I well recall that siren song of a street trader in an Omani souk who enticed me to part with some unfamiliar banknotes from my sand-battered wallet in exchange for a ‘genuine’ antique. This particular memory is a cherished favourite, just for the patter delivered at such high speed with a roguish twinkle and little grammatical care for the English language.
It doesn’t matter that the item I was lured into buying fell apart on my shelf five minutes after I unpacked it. Oh well, it was only the equivalent of £20 and, two years on, I can’t bring myself to throw it away.
Then there are the Haitian fishermen from whom I bought newly landed produce for an evening meal. Fresher fish was never eaten by any man but it wasn’t the tastiness of the platter nor even the location in the Caribbean sunshine that lingers in the memory bank. Rather it’s the smiles of the sinewy, net-wielding men who were just so pleased to see us so pleased that mean so much to me now.
Bangkok, where I was in March of 2020, is a curious blend of the exotic and the familiar and instantly provided now-fond memories to add to the above. It was my first visit to Thailand on my global peregrinations – if you don’t count changing planes at Suvarnabhumi Airport en route to Cambodia a few years ago.
The hotel where I was fortunate to rest my travel-weary head on this trip – The Siam – exemplified this blend to the extreme. (You can read my review of the Tongsai Bay hotel from the same trip here.)
The capital of Thailand sometimes gets a tough press with reportage leaning towards the seamier end of the reality. It’s cheap, easy and lazy journalism in my view as there’s so much more going on here than sex clubs and seedy nightlife.
There are saints and there are sinners and, as the ever-quotable Oscar Wilde once said: the only difference between the two is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. So it is with Bangkok. It has a shining future.
Nestled on the banks of the Chao Praya river, in a 3-acre plot, The Siam hotel is both geographically far from the busiest hives of central Bangkok but also within hailing distance if you do fancy a night out. With a regular boat service to any one of a number of wharves across Bangkok, you can see the sights to your heart’s content – there are palaces and temples aplenty to be seen – or go shopping without actually having to do much walking other than from pier to air-conditioned shopfront and back again.
Of course, you can venture deeper into the jungle of the markets if you’re feeling brave. Immersing myself into one of these at night was an experience to savour as I valiantly forwent the opportunity to buy a Rolex for the equivalent of a burger and fries back home despite the exhortations of the vendors – my Omani experience had proved instructive for me on this front. I did, however, pick up a pair of loose lounge pants freely decorated with the elephant motif so common in Thailand. These pants seem to be an obligatory purchase for all western tourists, so much so that I counted eleven travellers just on my homebound flight wearing them.
The Siam hotel is owned by the Sukosol family who also have interests in other hotels around wider Thailand. But this offering in the heart of the royal quarter of Bangkok has to be one of the best boutique hotels in all of Asia. From the moment you walk into the whisper-quiet halls of the Art Deco-inspired atrium, featuring an enormous water feature with three-storey-high palm trees you know you’re in for something just a bit special.
Member of the family and creative director of the hotel, Krissada Sukosol Clapp, is a household name in Thailand as the singer in an indie-rock band and also the recipient of Thailand’s most prestigious acting award. He has given the hotel an edgy vibe by stocking the hotel with art, musical instruments, trinkets and ephemera from his own lifetime of collecting and travelling.
Stories abound among the staff of coming in to work of a morning and discovering that Clapp has had yet another nocturnal burst of inspiration, raided his personal warehouse and installed a whole new set of statues in the corridors.
There's also a cinema and a muay thai gym alongside the obligatory Opium Spa where you can soothe your soul or, idiosyncratically, get a traditional Thai tattoo (by appointment only). It all marries in beautifully with the buildings and gardens designed by Bill Bensley, the American architect and landscaper who is now based in Bangkok.
It would be easy to imagine witnessing a hip young thing like Harry Styles coming round a corner and bumping into David Beckham. Or seeing Meryl Streep rehearsing lines and accents while buttering a scone in the English Garden. That’s the kind of place this is. You also wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Sir David Attenborough peering curiously at the amazing fauna in the aforementioned atrium.
Rooms on offer range from the Siam Suites at 80sqm each up to Connie’s Cottage at 160sqm. I stayed in a Courtyard Pool Villa (130sqm) and was instantly at home with a raised bed over dark hardwood floors, an outdoor plunge pool privately ensconced in a little walled sitting area with an elevated sundeck reached by a spiral wrought-iron staircase. Supremely comfortable, I had one of the best city-based night’s sleep of my life.
The food offerings are wide and delicious as you would expect and the traditional Thai breakfasts were a particular favourite for me as well as the tom yum goong – be prepared for a spice hit!
A private evening drinks and dinner cruise with Nick Downing, the general manager, pointing out sights and explaining the evolution of the city was informative, interesting and helpful to put the city into a wider frame – it’s sometimes hard to contextualise when you’re being indulged like we were at The Siam .
There was a rumour among my party that the cocktails could do with some improvements, but, as I had settled on a restorative glass of Chardonnay on the terrace by the infinity pool alongside the river, I wasn’t one for complaining. It’s hard to screw up white wine. Just make sure it’s cold and dry. And it was.
Is The Siam value for money? Well, that depends on your definition not of value but of money. It’s pricey but if your bank balance has more commas than mine then you wouldn’t begrudge spending some of it in this hotel in such a wonderful vibrant city. Breakfasts, a butler service, a smart phone, wifi and use of the hotel’s river boat are added complimentary bonuses but, really, how much would you pay for true relaxation? In these coronavirus times we could all do with relaxing and unwinding a little. And The Siam is as good a place as any to do so and better than most.
To round off I must return to the estimable Wilde: ‘Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.’ The Siam doesn’t come close to treating you like you’re ordinary. The Siam is easy to love.thesiamhotel.com