Hip quartet raises the bar

From boutique hideaways to big-brand chains, Bangkok's new hotels are creating a buzz, writes Leisa Tyler.

Despite the strife that has besieged Bangkok in recent years - from political coups and riots to flood waters plagued with crocodiles swamping the suburbs - hotels have been opening like wildflowers. Here are four of the most recent arrivals.

Sofitel So Bangkok

This 238-room tower on the corner of Sathorn and Rama IV roads is Accor's first Sofitel So, a sister brand to Sofitel, which the French management company dubs "boutique chic with urban designs". Sofitel So is aimed squarely at hipster crowds; French clothes designer Christian Lacroix lent a hand, stitching flirty staff uniforms that blend the fabrics of Thai hill tribes with smart runway cuts. The hotel's central icon is The Tree of Life; Lacroix sketched Sofitel's version of the emblem, too. The hotel's vibe is fun and playful, but the cheeky use of language (for example, wordplays on the "so" theme extend to guests being greeted by staff with a "sowasdee" - a twist on "sawasdee", meaning hello - is a bit copy-cat on Starwood Hotels' W wordplay (which uses "Sawowdee").

Still, Sofitel So is well located: opposite Lumpini Park and with close access to Bangkok's efficient underground network, the MRT. Guest-room decor is split into themes - earth, wood, water, metal. I stayed in metal, a stark white modernist room with silver trimmings. Earth rooms have a startling bright-blue wall punctuated with animal prints; wood is elucidated by a red couch and parquetry floors. Water, the most pleasant of the themes, is illustrated by wavy patterns embedded in charcoal-hued marble walls. Each room comes with free internet (although the signal is weak), an Apple TV, bath and free minibar with fruit juice, water and Thai snacks.

Sofitel So excels on the dining front; the breakfast spread, loaded with cheeses, hot and cold cuts, delectable breads, puddings and pastries, is one of the best in the city. Catch the breeze at the Hi So Bar on the 30th floor, taking in superb views over Lumpini Park and the high-rises flanking Sukhumvit Road. The elegantly moody Park Society restaurant and bar, one floor down, serves good, albeit expensive, French-Asian-inspired dishes such as buttery pumpkin potage with basil and succulent roast pigeon.

Sofitel So Bangkok, 2 North Sathorn Road, has double rooms from 4825 baht ($148); see sofitel.com.

The Siam

The elegant and stylish 39-room Siam bills itself as Bangkok's most exclusive hotel. With 1.2 hectares of Chao Phraya River frontage, star architect Bill Bensley in charge of design and an astonishing collection of antiques throughout, including Tang Dynasty figurines and Sukhothai-era pottery, the hotel has a fine pedigree. The antiques belong to the owners, the Sukosol family.

Housed in an art deco-style building with oversized roofing and open-air courtyards, the hotel's base category rooms, starting at 80 square metres, are smart and spacious with extra-deep baths and art deco-style furniture. Some have views stretching to the river, some overlook a grotty warehouse next door. Each room is themed and furnished with extraordinary vintage-shop finds.

The Siam's pool villas have stunning black and white decor, imposing bathrooms, elongated windows and tiled courtyards decorated with antique Chinese-style "opium beds". The villas ooze atmosphere, but aren't always practical: the dipping pools receive little direct sunlight, villa front doors are see-through and the bed is up a flight of stairs.

The Siam is in Bangkok's aristocratic old Dusit neighbourhood and next door to a palace. Avenues are tree-lined, small cafes and shops are nearby and visitors really are miles from the riff-raff of central Bangkok. But with a minimum 40-minute drive to the city, or a slow boat ride to Saphan Taksin Skytrain station, guests will need to plan their day.

The Siam, Thanon Khao, Vachirapayabal, Dusit, has double rooms from 19,185 baht, including breakfast; see thesiamhotel.com.

The Okura Prestige Bangkok

A futuristic tower flanking the corners of Wireless and Ploenchit roads, the 240-room Okura Prestige is part of a new mall development off Ploenchit Skytrain station. Along with an upmarket patisserie and sushi shops in the lobby, the hotel is breathing new life into a neighbourhood of embassies and offices.

Fast lifts take guests to a sleek hotel lobby on the 24th floor, which is decorated in cool dark shades, and large swathes of charcoal-veined marble.

Rooms, starting at 43 square metres, are more subdued, with beige and buckskin wood and cloth panels - as well as soaring views over the city. Rooms reflect Japanese design and sophistication, with sliding doors hiding a minibar and walk-in wardrobe, Japanese-style toilet (wash, dry, heated seat) and separate wet room with bath. My only niggle is the sink's arm-length location from the mirror, an inconvenience for shavers.

The hotel has a small pool (but only a dozen deck chairs for potentially 480 adult guests) and a sleek club lounge. The Okura's real highlight is Yamazato, part of a smart chain of kaiseki restaurants (the Amsterdam Yamazato has a Michelin star). Here, Japanese waitresses don royal-blue kimonos, the ceiling mimicking the clean folds of origami, the wooden walls mirroring those of a ryokan. The food is polished, with delicate servings of chawanmushi (egg custard), unagi kabayaki (grilled eel) and ebi tempura (tempura shrimp) presented on earthenware crockery. Or choose the shokado bento box, a multi-course extravaganza where the amount of food is as phenomenal as the price; lunchtime bento boxes are 1755 baht ($54).

Okura Prestige, 57 Wireless Road, Lumpini, has double rooms from 6827 baht, including breakfast. See okurabangkok.com

Cabochon

The latest offering from Taiwanese-born Eugene Yeh, whose first Bangkok lodge, The Eugenia, wowed with its shabby-chic colonial style when it opened in 2006, the Cabochon is a four-storey building at the end of quiet Sukhumvit Soi 45. Yeh has taken interior design cues from 1920s Shanghai, an era when Viennese and Parisian panache was all the rage and China's eastern seaboard city was in the vanguard of Oriental style.

The Cabochon's eight rooms, which start at a snug 26 square metres, have hardwood floors, french doors, balconies, country-kitchen tables and elegant porcelain vanity sets. There's a 22-metre pool on the hotel roof, a Lao-Thai restaurant on the ground floor and a collection of antique cars in the garage. But it's the downstairs salons that take the cake. Crammed with vintage Louis Vuitton cases, as well as books, lounges, antique Chinese marble tables, maps and a throng of Yeh's father's taxidermied animals (leatherback turtle shells, butterflies and a pair of ostrich legs), the salons are a perfect place for an evening drink.

Atmosphere aside, the Cabochon's management has work to do. When I stayed, the room had a teapot, cups and kettle, but no tea or coffee. The minibar was empty. The telephone didn't work, there was no hot water in the bathroom, and no iron or ironing board for guest use. The English skills of staff were inadequate for a tourist hotel and communications complicated. "We emphasis environmental crisis", reads a card in the bathroom. I assumed it was a request that guests reuse their towels.

Cabochon, Walpole Building, Soi 45, Sukhumvit Road, has double rooms from 4680 baht. See cabochonhotel.com.

Leisa Tyler stayed courtesy of Sofitel So, The Siam, Okura Prestige and Cabochon.

Thai Airways has a fare to Bangkok from Sydney and Melbourne for about $929 low-season return, including tax; see thaiairways.com.

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