Lisa Richards finds a hip, sleek hideaway in the heart of frenetic Bangkok
Bangkok is the effervescent, living embodiment of that Colonial-age cliché of ‘East meets West.’ This was my first, long overdue visit to Asia and I was overwhelmed immediately. The contrast swerves from soaring ‘scrapers jostling for air space while bobbing river traffic travels at a speed from a bygone era; gleaming limos almost collide with lawnmower engine-powered tuk-tuks on the city’s roaring streets; while super-future eating places like the Supperclub share favour with outdoor “restaurants” with their wipe-clean tables, non-English-speaking staff and authentic food costing pennies. Bangkok draws you in, shakes you up, opens your eyes and wins you over within hours of landing.
The first thing to hit you when you’re deposited onto Bangkok’s streets is a heady mix of noise, speed, smells and people. And heat. With a city this fast-paced and frenetic, a haven is needed in which to rest your head, lounge by the pool or partake in expertly-mixed cocktails. Dare I say that expecting exemplary levels of hospitality and service will be included, wherever you choose to stay in this part of the world? The Thais, it seems, have the service industry pretty much covered. Within just a few minutes of being here, we realised that the bow of heads and gentle, wilting phrase of “Sawat di ka” would follow us wherever we went.
Even in an enclave of cool such as The Metropolitan, where Bangkok’s beautiful young things come to sip at the shrine of hipness that is the Met Bar – tucked away next door, so its revellers don’t disturb the architectural lobby’s serenity – there’s not a whiff of snootiness, as one can often find in properties elsewhere in the world that cater to the young, monied jet-set. Instead, as we clambered out of our air-conditioned limo into the dense, heat of a tropical night in Bangkok in January, we were greeted warmly by the door staff, who gathered us up and deposited us into the gently-cooled lobby. Beautifully attired and immaculately turned out in Yohji Yamamoto-designed uniforms, the staff effortlessly combine professionalism with warmth.
After a long journey, we decided to head to the Cy’an restaurant overlooking the hotel’s pool for a restorative bite to eat and a cool beer, while our bags were taken to our Studio Room for us. While we were not expecting – or particularly savouring – the idea of Mediterranean food upon our arrival in the heart of this vibrant, culinary capital (we’d left Marbella just days earlier, after all), the light-bite was actually expertly executed and delicious, with my omelette light and fluffy, while the cool beer slipped down beautifully. (Note: this restaurant has now changed to David Thompson’s first Thai outpost, in the shape of the Michelin-starred Nahm – we just missed its opening, sadly. Read our review of his London restaurant here).
After we’d finished eating, we had a minor debate as to whether the Met Bar should wait until the following evening, as that day’s flight still clung to us and our clothes. We decided for the sensible option and opted for the sanctuary of our room. Despite already having the key, a member of staff insisted on showing us there – a lovely touch as she’d clearly been waiting for us to finish our meal and debate. Our room was a great size, decorated in a minimalist style with clever lighting. Despite the luxe furnishings and enormous bed, one can still see traces of this building’s former life – as a YMCA – in its municipal lines. Its sparseness won’t be to all tastes and my shins never made friends with the platform bed, whose sharp corners attacked them at any given opportunity, usually in the middle of the night when heading to the loo. Talking of which, the bathroom is a perfect example of why I love (good) hotel bathrooms: marble-clad and sleek, with a bath and shower, and half as big as our generous-sized room, it’s packed with COMO Shambhala toiletries (rated as number-one on our long press trip that took in Dubai, Bangkok and Phuket) that are horribly stealable and aromatically evocative of Thailand.
Back in the room, there’s ample space to be able to properly unpack and lounge whilst watching TV (although with so much happening outside our window and in the hotel itself, we never turned the thing on). Instead, we plugged in our prepared playlist to the iPod dock, reclined on the chaise long and attacked the impressively-packed fruit bowl, making the most of the room, marvelling that this was one of the first hotels in the world to embrace the modern, minimalist style showcased by Christine Ong back in 2003.
We’re up early the next morning – sometimes jet-lag is a good thing when a metropolis is lying in wait to be explored – and we head for breakfast, with our swimming costumes and gym gear with us so we can partake in a quick 30-minute gym session and a reviving few lengths of the pool before we head out to the mean streets. Breakfast is a super-healthy affair – but not so healthy that one feels it’s lacking. An abundance of fresh fruits, which are constantly replenished and freshly-chopped and prepared as you wait, plus smoothies, breads and pastries. After breakfast is our virtuous visit to the gym, where we make friends with the PowerPlate – on our third day of use, we’re already beginning to feel its benefits to our thighs, calves and bums, despite it clattering our teeth and making us feel dizzy. After the gym, which is one of our favourite hotel gyms in the world, thanks to its compact size and not being at all intimidating, we braved the pool’s cool waters (sadly, it’s in shade for most of the day, thanks to its position at the foot of the high-rise building) and felt ready for our day.
After several hours of pounding the potholed pavements and busy streets, and partaking in some superb streetfood, we head back to The Metropolitan for some R&R in the shape of a well-poured cocktail at The Met. It’s only 7pm, and the place is empty apart from us and a couple of businessmen toasting that day’s deal. The low, sultry lighting means it takes a few reads of the menu to truly believe the prices: Met Bar quality cocktails in beautifully designed surroundings for just a few quid a pop. This could get messy. And it did. After four or five (or six) cocktails, one of which included the dangerous addition of Thai whisky (as recommended by our mischievous bar man), we weaved our way past the punters (the place had filled up at some point – we’re not sure when) and back to our room, the morning’s healthy start long forgotten.
Like the city in which it resides, The Metropolitan is full of contrasts – but not uncomfortably so. The hotel is achingly hip and attracts a young, beautiful crowd. But alongside them happily co-exist an older, smarter more mature traveller – excitedly here to explore this city, generously sharing tips in the lobby and choosing this hotel thanks to its reputation known the world over. Like its famed cocktails, the hotel is a success thanks to its eclectic, expertly-mixed blend of guests and cuisine, combined with super-cool surroundings and five-star service that means this hotel perfectly reflects its home.
The Metropolitan, 27 South Sathorn Road, Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Tel +66 (0)2 625 3333
Date of review: January 2010.