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Will Bangkok’s bold new hotel zones change traditional stay patterns?

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaNew mini-destinations and trendy tourism zones are taking shape in unconventional locations that require abandoning the train and dealing with maddening taxi drivers. A fresh look at the lodging map, from stodge to ultra-luxe and affordable lifestyle.

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Written and photographed by Vijay Verghese
March 2024

SEE ALSO Bangkok best sky bars and updates | Bangkok shopping | Phuket resorts review | Koh Samui resorts | Chiang Mai fun guide | Thai spas | Singapore hotel guide | Luang Prabang guide | Hong Kong hotels | KL hotels | Jakarta business hotels | Hua Hin guide | Small corporate meetings in Asia | New Singapore eco-friendly hotels review

Bangkok new hotels review and taxi scams - InterCon room, Aman Nai Lert and Dusit Thani Suite view

Chiang Mai sausage counter spices up the experience at Siam Paragon mall (far left); Spacious InterCon new-look room; Green view from Indigo balcony; Aman Nai Lert entrance (centre right); Dusit Thani Bangkok park-view suite (far right) / photos: Vijay Verghese/ Aman/ Dusit.  

“INDIGO hotel,” I tell my taxi driver as I emerge from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. “Ind-ee-go, Wuthayu...,” he intones slowly, nodding his head as a cabbie friend chats with him on speakerphone. “Yes,” I say, “Wireless Road, Wuthayu.” We lurch forward then suddenly stop. Several seconds pass. The driver scratches his head bewildered. “Ind-ee-go…?” he mutters again, stretching out the syllables. Act 1 in the epic Get-Me-To-Town serial has opened.

Rongrem Conlaad,” I suggest, offering the Conrad as a useful landmark.

Conlaaad,” he sighs, deeply perplexed by yet another great mystery. “Okay kap, six hun-led baht. I take care evely-ting.” I insist on the meter. I will pay the toll fees (Bt75 in all) and the Bt50 airport surcharge. His friend on the speakerphone chirps in. “Sunday no mee-tah,” he laughs, “mee-tah s-leeeping.”

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Bangkok is the tourism powerhouse of Asia that continues to draw in the punters, from Russians and Americans to Chinese and Indians. Everybody gets along here after a couple of Singha beers. Yet, overcharging taxis with meters draped in towels, borrowing from the Indian playbook,  remain an elephant in the ointment that no government (military or civilian) has been able to rectify. It is a blot on the country’s stellar tourism credentials.

Competition is keen among hotels. As the mid-May 2024 FIFA Congress drew near, in a rare show of solidarity, six hotels along the Sukhumvit BTS line banded together to press their collective advantage. Yet all the blandishments of this unusual sixsome — Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, Westin, Sofitel, Hyatt Regency, Landmark and JW Marriott — failed to win over FIFA whose largesse went in the main to the 1,388-key guest-gobbling Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park and a couple of others. “They just vacuum up the visitors,” sighed one weary hotelier.

{What is immediately clear is that the traditional hotel axes of Sukhumvit, Silom and the river area north of Taksin Bridge, are no longer calling the shots...

Sadly for deal-hunting travellers, competition has not yet brought prices down as the arrivals surge continues. Thailand recently extended visa-free stays for China, Russia, India, and Kazakhstan. These tourists are easy pickings for Bangkok taxis and perplexed looks are de rigueur.

Bangkok new-look hotels review - JW Marriott retains old touches; saucy nightlife district at Nana

JW Marriott set the tone on Sukhumvit over 20 years ago with its striking lobby gold panels, and GM Peter Caprez (far right) has shepherded the property right through its remofelling and relaunch with new rooms and a bright Executive Lounge (left)/ photos: Vijay Verghese

Late Q3 2024 Dusit Central Park (featuring the reimagined Dusit Thani Bangkok with spacious park-view suites in a mixed-use complex at the corner of Silom and Rama 4) stakes an old claim for this strip. The new version of this landmark bears a reassuring similarity to the old building with its gold trademark spire. This development shall be watched with interest as co-owners Central and Dusit duke it out for control and direction.

