A river with a luxury hotel attached
By Shampa Dhar-Kamath
09th September 2012 12:00 AM
They say it’s on the wrong side of the river. The truth is that’s the best part. Guests have to take the Peninsula Bangkok’s beautiful boat — a floating dream in teak — across the Chao Phraya to get to the city. The hotel’s restaurants and bar line the bank, allowing guests to linger at the riverside, day and night. The three-tiered, 88-metre pool ends at the same level as the river, giving swimmers the feeling of being in an infinity pool.
Just as the history of the Chao Phraya is intertwined with the city it flows through, the Peninsula’s story would be incomplete without the river. The riverside location inspired its architects to give the hotel a W-shape that allows each of its 370 rooms to overlook the Chao Phraya. Inside are polished teak floors, exquisite silk-covered furniture, marble bathrooms and high-tech control panels, but the first — and last — thing every guest does after checking into the room is to rush to the giant glass windows to gawk at the view outside. Come morning, you see the city awakening to a blue sky and traffic sounds and the river taxis preparing to start their day-long operations. At night, the noisy party cruises swish by in a flash of bright lights.
Bangkok is a city of juxtapositions. Temples and colonial structures squat alongside glass-and-granite-fronted hotels; vendors selling flowers and dried fish try to edge out competitors in the floating market while, at Siam Paragon, ladies line up for Prada bags and Jimmy Choo shoes. The Peninsula doesn’t have the noisy or dirty elements of the Bangkok that exists outside its walls, but the mix of modern and traditional that makes the Venice of the East so evocative is very much here.
Indeed, it doesn’t get more traditional than the Thiptara. Located (where else?) on the banks of the river and under a majestic banyan tree, this is an old-school restaurant that offers home-style Thai food in a tropical garden setting. The restaurant is made up of beautiful traditional structures that have been salvaged from old locations, and restored here. The attention to detail is commendable: from the tiled flooring to the flower pots to the well in the centre of Thiptara, each item teaches its own history lesson.
The Peninsula Spa is another heady mix of the old and new. Located in a three-storeyed, colonial-style building adjacent to the hotel’s fitness centre, the 19,000-sq-ft spa features 14 treatment rooms, a tea lounge, four romantic suites-for-two and the usual gamut of sauna/steam room/plunge pool/whirlpool. While European treatments are available for those who want them, the spa’s must-haves are the Oriental and Ayurvedic body treatments, massages and facials. This is where tradition really kicks in; the therapists linger over each client with a service standard that can only be found in the east. The hotel promises “outstanding results for energy, tranquility and balance”. The expression on the face of every guest emerging from the spa would indicate that the promise is being faithfully kept.
The topmost floor of the hotel jerks you back to modernity. It’s not every hotel that can boast of having its own helipad. This Peninsula feature comes in handy for guests looking to avoid the traffic-burdened ride to and from the airport. For those who want to stay more grounded but are unwilling to quite forsake the luxurious life, the hotel offers a string of Rolls Royce Silver Spurs limos.
Equally modern are the rooms and suites — the smallest of which runs to 495 sq feet. Furnished in a classical style, all the rooms have double-glazed windows providing amazing views of Bangkok, separate sleeping and sitting areas and marble bathrooms with built-in TV sets above the bathtubs. The Peninsula Suite on the 34th floor is the largest at 3,890 sq ft while the Thai Suite, drowned in silk and decorated like a traditional Bangkok house, is the most requested. My vote, however, goes to the Duplex Suite with its minstrel’s gallery, outdoor terraces and giant windows on two levels. Think of it as more angles to watch the river from.
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