Guest blogger John Borthwick hits the nostalgia trail amid history-themed Bangkok hotels.
1. Shanghai Mansion Hotel
Shanghai Mansion has a long head start in the “Sinostalgia” business. This 76-room hotel on Yaowarat Road in the heart of Bangkok’s Chinatown was built in 1892 and has been a Chinese opera house, stock exchange and textile trading house, and since 2006 a boutique hotel.
Throughout its public areas you find red sofas, lanterns, decorative screens and memorabilia paying homage to Deco-decadent 1930’s Shanghai. The themed suites feature more chinoiserie, including antique platform beds. In the face of such Orientalism, the hotel’s jazz bar, Cotton offers an Occidentalist respite.
2. The Siam
The Siam is Shanghai Retro with a front row view of the Chao Phraya. The ever-inventive Bill Bensley designed this svelte 39-suite retreat, which is pronounced See-ahm rather than Sigh-am. His eclectic Thai-Chinese décor, with plenty of black and white tiles and endless Oriental curios, is both retro and contemporary. The resort’s low-key Siam glam extends to several renovated, century-old Ayutthaya teak houses with Jim Thomson provenance that accommodate the delicious Chon (“Spoon”) restaurant. The aptly named Opium Spa tops it all with an almost religious experience.
3. Cabochon Hotel
There’s more homage to wicked, between-wars Shanghai at the serene little Cabochon Hotel tucked away well down Soi 45 Sukhumvit. It has just four suites and four studios. Period references that will delight Sino-nostalgics abound in the wickerwork, teak flooring, light-switches and bedsteads. Plus free WiFi, cablevision and VoIp phones. Linger in the Joy Luck Club’s library-lounge-bar then wander down to the Thai Lao Yeh restaurant where the food philosophy is “authentic local” and the décor matches it with tiffin carriers, abacuses and marble-top tables.
4. Chakrabongse Villas
This Thai-Italianate pocket palace built by the river in 1908 by Prince Chakrabongse echoes with family lore of romance and elopement. The owner, Narisa, the prince’s granddaughter, has turned her domain of tropical gardens and teak pavilions into something magically removed from the touristic mayhem of Maharat Road outside. There are six suites, ranging from a bonsai 12 sq m to a generous 155 sq m. Narisa’s informed Thai taste comes through in the themed décor of every room. With a sunset snifter in your hand, gaze across the river to Wat Arun temple and enjoy an aristocratic outlook.
5. Mandarin Oriental
This iconic pile perched regally on the riverfront is simply “The Oriental” to generations who have stayed there, or not, since it opened in 1876. At its heart is the venerable Author’s Wing where the ghosts of former literary guests like Maugham, Coward, Conrad, Greene and Jung Chang type silently on in elaborate, named suites. The 393-room Mandarin Oriental is too pukka to chase faux Orientalism, offering instead its own traditions of finesse, from the dress code-conscious lobby to palmy gardens and riverfront dining. Afternoon tea in the lounge, cocktails and jazz in the Bamboo Bar, and your butler looking after the details all add up to your own piece of history.
6. The Atlanta Hotel
Her glory days may be gone but if you’re seeking history live it and sleep it at the Atlanta. This eccentric dowager slumbers at the end of Soi 2 Sukhumvit, with its superb Bauhaus-Deco lobby and diner unchanged from the 1950s when this was the Bangkok place to be.
A 1962 photograph shows the young King of Thailand playing sax here with Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.) Today the rooms are tired but the garden pool (the first hotel pool in Bangkok) and public areas are fine. The impeccable LA-style diner still offers Vietnam War-era specials like Steak Diane and filet mignon from a Fawltyesque menu that declares, “Typically, the Atlanta is not moving with the times.”