Saturday August 18, 2012
Renaissance Bangkok: Of style and shrines
By MARK LEAN
At the heart of the action in the city, the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong is fast becoming the favourite of travellers in the know.
IT’D probably be a cliché to say that Bangkok is a mix of everything, but that would also probably sum it up well.
Bangkok has a knack for marrying the old and the new, the traditional with the modern, the luxurious and the cheap, the sacred and the profane. And it does this with surprising ease, catering to the whims of most travellers, from those accustomed to the high style, to the Singha-swirling backpackers, and just about everyone in between.
At Ratchaprasong, an area of the city famous for its many holy shrines, you’ll find the Renaissance Bangkok, a slick 333-room hotel that makes the most of its central location. Around the property’s vicinity are no less than six places of worship dedicated to the major players in the pantheon of Hindu Gods: Lord Indra, Lord Brahma, Lord Trimurti, Lord Ganesh, Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu.
Devotees to the god of retail, on the other hand, will find worthy designer altars in malls like Gaysorn Plaza, Central World, and Erawan Bangkok, all of which are less than five minutes’ walk away.
At the hotel’s lobby, guests are almost always entranced by the buzz and the excitement of the place. Making use of materials like glass, stainless steel, marble, Tanganika wood, leather, stone and Light Emporado and Portoro gold marble, the space plays up its contrasts – light and dark, shimmer and matte, bright colours and monochrome, to beguiling effect.
Lounge tunes with a punchy beat enliven the area, which seems forever to be busy with people coming and going. If you’re looking for a sedate and boring lobby area, this is not it. However, even with the constant eddy and flow of people, no matter what day or time it is, my check-in is pretty smooth.
However, my room isn’t ready yet, so I take the chance to explore the area. Several hours later, I return and take the lift, which is striking with its crocodile-embossed, jet-black panels and the hotel’s signature motif of the cassia fistula, Thailand’s national flower.
The attractive emblem is also evident throughout the room, depicted as stylised murals on glass walls, coffee tables and bathroom mirrors. The bathroom offers several pleasant surprises, including a standalone bathtub and, the greatest joy of my stay, a shower seat. It’s a simple, but expertly considered contraption, featuring a tiled slab of concrete facing the power shower, making for one of the most fabulous bathing experiences, eclipsing even a pampering at five-star spas.
There’s no better way to relax and recharge than by sitting under a blissfully strong gushing shower, allowing the water to wash away all the stresses, concerns and cares. As far as I can tell, the Renaissance Bangkok is only one of two hotels in the city with shower seats – the other property being the riverside grand dame, Mandarin Oriental.
A day into my stay, I realise that I cannot possibly spend all my time in the room, no matter how transfixed I am with the fluffy bath towels, the comfy bed and the mountain of pillows. As it’s the weekend, I have the chance to sample brunch at La Tavola, the intimate Italian restaurant serving an antipasti buffet, a main course and unlimited prosecco, plus white and red wines and a selection of beers.
Priced at 1,000 baht (RM99.40) for food and an additional 500 baht (RM49.70) for alcoholic beverages, the buffet is arguably one of South-East Asia’s most affordable Sunday brunches.
My main dish, composed of a chunk of snow fish served with grilled vegetables and truffle-scented mashed potatoes, is pretty tasty. The fish, though well-cooked, is tender and the side dishes, delicious.
Post-brunch, I pick the brains of the hotel concierge, asking him about reputable and reliable fortune-tellers in Bangkok. Without so much as showing a hint of surprise, he replies, “Please let me get back to you, sir. I won’t be a moment.”
The concierge, like the rest of the hotel staff, is friendly, offers expert suggestions, thinks on his feet and provides assistance in a down-to-earth way. Minutes later, I’m informed that the good fortune-tellers in the city can be found at both the Asia Hotel and the Montien Hotel.
“If you plan to go to the Asia Hotel, please let me know so I may inform the taxi driver,” offers the helpful guy at the concierge desk, realising that the destination is off the beaten track for most tourists.
While other hotels pride themselves on their award-winning service, the Renaissance Bangkok adds an element of youth and personal touch to the way they treat guests. This probably explains why so many guests tend to return.