Discover the joys of Bangkok from a spiritual base camp
By Massimo Morello
Air is listening to the river. “I can tell what day it is from the sound it’s making,” she says. Air is the nickname of Tanita Sudasna Na Ayudhaya, a young woman who is almost a Thai version of the lead character in the French film Amelie. She and her husband Si, short for Saravuth Sadsananund, form a couple that embodies a new category in the myriad socio-cultural categories in Thailand: Bangkokian, bourgeois and bohemian (Ba-bo-bo). In April 2011 they opened Loy La Long, a boutique bed and breakfast crafted from a Chinese fisherman’s 30-year-old teak house on the banks of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River.
“Our dream was to move to a bungalow on the beach, but we couldn’t afford it. Then, one day, Si came home saying he’d found a place in Bangkok that could make our dream come true,” explains Air.
Sitting comfortably on one of the hotel verandas, looking over the Chao Phraya – busy with a constant stream of barges, tourist vessels, express boats, long tail boats – it is easy to understand why Air can tell what day it is from the sound the river is making (the traffic follows a precise circadian rhythm), and why the hotel can take the place of a bungalow on the beach. It becomes even clearer at sunset, when the river reflects the million lights of Bangkok or a boat illuminates the sky with fireworks.
Loy La Long is immersed in the true heart of Bangkok, given its location in the compound of Wat Patum Kongka monastery. “Public venues are not supposed to be inside a monastery,” says Air. “Your entrance has to be on a thoroughfare, but because our entrance is on the river, which in Bangkok is considered to be a thoroughfare, we are OK.” The hotel’s rear entrance is surrounded by the monks’ lodgings and other small riverside properties.
The interior reflects the spirit of the place: a feeling of being both detached from the world and part of a timeless reality. Everything is designed with elegant simplicity, with furnishings ranging from Tibetan to Japanese. The seven colour-coded rooms (the seventh is a communal room with four single beds) are decorated in distinctive styles, with the orange, blue, green and grey rooms offering beautiful river views.
Loy La Long is one of those rare hotels that affects the way you visit the city. Aside from being perfect hosts and laying out a delicious breakfast, Si and Air are also excellent guides and organise bicycle and boat tours around the real Bangkok.
This riverside house just a short walk from the hotel could be Loy La Long’s in-house restaurant. The menu offers traditional Thai dishes with a Japanese twist. The two-flavour fish and the som tum tempura (green papaya salad) are must tries. Booking is recommended.
(Tel: +66 263 968 53.).
Wat Patum Kongka
The monastery surrounding Loy La Long dates back to the Ayudhya era in the 14th-18th centuries – considered by many as the Thai Renaissance period – and was renovated during the reign of Rama I (1782-1809), the founder of the still reigning Chakri dynasty. It is a little known example of sacred Thai architecture.
A hundred metres or so from the hotel is Odeon Circle, where an enormous ceremonial gateway marks the entrance to Bangkok Chinatown, one of Asia’s largest and liveliest. The gateway leads into the central Yaowarat Road, which is packed with locals in the evening. During the day, don’t forget to visit its pagodas (especially Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, in the classical Chinese style) and Sampheng, the narrow
Pak Klong Talad is the biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok. Open 24 hours a day, it is a moving festival, especially after midnight and even more so just before dawn. This is when the roadside transforms into a kaleidoscope of bright, blooming colours, as vendors receive floral goods from each flower-growing area in the country.
Address: 1620/2 Song Wat Road, Sampanthawong.
Tel: +66 263 913 90,
or +66 891 331 131 (mobile).
Rates: from $67 per night to $99 for a suite with river view.