Spa Whisperer Nigel Franklyn steps into Bangkok’s most exquisite boutique hotel and discovers the ultimate urban retreat. Read the article here and in the current issue of QUEST magazine.
Upon entering The Siam, which opened in mid-2012, you feel as if you have walked onto a movie set of a genteel country retreat. It is old school glamour. It is iconic. I’ve been on and off property since the construction began, and it’s wonderful to see the hotel become something much greater than the bricks and mortar. With the dust settled, the doors open for business and everything springing into life, the property has become greater than all its elements combined. It feels like it is already as much a part of Asian history as the rare collections of antiques that fill it. I can almost feel the place breathe!
Designed by architect Bill Bensley, The Siam resides in Bangkok’s Dusit district and sits on the banks of the Chao Phraya River—the River of Kings—with easy access to Bangkok’s temples, palaces and museums. The hotel’s private boat offers shuttles up and down the river so guests arrive virtually anywhere not only in style, but also with a good visual dose of culture. However there is a riverside infinity pool for easy boat traffic viewing, if that’s all you are game for.
Representing illustrious generations of Thai celebrity, the owners are the Sukosol family—Thailand’s most famous and beloved showbiz dynasty—who, themselves, are a part of Thai history. It makes perfect sense that they would open a hotel that honors Thailand so completely. Every antique on property is part of the family’s private collection and their eye for detail borders on genius. In every way, the property is an extension of the Sukosol family and their many passions. Krissada Sukosol Clapp (a.k.a. Noi), Thailand’s reigning movie star heartthrob and rock star, spends what free time he has on site with his beautiful wife Melanie (a Reiki master), moving furnishings and precious things from one place to another—creating prop-stylist-worthy vignettes, revising his vision, interacting with his guests and beaming like the world’s most proud father. Even the General Manager Jason Friedman has the air of a man who has found his perfect place and is living his dream. They intermingle comfortably with hotel guests and the community at large with an elegant and unpretentious air of aristocratic, colonial grace. I don’t know that there is anything remotely as wonderful as being invited into their world in Bangkok. It’s a marvelous thing to see them embody this spectacular city.
In terms of urban properties, The Siam offers something deeply unique in both design and intention. Boutique hotels have always had the advantage of somehow going off the grid in terms of design—it’s much easier to get quirky on a smaller, less corporate scale. But, The Siam has taken that concept several steps further, layering the décor and ambience in each of its venues.
Quite often, the design of the spa will fracture from that of the hotel. At The Siam, there is consistency of design and drama that follows through beautifully down into the Opium Spa. As the name alludes, it does not fail to intoxicate. Strolling through the property, I often see guests arrive at the spa excited and in awe.
Throughout the property, there are antiques and fascinating objet d’art from all over Asia that are displayed against an otherwise contemporary and chic backdrop. I love the continuity of that sense of drama and history in the spa. Antique barber chairs in the hair salon and Thai statues and works of art in the relaxation lounges and treatment rooms create a cohesive and tasteful glamour. Opium Spa also happens to be an exclusive Sodashi spa. The connection to Sodashi, one of the world’s best spa products, alone makes this spa special, and enhances the wellness aspect of the experience with a commitment to being chemical free and eco sensitive. Once seated inside the spa’s Opium Den lounge, you are unmistakably in Thailand and unmistakably in The Siam. The restful room has two-story ceilings and a large, lotusflower- filled pond in its center. It’s much larger and more palatial than most spa lounges I work with, but it feels comfortable and warm and fits perfectly with the general elegance and grandeur of the hotel.
Despite crisp white walls, the spa never feels cold or empty. This is especially true in the evening when the lighting throws some real drama into the place and makes the spa corridors and treatment rooms look beautifully haunting. Candles light the Opium Den and traditional khrueang pao music (Thai bamboo flute) fills the air in the lounge and treatment rooms.
Since Thailand is steeped in the history of body therapy, it gave The Siam and the Sodashi team the opportunity to play around with traditional treatments and give them a modern infusion. It’s a great way to get the well-traveled and hip Siam crowd into the spa to try treatments they probably wouldn’t try without the contemporary twist. The Muay Thai Massage has incorporated deep tissue, Swedish, lymphatic drainage techniques with acupressure points to create a treatment with multidimensional benefits. The Thai Herbal Compress Massage, exclusive to The Siam, uses compresses of Asian/Thai herbs such as tumeric, kaffir lime and plai for a truly holistic, indigenous but modern experience. One of the multi-day programs I like is Muay Thai Boxing (Yes, The Siam gym has a Muay Thai boxing ring!) followed by the Muay Thai Massage. I am always looking for ways to incorporate fitness and spa in an organically combined journey, and this particular program lets you experience levels of Thai culture in a very unique way.
My favorite treatment is the Samadara Ultimate Age-Defying Facial, a two-hour facial that uses heated rose quartz crystals to massage the face, neck and shoulders—which is very lifting, anti-aging and relaxing. It’s pretty much a home run!
If you think facials are just basic beauty treatments, then think again. The Samadara will have you diving for your spa dictionary, looking for ways to describe it. It’s an incredible experience and you come out looking as great as you feel—definitely a bucket list spa experience.
When I get too spa’d out and need a bit of Bangkok energy, I hop on the hotel boat and head up to the flower market to buy lotus flowers for the spa. You see a lot from the boat, and it’s an easy way to get a quick sense of the city. The boat stops several times and riders are encouraged to jump off and explore on foot. One unforgettable place is Steve’s Restaurant, a small, authentic, no frills eatery full of locals that’s about five minutes by boat. Don’t order directly from the menu though. Just give the waiter an idea of what you want, how much you want to eat and let them choose for you—you won’t be disappointed.
Back on property, there are a total of six dining venues, including a Thai cooking class. I mean, a Thai cooking class? My favorite is the Chon Thai restaurant, with its Thai-revival menu. It overlooks the river and is made up of three, century-old refurbished Thai teakwood cottages made famous by 1960s socialite Connie Mangskau, who threw epic parties there for the likes of Jackie O—again, extending the Sukosol family vision of giving new life to Thailand’s deep history. It’s all just so thoughtful and so relevant. The Siam is not a hotel in Thailand. This is Thailand in a hotel.
For more information about adding The Siam to your itinerary, contact your Travel Professional. To read the current issue of QUEST magazine online, click here, and be sure to stay up to date on all of QUEST’s online content by following the QUEST Facebook page.