I love coming back to Bangkok. It was the first stop on my first major, multi-city travel adventure and to come back here always reminds me of stepping out into late-night heat, the smell of smoke from roadside grills, the sight of children playing football in the pitch-sized underpass beneath a motorway junction in which more lanes than I could count blended and looped into one another. Shortly afterwards came the realisation that, having thought I’d done quite well to explore the city, I had in fact covered merely a speck of one of innumerable districts in this towers-and-temples megalopolis. I felt like I could feel my brain expanding. Back then it felt like I’d left not just my home but my own time. It still does. To come from Vietnam, where I’d spent two weeks dodging mopeds, eating at roadside food stalls and staying at comfortable but eighties-generic city hotels, made me feel like I’d travelled forward in time about two centuries.
The Park Hyatt, newly opened on the edge of Bangkok’s embassy district, occupies the upper floors of a mirror-clad structure, designed by London-based AL_A, that curls up and around like a snake uncoiling upwards, reaching a distinctive ski-jump point which looks as impressive from half the city away as it does from immediately below, as a vertiginous backdrop for poolside selfies or to gaze up at from the Sky Garden cocktail bar while waiting (in our case a shade too long) for your pre-dinner cocktail to arrive.
The hotel interiors, by New York’s Yabu and Pushelberg, are equally impressive. Rooms are extremely bright and spacious; I stayed in a king room with floor-to-ceiling windows giving spectacular views on the city. The boundary between the room’s entryway (with desk on one side and dressing room to the other) is demarcated by glass screens etched with images of Thai temples; clever layout means that you can gaze through these and out the windows, to make a kind of palimpsest superimposing temples and skyscrapers. The slipper-shaped bathtub, too, is placed for city views, and the bathroom products – as if I needed any more inducement to take a long soak – are by Le Labo.
Dining options include the Penthouse Bar & Grill – a smart, nightclubby space on three floors with many private seating options and a spectacular metallic roof – and, better for lunchtimes, the brighter, airier Embassy Room. Here an à la carte menu – with main courses including grilled octopus, miso black cod, and New Zealand lamb shank – is complemented by an extensive buffet of starters and desserts from the Pantry nearby. It’s a clever hybrid way to lunch, even if the view out to the pool did make me think maybe I’d better not go too wild with the dessert options.
The roof deck is angled to be in full sun all day, and there are plenty of parasols for the sunfearing; the trees that rise from planters in the shallow end of the infinity pool are placed in such a way that the sun sets before it can be obscured in their branches. From the edge of the pool there’s a view onto the gardens of the former British Embassy, with colonial-era buildings visible among the trees, and the skyscrapers that this hotel dwarfs. While you know the roads are moiling with buses, cars, tuktuks, mopeds, bikes and pedestrians, there’s no sense from this elevation of the mayhem at street-level mayhem.
You can avoid that throng even as you descend into the lower levels of the Central Embassy building: here’s a city unto itself, with a dozen different restaurants including well-regarded dumpling specialist Din Tai Fung, and a sort of hybrid of bookshop and art installation whose shelves and displays wend in and out of the walls and fixtures – perfect for bibliophiles to find something to take upstairs and read in the bath.
And you won’t want to be out and about too long. Up above, after all, is a hotel that gets almost everything spot on. As a fussy guest, I kept looking around for things to grumble about, and being pleasantly disappointed. Those of us who have occasionally harboured an ambition of setting up a Tumblr to post images of terrible hotel artwork will be disappointed here: the high atrium ceiling of the Living Room is hung with an artwork by Hirotoshi Sawada, a gorgeous snaking slalom of fine black rods, something like the lighter-than-air fossilised remains of a vast prehistoric creature, that breaks up the straight lines of the space without affecting its brightness. Another artwork by Sawada hangs in the negative space at the centre of the grand staircase: Pagoda Mirage is a constellation of innumerable hanging whorls of gold shaped like the caps of mushrooms.
The unimprovable lighting, the graceful swoop of the staircase, this shimmering network of gold pendants – you feel like you’re not just on the set of a sci-fi utopia film but actually inside it. Any time I’ve flown to Bangkok, whether from London, Sydney or Saigon, I’ve always felt like I’m arriving in the future. Here and now, the Park Hyatt is the best place to stay in the city. C
Park Hyatt Bangkok, 88 Witthayu Rd, Khwaeng Lumphini, Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330, Thailand
+66 2 012 1234; hyatt.com