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Siam Glam with Robert la Bua

Bangkok's most exclusive hotel provides entrée to a world of rarefied beauty and benevolent philanthropy.

by Robert La Bua

Unabashedly elite, The Siam is the most expensive hotel in Bangkok, a city with many five-star properties. There is a difference between expensive and overpriced, though, and a stay at The Siam is worth every baht. Undaunted by the cost of perfection, savvy travellers clamour for suites at The Siam, with the very high percentage of repeat visitors requesting their favourite river-view villa or trying something different from the previous stay―maybe a junior suite in the main building, maybe Connie's Cottage.

The Siam provides very large accommodations, extraordinarily delicious cuisine, a touch of Thai history, rock-star glamour, and the friendliest and most professional staff in a country famed for its high level of service.

Here I am (below) enjoying the sumptuous garden areas within the complex.

A low-rise property with only 39 rooms, The Siam provides a completely different experience from other top Bangkok hotels where guestrooms number in the hundreds and lobbies can resemble train stations on the eve of Golden Week. Rooms in the main building are enormous and beautifully appointed, with great thought given to functionality as well as aesthetics. Rather than simply bedrooms, the smallest category of accommodations at The Siam refers to the junior suites, which are still noticeably larger than many one-bedroom apartments. (below: Everything - from gorgeous garden areas, to art, live music shows and spectacular decor to relax in and enjoy - is on offer here at The Siam).

The hotel's private pool villas, unique in Bangkok, provide private sanctuaries of comfort and luxury belying their urban location. (below: See you poolside!)

Although Bangkok's main attractions are its indefatigable energy and vibrant spirit―not to mention its vast shopping malls and diversity of products to be purchased within them―there is one sight no sophisticated visitor should miss.

The Jim Thompson House is actually an agglomeration of houses, bringing together six small, traditional Thai country houses to create one large home celebrating the apogee of historic Thai architecture. As if the structure itself were not beautiful enough, the house is full of priceless works of Southeast Asian art. The Jim Thompson House can be reserved for a private tour, which serves as a suitable overview of Thai arts, or even for a private dinner for an occasion to remember. Jim Thompson, an American who lived in Bangkok, is credited with both a revival of interest in traditional Thai architecture as well as a renaissance of the country's silk industry; today, Jim Thompson silks are regarded among the country's best-quality textiles. Silk is among Thailand's greatest bargains; companies such as Jim Thompson and Shinawatra sell top-quality silk for a fraction of the prices they would command outside the country. Interior designers the world over visit Jim Thompson and Shinawatra to stock up on inventory for use back in Paris, São Paulo, Los Angeles―one admirer of Thai silk had his car interior upholstered in it. Those guests at The Siam impressed with style of the Jim Thompson House may wish to stay in Connie's Cottage, a traditional Thai house once belonging to Jim Thompson's good friend, socialite and bon vivante Connie Mangskau, who, like Thompson, dallied in intelligence gathering for foreign governments when not busy hosting or attending one of the gala soirées of the Bangkok social scene in the 1950s and 60s. The original house on stilts is now the bedroom, accessible by exterior stairs from a ground-floor living area whose walls fold back completely to create an open-air pavilion.

Cosy and stylish, Connie's Cottage (below) is not the largest option for accommodations at The Siam but it is certainly the most unique.

Exceptional Thai and Western culinary experiences prepared by Executive Chef Damri Muksombat can be enjoyed in another of Connie Mangskau's heritage houses now owned by The Siam, this one serving as a private dining room (below).

It is not at all surprising that an extraordinary hotel has extraordinary owners and extraordinary people working there. The earlier rock-star reference was not a throwaway metaphor meant to impress―not when an actual rock star is indeed the proprietor.

The handsome Krissada Sukosol Clapp, (above) less formally known as Kriss, is a well-known singer and film actor in Thailand. It's not often a hotel's owner shakes hands with guests on their departure from the hotel to the airport, only to pop up again on a video screen playing the lead in a film shown on the plane ride home. An avid antiques collector with a discerning eye for quality inherited from his mother, Kamala Sukosol, herself one of Thailand's most famous singers and a leading light in the country's philanthropy circles, Kriss emptied his private warehouse full of objets d'art and repositioned them against the backdrop of The Siam, the first new-build five-star hotel in Bangkok to open for decades. The Moderne-meets-21st century style of the hotel's main building serves as an appropriate setting for showcasing the diverse collection of Chinese and Thai antiques, vintage travel posters, rare books, and curious esoterica which together create an exceptionally attractive ambience of sophistication and glamour. Despite the allure of dolce farniente in such an idyllic locale, it's not all sybaritic hedonism at The Siam. Active guests may take part in a novel program where the famous Muay Thai style of boxing is the means to a benevolent end.

The private boxing ring at The Siam (above) represents much more than a mere pastime for foreign visitors curious to learn Muay Thai; it is also the key to a better life for some of Bangkok's underprivileged children. Muay Thai has taken off as a trendy activity for fitness fanatics around the world, but at The Siam the sport is treated with the reverence it has always been accorded in Thai culture. Near the hotel's riverside location is a temple that appears to be just another of the thousands of small temples dotting the landscape of the Thai capital; this, however, is the only one with its own boxing training camp. Under the patronage of The Siam, Wat Wimut was chosen to be the location for underprivileged youngsters to find a place to bond and remove themselves from less salubrious paths in life that may entice them, even if not of their choosing. Rather than fall into a darker side, the young boys and girls are taken in, sheltered and fed along with the resident monks. The youths apply themselves to the art of Muay Thai in order to learn discipline, get into shape, and defeat the feeling of alienation that affects so much of the world's younger generation today.

Guests at The Siam interested in Muay Thai are often very keen but remain unfamiliar with the moves and techniques for doing it well. Instructors explain, but words can only go so far. Guests are taken to visit the temple's boxing academy to watch pupils in action. Observing the young people's finely honed skills in the ring, the hotel's guests immediately grasp the concepts and apply them in their own training. Beyond the benefits to the guests, the young people are also glad to interact with overseas visitors and gain self-confidence in being considered expert enough to be examples for foreigners to follow. As anyone who has done something benevolent can say, the feeling of satisfaction is deep. Usually, invigorated guests of The Siam departing refreshed both physically and mentally demonstrate their gratitude by donating funds or specific pieces of equipment to the temple's boxing camp. Hopefully, the kids who train at the boxing camp will identify less with Jod, the character played by Kriss in the film Antapal (which means 'hooligan' in Thai) and more with the fine man of character he is in real life.

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