The 52-suite Aman Nai Lert Bangkok opens third quarter of 2024 with its signature minimalist design, an armload of Japanese menus, Italian dining, and a wellness retreat. There are also 39 Aman Residences from floors 11 to 36. Sited within view of the Ploenchit BTS Station on traffic-clogged one-way Nai Lert this plush address has a challenge on its hands. The old Hilton at Nai Lert Park, a wondeffully green refuge, was unable to hold prices and later re-emerged as the Movenpick BDMS Wellness Resort Bangkok with friendlier rates and a very different marketing thrust. The hushed leisurely Aman will likely slow the pace down to eliminate rush and negative traffic perceptions. If Soi Nai Lert proves problematic traffic-wise, access is also available via Soi Khit that runs down from Ploenchit (close to Central Chidlom).

A great many more rooms are in the pipeline. Planned to launch late 2024 but more likely early 2025 is the One Bangkok mega-complex at the Wireless-Rama 4 intersection opposite Lumphini Park. The mix at this mini lifestyle 1,200-key destination will include a Ritz-Carlton, Andaz, and a Fraser Suites as well as offices, shopping, luxe smart-wired residences, and hospitals.

Add to this the swish but off the BTS grid Lang Suan Road trio of Sindhorn Kempinski, Kimpton Maa-Lai and Sindhorn Midtown that have streamed in from 2020 on, and the tony riverfront beachhead of Chao Phraya Estate with its large cubist Four Seasons and a delicate Capella. Both these last two waterfront properties have broken the river’s curse and successfully muscled into conferences and weddings with Capella now a particular favourite for Thai ceremonies. Of course, both are popular for leisure too and there is space at the artsy Four Seasons to separate the scrum from hand-holding romantics. (Our review of Four Seasons and Capella Bangkok.)

What is immediately clear is that the traditional hotel axes of Sukhumvit, Silom and the river area north of Taksin Bridge, are no longer calling the shots. If the newer developments are successful — and there’s no reason to believe they won’t — travellers will soon be pouring into previously untrodden areas.

This is good news for the city as it will bring dollars to needy sois and travellers may benefit from more competitive pricing. The Sukhumvit and BTS routes will remain popular due to the convenience of transport, shopping, dining and nightlife. The river will grow as a conference area bringing in conventioneers with families looking for a resort feel. Visitors may in turn circle back to traditional downtown spots and less highbrow addresses to conserve dollars and avoid crowds.

New Bangkok hotels review and a look at changing hotel zones - Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit Spectrum Bar and Dusit Thani exterior

Spectrum rooftop bar at the Hyatt Regency Sukhumvit (far left) is a breezy evening retreat; Sammy Carolus the GM is using AI to cut food waste; Dusit Thani's throwback exterior and (right), cannabis joint/ photos: Vijay Verghese

Having supplanted the popular Suan Lum night market, One Bangkok is a greenfield development that looks set to become an upscale escape, not for the fainthearted. It is unlikely to offer an organic Bangkok street scene and will more likely showcase a gleaming sanitised neighbourhood. The Lumphini MRT underground station is the sole connector here.

Sitting in the black-and-gold JW Marriott Bangkok lounge on clubby overstuffed brown leather chairs as the pianist plays ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’ one might be forgiven for thinking nothing has changed since 1997 when it first opened. The gleaming black flooring and the turquoise-tile water features remain along with the soaring gold panels depicting the Chinese zodiac. Popular with his guests, GM Peter Caprez took the hotel through a major refurbishment in 2019 unveiling contemporary rooms with Thai touches and a bright executive lounge.

The traditional lobby is strangely relaxing though and I struggle to stay awake. It offers therapeutic appeal for business travellers of a certain vintage who will stay nowhere else. It is often packed with Americans and Australians trading boisterous tales. It recalls the heady days of the old Dusit Thani and the Siam InterContinental that radiated solidity with shimmering processions of khunyings headed for elaborate tea sessions. Of course there is also the saucy neighbourhood appeal of this Soi Nana area.

