A genteel oasis in the heart of Bangkok’s high-rise hub
By Massimo Morello
Bangkok never had anywhere for strolling, no squares. But the city’s outlook is changing. Around the big shopping malls pedestrian areas are opening up where people can meet,” says Pat Chalermpanth, one of Thailand’s most established architects. His comments apply above all to Rama I Road, and particularly to the central shopping area, built around the Siam skytrain stop. A real town square, complete with fountain and water features, has been created on the north side facing the Siam Paragon, the mall said to be Asia’s most luxurious. Water cascades down the stone walls of the palm tree-lined steps, leading from the square to Siam Ocean World, one of the largest aquariums on the continent. On the other side of the street lies Siam Square, chock-full of designer clothing stores.
This major exercise in town planning gained a new attraction in 2010 with the opening of the Siam Kempinski Hotel, a 5.2-acre complex that includes 303 rooms and 98 serviced residences. Its location alone makes it stand out among the many other cathedrals of consumerism in this emerging economy. But it also enjoys an important historical context: This is the site of the Lotus Pond Palace of Rama IV (known in the West from the story The King and I), and it is close to that little gem of Thai architecture, the Sra Pathum Palace, current residence of HRH Princess Srindhhorn, who cut the ribbon during the hotel’s grand opening. Such diverse elements of history and modernity are reflected in the design of the hotel. In its central garden, among frangipani trees and pools that reproduce an ecosystem of small lagoons, the surrounding skyscrapers summon the impression of having been dropped into a parallel space and time. This sensation is heightened by the classic Thai art collections on show inside the hotel, juxtaposed with the futuristic grandeur of one of the hotel’s entrances. At times, stepping through it is like possessing one’s very own stargate.
Mind over matter
The spa at the Kempinski was designed to be an oasis of rejuvenation and tranquillity, perfect after a day of sightseeing, shopping or business. The Royal Siam Signature Experience is an unforgettable three-and-a-half-hour pampering journey: a true Thai healing experience.
Bangkok’s largest outdoor shopping area is a popular meeting place for the city’s youth and a great chance for visitors to gaze at the city’s more eccentric styles. “In Bangkok you are what you wear,” says fashion designer Suwatcharee Hongsilathong. Most kids aspire to appear “dern”, or modern, and interpret that in a variety of ways. A fun example is the Siam Girls, influenced mainly by manga pop culture.
Website: kempinski.com/en/bangkok. Tel: +66 (0)21 629 000. Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates: from $220 per night. Suggested accommodation: cabana room (with direct pool access, from $350) or garden suite (with balcony overlooking the garden, from $440).