Sunday, September 5, 2004

Banyan Tree, Bangkok

Banyan Tree, Bangkok

A bed for the night in Thailand

By Jeremy Atiyah

Published: 05 September 2004

Where is it?

On the South Sathon Road, in the middle of Bangkok's business and diplomatic district. It is about 10 minutes from the entertainment and shopping area of Silom Road and the BTS Saladang station.

It's a spa hotel with open-air swimming pools and dining areas of the kind you would never expect to find in the middle of the urban hell that downtown Bangkok sometimes feels like.

The comfort factor
Apart from the glass-fronted eating area overlooking an (artificial) craggy rock-face with waterfalls and a banyan tree, the lobby areas are pleasingly low-key. It's discreet and businesslike, with a predominance of dark colours. When I arrived a flautist was playing in the bar. The rooms are all suites, comprising living rooms, albeit smallish ones, and bedrooms with king-size beds. All rooms have incense and aromatherapy burners. Many also have excellent views. The hotel has 61 floors, reached by lift at an astonishing speed.

The bathroom
There is a shower and a separate bath of the short, deep, Asian variety (you can sit in it, but not lounge). Distinguished black stone pots hold the soaps and shampoos. Snazzy, his-and-hers, black-and-white cosmetics bags contain executive mouthwash, loofah mitts, cotton buds, cotton wool, toothbrushes, Colgate, sewing kits, shavers, bath hats, bath salts, nail files etc. In fact, those bags are large enough to stash all the cosmetics you've lifted from other hotels on the same trip.

The food and drink
The rich and glamorous will not need to leave the hotel. The Vertigo Grill is the centrepiece of this selection, which includes some of Bangkok's most stylish restaurants. One of the highest outdoor restaurants in the world, it is the place for a once-in-a-lifetime meal. You reach it by a steep flight of steps running up from the 60th floor. Once there, you'll enjoy fresh-air views that stretch for miles. To one side, at the Moon Bar, people lounge on cushions and drink while looking into thin air. The food is American-bistro-style, with emphasis on top-quality ingredients rather than sophisticated or elaborate preparation. The grilled meats and seafood are superb, and the tiger prawns (skewered on a liquorice stick) will probably be the biggest you have seen. You could easily find yourselves paying £100 per head for three courses with wine. Before booking, check the weather: at these heights, the slightest breeze becomes a gale. It can also be chilly (but lovely silk fringed scarves are provided for ladies in the event of too much wind). But you needn't worry about things blowing out of your hands and plummeting on to the heads of innocent tuk-tuk drivers far below - the place mats are immovable stone and the menus are solid metal. If Vertigo doesn't take your fancy, you can descend to the 60th floor to dine at the (indoor) Chinese restaurant, Bai Yun, instead. This restaurant, serving Nouvelle Cantonese cuisine, is also one of Thailand's best.

The people
At the Vertigo bar they look like and probably are internet millionaires: the cream of Asian youth, casually dressed, talking in numerous languages (but if the customers look good, they rarely match the waiting staff who are as stunning as they are charming).

The area
As at all Banyan Tree hotels, life revolves round the spa. You can sit eating raw vegetables and drinking apple and ginger tea, and getting your knots worked on, then go for an outdoor swim in a pool that is so high above the streets that you'll feel as though you are in the countryside. The spa, spread over two floors, has a sauna, steam room, wet and dry treatments, body wrapping, facials, as well as aerobics, yoga and dancing classes.

The access
Wheelchair access, except the top-floor restaurant. Children are welcome.

The damage
A deluxe suite is cheapest, at $160 (£90) per room.

The address
Banyan Tree Bangkok, 21/100 South Sathon Road, Sathon, Bangkok 10120 Thailand (01494 675636;