Sipping a coffee at BBCo, the street-fronting deli, Caprez is all focus as he directs staff to attend to customers. He’s been here over 20 years watching his hotel like a hawk and classic Swiss hospitality flows in his veins. His face creases into a big smile as he looks out of the window: “You know, a lobby upgrade in a running hotel is like open heart surgery.” We both laugh at the thought. The hotel has quietly extended its brand reach with the opening of a signature Man Ho Bistro Chinese restaurant at the Erawan Bangkok redevelopment.

Across the road at breezy Spectrum, the rooftop bar at the gleaming new Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit, GM Sammy Carolus offers me a lychee-rose mocktail. It’s hugely refreshing. I mop off the day’s sweat. Quite an innovator and forward thinker, the mild mannered Carolus is always exploring new ideas. He is keen on sustainability and has employed artificial intelligence to calculate food waste to help chefs find an optimum sweet spot. “From pretzels to sundries, AI has helped us cut food waste by as much as 20%,” he says. Bottled water at this Hyatt Regency has shifted to Tetra Paks. With cannabis bars mushrooming all over the city and raunchy nightlife a stone’s throw away, Carolus has his job cut out reassuring skittish travellers and lady executives.

Bangkok new hotels review - Sindhorn Kempinski and medical tourism, Kimpton's CRAFT bar, and Conrad's Diplomat Bar drumset

Jee Hoong Tan (left) at the Sindhorn Kempinski is betting on ultimate relaxation and medical tourists; The lobby is a curious mix of stark concrete and lush Thai touches; Airctraft hangar exterior at Sindhorn Kempinski; CRAFT lobby lounge bar at Kimpton Maa-Lai; and drums and cymbals at Conrad's Diplomat Bar (far right)/ photots: Vijay Verghese

Another old-timer hitting the two decade mark is the Conrad Bangkok, the darling of fashionistas when it launched with off-the-shoulder silk uniforms for the ladies, a jazz bar, a great spa, and chillout music. It is back after a massive renovation with compact contemporary pastel rooms making up about 80% of the mix. Sensibly hedging its bets, Conrad Bangkok retains some of the older Thai-style silk-and-wood rooms that many guests still prefer. A 35m LED wall is the centrepiece of the ballroom but the hotel is moving into a younger lifestyle space with an emphasis on kids, families, fitness, relaxation and wellness. Interestingly, its former nightlife space near the lobby mall entrance has morphed into a medical centre.

At Sindhorn Kempinski, a smooth stark curvy concrete entrance that resembles an airplane hangar transforms into cavernous light-filled lobby with a black Thai sala at its centre. It’s a bit like what one might imagine if Charles de Gaulle Airport romanced Jim Thompson and had a love child. The hotel was ranked the No.3 Best Business Hotel in Asia on our 2023 Reader Poll. According to the dapper and immaculately groomed Jee Hoong Tan, the man charged with marketing and selling this space, the property is everything sister hotel the Siam Kempinski is not. This avoids any conflict or confusion. The 274-key hotel “focuses on independent travellers, couples, seniors, and medical tourists,” says Jee Hoong. This is follwed by a very brave statement. “There is no ballroom ... and no crowd. We have gardens and natural light for small meetings, engagements and Thai weddings.”

The hotel attracts a diverse audience with a lot of Asian traffic from Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Myanmar. “Medical tourists are growing for us,” he adds, gesturing with his hands at the expansive surrounds. “We get patients undergoing chemotherapy for three to four months and they need space with no crowds.” And that’s what they get with a 66sq m starting room category. Suites have kitchenettes. And there is no kids’ club.

Sindhorn Kempinski is a relaxing proposition with fine dining on the premises and across the greens at the Velaa Sindhorn Village complex.  Jee Hoong points to the lush green lawns outside. “Technically we could build a 500-room structure there. But we want open space. Luxury has to be felt.” Hotel food waste gets composted for the garden, non-perishables go to charity, and solar panels on the roof (starting April) help serve on-site energy needs. Sustainability is a big part of the mix here. “Hopefully Langsuan won’t get overdeveloped and crowded,” he sighs.

