It was another world. Since my first visit to Bangkok – over fifteen years ago, on my first venture outside Europe – the city has stood for everything I love about travel. Difference, the joy of culture shock, food I’d realise I’d seldom tasted in its authentic form. Returning to Bangkok always reconnects me to that youthful(ish) excitement. And as the last place I visited before worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns started to come into effect, it’s gained a kind of poignancy.
Rosewood Bangkok opened last year in a hotel and amenity-packed central business area. Among other strenuously design-led new tower hotels, the Rosewood’s profile – a stylised rendition of hands brought into prayer – is distinctive: clean-lined, stylish, immediately recognisable. That great first impression was sadly spoiled by a chaotic check-in that saw me first misdirected by an over-enthusiastic member of staff to the top-floor bar, Lennon’s (more on which later), before finding my way back to a reception desk to learn that the hotel had a very different interpretation of my reservation than I did.
Brief research shows that their “Watermelon in Easter Hay” cocktail is by some distance more palatable than the Frank Zappa song it’s named fo
Teething troubles, fortunately. After that shaky start, I quickly decided I quite wanted to live here. This is a hotel interior that’s had no expense spared, and for whose designers no corner or stretch of wall is too insignificant to have something eye-catching placed in it. Everywhere you look is a UFO-like chandelier, a print wallpaper so gorgeous you want to lick it, a globular light fitting like a Chihuly sculpture that’s melted in the sun. Yet these details don’t overwhelm; the impression overall is relaxed, calming, and – of course – luxurious.
The stunning Nan Bei restaurant is decked out in a palette of rich blues – smoke, midnight, teal – with gilt deco trimmings, and is accessed via a walkway overlooking a mirrored galaxy of small lights that wouldn’t shame Yayoi Kusama. The menu, by chef Matthew Geng, comprises Northern and Southern Chinese dishes, and contains some of the best food I’ve ever had in Thailand. There’s a tasting menu, but I’d recommend (over)ordering from the extensive à la carte: the poached chicken with Sichuan sauce is theoretically moreish, and the hand-pulled noodles with shanxi hot oil actually so – I immediately ordered a second round (in lieu of dessert) and the next night, even after a glorious dinner at Bangkok’s celebrated newcomer Gaa, still considered popping back in to Nan Bei for a deferred third.
Instead I went up to Lennon’s, on purpose this time. The bar is concealed behind what resembles a museum of music, with instruments and turntables on display like relics of a pre-digital epoch, and an eclectic library of LPs and cassettes, from albums by Gene Pitney and Kenny Loggins to the Godspell soundtrack and a compilation of themes from 1970s British detective shows. Those record players do function, though they’re more commonly used as backdrops for selfies than as listening posts. In the bar are more sculptural brass instruments, tall leather seating, a spiral staircase that seems to lead, marvellously, nowhere, and clusters of pendant bulbs giving off faint glow, as if not to detract from the city lights. Signature drinks are named for musicians and their signature tunes: brief research shows that their “Watermelon in Easter Hay” cocktail is by some distance more palatable than the Frank Zappa song it’s named for. The atmosphere here is so richly jazz-clubby I started to hallucinate of cigarette smoke (long banned in Bangkok, thankfully). Any meeting that took place in this milieu would instantly qualify, I feel, as an assignation.
I was struck by only one major design flaw: the pool, on the ninth floor, suffers as city hotels’ often do by being mostly in shadow during the day; two-thirds of its length is technically indoors, overhung by the balconies of the levels above. Along the sides of the short sunlit portion are a mere dozen or so chairs, which seems a little mean. That said, it was quiet when I visited, with no fight for lounger access. At the end of the pool there’s a Jacuzzi pool with a view across Lumphini Park and out towards the ever-proliferating forest of new builds. You feel that if you look away for more than a few minutes, another will have sprung up.
Bedrooms are large, bright and semi open-plan, with areas screened off as living room and combined walk-in wardrobe and desk set-up. Both bedroom and bathroom have floor-to-ceiling windows out on the city – I’m not sure there’s anything better than lying in the bath with something to drink, watching the sky darken and the lights come on in those anonymous, alien towers. Neat flourishes in the rooms include miniature chocolates to be discovered in a lidded ornament in the sitting room area, a super-efficient Dyson hairdryer in the bathroom, and that holiest of holies, the audiovisual hookup that lets you stream movies and music from your computer to the large wall-mounted TV with no need for a special app, a cable you naturally didn’t bring on holiday with you, or a head-scratching visit from hotel staff. It can be done – and in 2020, all things considered, there’s no excuse for it to be anything other than this simple.
Oh, 2020. For a few sweet weeks, whether or not my laptop would link to the hotel television was among my greatest concerns. I’m glad to have spent my last couple of days of largely unfettered moving through the world in this hotel and in this city. And after months of closure, it fills me with cheer to know guests are at Rosewood Bangkok again. I hope to join them when life allows, in the shade or otherwise. C
Rosewood Bangkok, 1041, 38 Phloen Chit Rd, Lumphini, Pathum Wan District, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
+66 2 080 0030; rosewoodhotels.com