The Chao Phraya River winds its way from the northern edge of Bangkok to the city’s southern port, where it flows into the Gulf of Thailand. The banks of the river are home to the city’s best hotels: The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental and now The Siam, in the sleepy, low-rising neighborhood of Dusit, a 30-minute boat ride from downtown. During the closely watched three-year build, it was clear The Siam would be more than just another place to break up a long-haul flight—a Bangkok stopover outside the fray of downtown’s neon malls, street hawkers and traffic jams. And the finished property is much more than that—the kind of groundbreaking hotel that becomes a destination in itself.
The Siam’s owner-developer is Krissada Sukosol-Clapp, a well-known Thai pop singer and actor from a high-profile Bangkok family. Sukosol-Clapp retained the services of Bill Bensley, the architect behind some of the tropics’ most original resorts, from the stilted (in the literal sense), all-canvas Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai to the vertiginous, rock-clinging suites of the Maia Luxury Resort & Spa in the Seychelles. Bensley never repeats himself, and Sukosol-Clapp turned out to be the kind of owner that ambitious architects dream of—willing and able to triple the budget while refusing to add to the 39 original suites and villas to offset the cost. “I fell in love with this project,” Sukosol-Clapp says. “That’s why the whole thing got out of hand. So few rooms on a plot such as this? It doesn’t make sense.”
The Siam occupies three acres of prime riverfront real estate, and every detail reflects Bensley and Sukosol-Clapp’s vision for an authentic hotel in a city famous for counterfeit luxury. Three 100-year-old Thai teakwood houses were broken down, shipped in and reconstructed to form the airy, intimate Chon Thai Restaurant. The menu packs a punch with regional notes of sweet, sour and spice in everything from spectacular raw salads to banana-leaf-wrapped fish delicacies. The property is connected by herringbone-brick paths, already mossy with age, that wind beneath a canopy of banyan trees and palms full of birds. There’s the rustle of black bamboo in the courtyards, and in the long pool flanking the river, swimmers glide through emerald water surrounded by branches strung with orchids.
Most of the guest rooms wrap around a three-story central courtyard, while the villas sit closer to the water, with high walls and inner gardens concealing private plunge pools shadowed by tropical leaves. Swatches of silk, in Art Deco black and white, Chinese gold and Thai lilac, keep the cool, bone-white interior walls from feeling too cold. The gym—easily the city’s best—is stuffed with Thai sporting memorabilia and includes a Muay Thai boxing ring with leather punching bags for private training. The Opium Spa offers everything but surgical procedures and boasts oversized suites where multiple therapists can deliver a panoply of treatments at the same time.
The Siam has had a year to settle into its rhythm and has justified its less-than-central location by getting every detail exactly right, thanks to an owner who continues to scour the globe, from Avignon to San Francisco, for the objets d’art that adorn the property. “The truth is, only an artist would build something like this,” says Sukosol-Clapp’s wife, Melanie Giles-Clapp, as yet another glamorous couple sweeps into the pier on the hotel’s private launch.
Rooms start at $530. Our favorites are the Riverview Suites and Pool Villas, where room service seems a necessity rather than an indulgence. At 3/2 Thanon Khao, Vachirapayabal, Dusit; 66/2206-6999; thesiamhotel.com.