Bangkok is a heady mix of East and West, with golden temples and opulent shopping malls. It is a city where street food rubs shoulders with gourmet dining and there is always something new and exciting happening here. But there are some things in Bangkok that never change, like the Chao Phraya, the River of Kings, which is an integral part of city life. Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok, the largest hotel on the Chao Phraya, is a spectacular, sprawling urban resort with two adjacent towers on a quarter of a mile of river frontage. The main Shangri-La Wing is in cutting-edge Thai style, while the more intimate Krungthep (the Thai name for Bangkok) Wing has a hushed and ritzy ambiance and all its 119 rooms and 10 suites have river views and balconies.
The sweeping Lobby Lounge, with its shimmering chandeliers and soaring windows framing the flowing river, gave us the feeling of being on a cruise ship. On one side there was a pop-up art gallery and we were told that it is a popular venue for art and cultural happenings, music and dancing. In the afternoon, the tables filled up for the Golden Birdcage Afternoon Tea with its “pretty little things,” ranging from mouth-watering, bite-sized savories to signature sweets. And to further tempt lovers of all things sweet, the nearby Chocolate Boutique starts with breakfast.
The Specialty Suite in the Krungthep Wing has one bedroom along with a separate sitting room, kitchenette and dining area.
Gleaming teak, Thai silks and subtle hues blend with modern amenities in the 802 guestrooms that come with bedside controls for the lighting and curtains. All the bathrooms have separate baths and showers and L’Occitane toiletries. We had one of the Deluxe Riverview rooms in the Shangri-La tower, and found it difficult to tear ourselves away from the comfortable window sofa and the ever-changing spectacle on the water. The 603-square-foot Premier Rooms have a sofa bed in the separate living room and two TVs, but with 99 pairs of connecting rooms there is plenty of choice for families. A-listers will like the 63 guestrooms and 27 suites on the Horizon Club floors with lounge access and complimentary 4 p.m. late checkout. Top of the pick are the two Presidential Suites, one in each wing. With over 2,000 square feet of space, these suites present the kind of opulent luxury heads of state, VIPs and rock stars crave.
With a total of nine restaurants and bars under Executive Chef Marc Cibrowius ([email protected]; 011-022-367-777, ext. 6301), we had to make some serious decisions. The NEXT2 Cafe with its all-day dining was a good choice for breakfast, and one evening we looked in at the huge selection of international and local specialties on the buffet and live cooking stations. But when in Thailand we can’t resist Thai food, so we chose the Salathip.
Salathip serves authentic local cuisine in Thai-style teak pavilions with classical Thai dance performances in the background.
General Manager Phillip Couvaras ([email protected]) says reservations are essential to secure tables with the best river views. He advises booking guestrooms at least two months ahead for the peak season, from December 28 to January 2, which is the busiest time of the year. For special requests, Couvaras can be reached through his secretary ([email protected]; 011-66-223-677-77, ext. 6001).
We have never had a bad meal in Thailand, but it is hard to think of a better one than our dinner at the Salathip. Since it was raining, we sat in one of the clusters of exquisite purpose-built teak pavilions with glimmering gold leaf applications that are as full of Eastern promise as the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s famous novel about the mythical Tibetan paradise. And we had two of the signature dishes, Neua Kra Ta Roan, meltingly tender wok-sizzled Australian beef, and Som Tum Khor Moo Yang, a green papaya salad with carrots and grilled pork shoulder.
Spine-tingling fiery green papaya salads are linchpins of Thai cuisine: a mix of shredded papaya, green beans, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, chopped peanuts, dried shrimp and as many green or red hot chilli peppers as the chef thinks you will be able to stomach. Tip: If you tell the waiter you like it spicy, be ready for fireworks!
The Krungthep Deluxe Balcony Rooms have private balconies overlooking the Chao Phraya River.
We had heard the Shang Palace was the best Cantonese restaurant in Bangkok. The humongous golden statue of smiling Buddha at the door had us smiling too, and so did the lunchtime dim sum menu with 30 dishes to choose from. Other in-house dining venues are the Volti Italian restaurant with pizzas, pasta and other Italian stalwarts, and the popular Horizon Cruise, which serves buffet dinner on a two-deck craft that nightly glides past temples, palaces and soaring skyscrapers on the Chao Phraya.
There are two tropical swimming pools, one exclusively for guests in the Krungthep Wing, and CHI The Spa has river-view suites for couples featuring the “spa within a spa” concept with private showers, steam baths and changing areas for each suite. Health Club Manager Nucharee Wangchai ([email protected]; 011-662-236-7777, ext. 6752) suggested that after a long flight the perfect choice was the signature Balance treatment. It had just the right amount of acupressure to refresh the mind and body, and the massage, using delicately perfumed oils, was wonderfully relaxing.
Chief Concierge Vuttinun Vikiniyadhanee ([email protected]; 011-022-367-777, ext. 6736) can arrange such treats as helicopter city sightseeing trips and VIP service at the airport where staff members escort guests from the aircraft through fast-track immigration. For private jets, the Don Muang Airport is an hour away.
The Specialty Suite in the Krungthep Wing has 1,388 square feet of space and comes with all modern amenities. Seen here is the living room.
Given the hotel’s location on the river, guests should forget about cars and opt for the more practical water transport like the public river buses that stop along both banks of the river. Another great way to beat the fender-to-fender traffic is to rise above it and take the BTS Skytrain. The Taksin Station is just outside the entrance to the Krungthep Wing, and the trains — which are very cheap and spotlessly clean — take around 20 minutes to get to major shopping areas, famous day-and-night markets and upmarket shopping malls. Tip: Avoid the overcrowded morning and evening rush hours.
The hotel’s shuttle boat service, which operates hourly, is the fastest way to get to Asiatique The Riverfront, the glittering complex just across the river. It has a colorful bazaar atmosphere, especially in the evening, with scores of shops and dining options to choose from. But if you want to splurge on haute cuisine it has to be L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the Mahanakorn Cube Tower, a twisting cubic 77-floor head-turner, which is Bangkok’s newest and tallest building.