3/2 Thanon Khao, Bangkok, Thailand, thesiamhotel.com. 39 suites and villas starting at $572.
Bangkok's newest luxury resort hotel, the Siam, is family owned, which, until you meet the family, makes it sound all cozy and sweet. But the Sukosols are Thailand's answer to the Rockefellers and the Redgraves rolled into one – their wealth is in real estate, show business and hotels.
Matriarch Kamala is CEO, but also a renowned jazz singer – her deadly accurate imitation of Shirley Bassey belting Goldfinger at the Oscars is legendary here. Her alt-rock singer and Thai movie-star son, Krissada, acted as creative director for this $40-million "urban resort" on the banks of the Chao Phraya river.
Kamala used paleolithic terracotta bowls and fine Chinese porcelain from her own collection along with Krissada's superb gathering of Thai memorabilia to decorate the Siam's corridors and 39 suites and villas (there's nothing so mundane as a room at this hotel).
The Siam is the only five-star hotel in Bangkok's elegant and leafy Dusit district, the perfect antidote to the hurly-burly of the rest of town. Dusit is a tranquil refuge studded with the mansions and palaces of Bangkok's rich and royal. You can't toss a diadem without hitting a royal residence – the Crown Prince's palace and the magnificent Vimanmek Teak Mansion, one-time residence of King Rama V (1853-1910), are just up the road.
If I could change one thing
The trouble with a refuge is that sometimes you long to get out and back to the hurly-burly. The Siam's pretty far from Bangkok action central, although the complimentary river shuttle will take you there in less than a half hour.
The Siam is a palace, subtly magnificent and surprisingly light on its feet. The moment you enter its glassy coolness, you know you're in a world apart. The main residence, where the suites are located, is modelled on Paris's glass-roofed Musée d'Orsay, with a sun-washed atrium enclosing a fountain the size of a soccer pitch. The suites, villas and public rooms are art-deco inspired, with a black-and-white palette enlivened by touches of plum and pale green and by the original sculptures scattered about.
My river-view suite featured 4.5-metre ceilings, a spectacular panorama of the busy Chao Phraya river, an oval alabaster soaking tub the size of a Cunard liner, a soignée sitting room with a plum-upholstered loveseat and a dramatic black floor. Did I mention the butler? His name was Aon and was as charming as he was efficient.
If there's another five-star property with a genuine Muay Thai fighting ring I'll eat my gold-satin boxing shorts. Muay Thai – "the art of eight limbs" – isn't just a potentially lethal combat that involves punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, but is also a wicked way of staying in great shape. Trained professionals offer private lessons as well as trips to a Muay Thai training centre and tickets to a professional fight. I'm sure the Siam bartender wouldn't mind running up a Thermos full of real Muay Thai – dark rum, coconut, vodka, vanilla, lemon juice and green tea – for that important after-match recovery period.
Eat in or Out?
Chon (Thai for "spoon") is the hotel restaurant located in a trio of traditional teak-wood houses that once belonged to a high-society local, who entertained everyone from Henry Ford to Jacqueline Kennedy and, legend has it, was also a secret agent. Chon specializes in the delicate flavours of northern Thai cuisine – the blissful smile on the reclining Buddha in the restaurant's vestibule suggests he ate there.
Whom you'll meet
Arty and showbiz friends of the Sukosol family stopping by for cocktails and amuse-bouches on the Siam's private pier. Also, cabinet ministers, foreign ambassadors, well-heeled remittance men and ne'er-do-well second sons down to their last $50-million.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.