — is far more than just a playground for credit-card abusers. Some serious damage can be done in shopping malls such as Central World Plaza, Gaysorn Plaza and the Siam Discovery Center, but beneath the walkways linking the malls, sois (sidestreets) are a wealth of interesting asides such as boutiques, galleries and cafes. If you’re a shopper, Siam makes a great base and a range of hotels cater to everyone from business travellers to flashpackers.
We recommend: LUB D Bangkok – Siam Square
The received wisdom on Bangkok backpacker hostels doesn’t apply here. The second Lub d to grace the city — the other is in the Silom district — is a stylish and sociable hub with air con and free wi-fi, a world away from the bedbugs and banana pancakes of popular renown. The owners haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel but they have refined the traditional hostel model to produce something that feels classy while retaining the elements of social conviviality that make travelling the world such a thrill. Lodgings are accessible from the sleek lobby cafe via a swipe card, while accommodation ranges from deluxe dorms with just four beds and a ladies-only dorm, to econo-doubles (with shared bathroom) and deluxe rooms (with en suite and LCD TV). The minimalist design is appealing and staff on the front desk are a font of local knowledge.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £30. 925/9 Rama 1 Road, 10330. T: 00 66 2 612 4999. www.lubd.com
■ X-Factor: Although youth-oriented — the hostel organises regular activities such as club crawls — Lub d never labours the sociable point, meaning that it’s as appealing to thoughtful ascetics as it is to twentysomethings intent on larging it.
Best for art lovers: Siam Kempinski
The Kempinski chain’s first foray into the Thai market has won numerous plaudits from travel industry critics since opening in 2010. The corridors, halls, spacious rooms and public spaces of the 303-room hotel are adorned with one of the largest collections of Thai art ever assembled in a hotel. Around 1,500 paintings, sculptures and collages by local artists are showcased. Other compelling touches include three saltwater pools, a spa and fine-dining restaurant Sra Bua, where molecular-gastronomic interpretations of Thai cuisine are served.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £132. 991/9 Rama 1 Road, 10330. T: 00 66 2162 9000. www.kempinski.com
Best for business: Amari Watergate
If every hotel did its job as well as the 539-room Amari Watergate, then sites like TripAdvisor would be redundant. While undoubtedly focused on the business market, the Watergate also manages to inject a good modicum of flair into proceedings. Thus, facilities such as a 24-hour business centre and video conferencing sit comfortably alongside more indulgent aspects like a first-class spa, a luxuriant elevated garden and excellent restaurants — notably the Heichinrou (Cantonese). Service is flawless, while the view over the city from the club lounge is stunning, especially at night.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £46. 847 Petchburi Road, 10400. T: 00 66 (2) 653 9000. www.amari.com
Sukhumvit, perhaps more than any other part of Bangkok, is where different worlds collide. A blur of fleshpots, nightclubs, plush homes and teeming markets, its dizzying assault on the senses makes it one of the most popular tourist bases in the city. Thong Lo hosts many hipster bars, boutiques and slick restaurants and the neighbourhood is home to sizeable Indian, Arab, Japanese and African communities. Unsurprisingly, the area is amply served with places to bed down. There are affordable mid-range options as well as a number of classy, small hotels. The top-end, meanwhile, is taken care of by some of the major chains.
We recommend: Ariyasomvilla
If Bangkok’s relentless pace has drained you, this luxury hotel is the place to recuperate. Lush gardens surround the 1940s-built private villa and each of the 24 rooms are tastefully decorated with Thai fabrics, art, antiques and furniture. The couple who run AriyasomVilla are Buddhists and its calming atmosphere — there’s a meditation room and mediation lessons are given by a Buddhist monk — reflects their faith. The shady swimming pool, meanwhile, is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £130. 65 Sukhumvit Soi 1, 10110. T: 00 66 2 254 8880 3. www.ariyasom.com
■ X-Factor: The personal touch makes a difference here. The owners live upstairs and take great pleasure in welcoming guests into their home.
Best for hipsters: Tenface
This off-the-beaten-track hotel has its own tuk-tuk to ferry you to and from Ploenchit BTS Station and looks like an upmarket nightclub at first glance. The 84 rooms, equipped with an iPod, a free daily pass for the Skytrain and a local SIM card, are light and airy, while the restaurant and adjoining Sita bar are just as popular with fashionable Thais as they are with guests.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £75. 81 Soi Ruamrudee, 2 Wireless Road, 10220. T: 00 66 2 695 4242. www.tenfacebangkok.com
Best for big-brand lovers:
Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit
The antithesis of a faceless, US-style chain hotel, this five-star offering belies its ample size by applying the personal touch as much as possible. Located in the thick of the Sukhumvit action, it has 420 spacious rooms and award-winning restaurants such as Rossini’s (Italian) and Basil (Thai).