Right next door the Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok is a bustling lifestyle hotel, hip and happening, and with pets trotting about insouciantly at a canter with the coolest of torn-jean-clad owners in Dior shades. Chill music pumps out at CRAFT, the lobby social mixer centrepiece. Two hundred yards down Lang Suan opposite Hotel Muse, the Sindhorn Midtown offers a more casual convivial flavour, mod yet simple with bursts of art here and there and the ANJU Korean K-Pop style rooftop bar. To find it, look for the large 7-Eleven, and that sums up the area’s vibe. Cheap, cheerful, friendly and neat, Midtown is a different kind of informal mid-range luxe of sorts.

Jennifer Vivian at Hotel Indigo Bangkok is refining boutique elements at the hotel (centre) while the InterCon is back (left); and Sindhorn Midtown room (right)

InterContinental's signature chandelier and executive lounge (far left); Jennifer Vivian at Indigo is sharpening sparky boutique touches; green-view Indigo balcony room (centre); and section of Sindhorn Midtown room (right)/photos: Vijay Verghese

Up on Ploenchit Road next to the Chidlom BTS Station, the quick-stepping Muscle MICE InterContinental Bangkok is back, gussied up and decluttered, with more powder pastels and less Thai gold splashes (as at the toned-down reception). The signature chandelier hangs gracefully above the soaring lobby leading to a grand staircase.

InterContinental Bangkok rooms starting at 45sq m offer pale wood floors with pale lightly patterned carpets (making subtle use of the hotel’s new floral signature), ample electric sockets (three-pin) with modern USB ports, a phone dock, large ‘smart’ TV, soaking tub and rain shower, iron, safe, and a bright vanity light around the main mirror. Some rooms sport Japanese jump-up potties, be warned. Follow the instructions carefully. Expect spacious ballrooms with an entire floor holding up to 2,000 for a cocktail. Ample spa and fitness spaces make up the rest of the mix taking up three top floors with a small outdoor pool.  

The Lumphini environs just off Ploenchit on quieter Wireless Road are leafy and beckoning and it is here the Hotel Indigo Bangkok continues to pull in happy faces from all over the world. The hotel was ranked the No.5 Best Boutique Hotel in Asia on our 2023 Reader Poll. While the Indigo brand’s local neighbourhood-and-history thrust has not fully blossomed in some destinations, in Bangkok the property is a remarkable showpiece. The place is young, funky, playful and sloshing in natural light. Its young Australian GM Jennifer Vivian, a proud, indefatigable and tired mother, describes it as “boutique luxury with an emphasis on boutique.” This is a friendly space with colourful Thai-inspired rooms, many with balconies, some with soaking tubs by the window. Ask for a corner room. Then browse the quirky wall-mounted radio sets and analogue devices in the lobby lift foyer.

The leather padded lifts with deep button Chesterfield tufting are perfect for a spot of husband-bashing (listen up ladies), and on top are a small pool with a view and a classy, intimate, rooftop bar. Lotions and shampoos are now dispensed via large “tamper proof” bottles affixed to the wall. It’s the price of success. Keep an eye on this one. It’s a comfortable middle ground between wallet-pummelling luxury and traditional. Bobby the indefatigable doorman is a busy presence with a permanent smile. One of the small things that make a BIG difference.

As my taxi leaves my hotel it slows and stops. “Suvarnabhumi?” the driver asks, scratching his head. “Suv-arna-bhumiiii…” I looked at him expressionless. He turns to me shaking his head, “Lama 9 traaffiiic, we go Bang Na (a hugely circuitous detour)… I do evelything fo you.” “No,” I say firmly, “Rama 4 and the tollway.” And so it is. There is no traffic and we reach the airport in record time. It may sound laughable but the Tourism Authority of Thailand actually has a complaint line for transportation issues. The feedback is toe-curling. Is anyone listening?

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