■ Rooms: Doubles from £80. 250 Sukhumvit Road, 10110. T: 00 66 2 649 8888. www.sheratongrandesukhumvit.com
Although the Chao Praya River and the many khlongs (canals) branching off it are a thriving hub for transport and commerce, they provide blessed respite from the urban sprawl. The river makes a convenient base for major attractions such as the Grand Palace, thanks to the network of taxi boats plying its brackish waters. You’ll find some of the city’s most prestigious accommodation along the riverbank but it’s not all about five-star trimmings — some of Bangkok’s most charming small-scale ventures are also located here, while the famous Banglamphu backpacker area is just a stone’s throw from the water.
We recommend: Mandarin oriental, Bangkok
Opened in 1887, Thailand’s first hotel still reeks of traditional opulence and charm despite extensive modernisation. Its literary history is well documented — Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene all stayed here. For a taste of the old-world hospitality they would have enjoyed, take afternoon tea in the Authors’ Wing. Alternatively, sample dim sum in the 1930s-inspired China House, or be tended to by your own butler. Many of the 393 rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows and all have Bose stereos, while dining options such as Le Normandie (French) and Sala Rim Naam (Thai) are among the city’s best.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £212. 48 Oriental Avenue, 10500. T: 00 66 2 659 9000. www.mandarinoriental.com
■ X-Factor: Highlights include afternoon tea in the Authors’ Wing, cocktails and jazz at the Bamboo Bar, and the signature spa — a destination in itself.
Best for seclusion: Arun Residence
Planning ahead is essential at the Arun Residence. Not only does the hotel have just six rooms (three bedrooms and three luxurious suites), its river location and unbeatable views over to majestic Wat Arun, the 19th-century Temple of the Dawn, ensure demand is constantly high. The hotel combines Asian and European design styles to tasteful effect, while its restaurant, on a riverside deck, is as romantic as they come.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £80. 36-38 Soi Pratoo Nok Yoong, Maharat Road, Rattanakosin Island, 10200. T: 00 66 2 221 9158 9. www.arunresidence.com
Best for quality-conscious backpackers: Shanti lodge
Arguably the busiest backpacker hub in the world, Banglamphu has a wealth of accommodation, running the gamut from grotty flophouses to slick boutique lodgings. This gem falls into neither category, instead offering a quiet escape from the chaos of the Kao San Road while remaining within the price range of even the thriftiest world traveller. Koi ponds, a communal yoga area and in-house masseuses add to the tranquil vibe.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £8. 37 Sri Ayutthya Road, Soi 16, Si Sou Tewet. T: 00 66 2 281 2497. www.shantilodge.com
It’s hard to believe that only a couple of hundred years have passed since Silom was a chunk of farmland criss-crossed by canals. These days, this formerly bucolic area is Thailand’s financial hub and sparkles with gleaming skyscrapers looming over the Chao Phraya River and bearing the names of the world’s biggest fiscal institutions. After dark, Silom lets its hair down — the infamous entertainment district of Patpong is located here — and the area’s sois become a magnet for revellers. Some of the best hotels are located by the river, but there are several attractive options to be found further inland.
We recommend: Lebua at State Tower
The sky really is the limit at this classy, all-suite hotel, located within the 67-storey State Tower — one of Bangkok’s most distinctive skyscrapers, due to the gilded dome on its crown. The spacious suites range from one to three bedrooms and are smartly decked out in a chic blend of light and dark hues. Balconies in each offer stunning views over the city and the Chao Phraya River. None of the views, however, beat the vista from the roof of the Dome, home to Sirocco, one of the world’s most lauded sky bars, where even the expertly mixed cocktails and the award-winning design of the bar can’t hold a candle to the visual bounty spread out in every direction. Underneath Sirocco is the Dome’s showpiece restaurant, Mezzaluna, which has 360-degree views and acclaimed fine dining.
■ Rooms: Doubles from £133. 1055/42 Silom Road, 10500. Tel: 0066 2 624 9555. www.lebua.com
■ X-Factor: Sirocco — one of the world’s most famous bars. Great drinks, while the views over the city are simply stunning and hard to beat for an inspirational sundowner.
Published in the May/June 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)