To stand out in Bangkok's luxury hotel scene of super-chic rooftop bars and drool-worthy pools, you've got to have that certain je ne sais quoi. Bangkok's newest five-star hotel offers these lavish trappings with a dash of French fashion inspiration.
To infinity pool and beyond
Hotel pools are my weakness. There, I've said it. Now I can engage in some real water-based therapy, a necessity after a muggy day of Bangkok heat.
But it's no ordinary pool experience at the newly opened Sofitel So Bangkok. With cabanas and sunken pool-chairs simply made for attractive bodies, this aqua-blue infinity pool is the ultimate 'pool with a view', offering one of the few panoramic views of green in what often feels like a grungy, high-density landscape.
Right ahead of me is Bangkok's version of New York's Central Park: Lumpini Park. A glittering city skyline plays second fiddle to this vast emerald escape, a place that gets packed in early morning and late afternoon with Thai elders doing tai chi, monkey bar exercises, Latin dancing and park-bench gossip sessions. I later take a morning walk and feel like the most unfit person in the park.
Seeing it from the luxury of a sky-high pool is even more of a relief when you see the flashing torrent of bumper-to-bumper traffic below. That's just one place you can get a five-star view in this five-star hotel just around the corner is the outdoor 'Solarium', a grassy oasis for those who can brave the blazing heat on a sunbed with a billboard-and-building backdrop.
Other vantage spots offer cooler respite: every guest room has a sweeping park or skyscraper vista seen through a three-metre-high floor-to-ceiling feature window that can be blocked out with a button-controlled curtain at night.
The rooftop bar, Hi-SO, is a haven for sunset watchers and evening drinkers on level 29, while the all-day dining room Red Oven on level 9 is lush with its park outlook. Even the day spa, So Spa (yes, everything in this hotel has 'so' in it) grants a gaze of the pool perched above the sprawling park.
The ultimate 'pool with a view'. Image: Adam Bub
Hey there, good looking
Looks are very important at the Sofitel So, which opened February 28, 2012 (some rooms are still being completed). The 238-room wave-like high-rise is only the second of French-owned Sofitel's 'So' brand of designer hotels in the world (Sofitel So Mauritius launched last year). It's an unabashedly fashionable hotel for the traveller who wants something new, and preferably shiny, out of a hotel experience.
That's where sartorial heavyweight Christian Lacroix comes in. Sofitel enlisted the couture king as the 'hotel stylist', an awesome title for the designer whose artistic vision appears in the staff's glamorous and often quirky French-tailored get-up, and murals in the level 25 Club Lounge.
My bellboy's red-rimmed glasses and gold jockey pants are a favourite totally haute couture meets hipster. Or perhaps I just like him because he introduces himself as my 'B-boy'.
Hospitality couldn't be more glamorous than rocking a Lacroix-designed outfit. Images: Sofitel.
But there is substance beneath every surface. Lacroix may have the finer touch, but it's the work of award-winning Thai architect Smith Obayawat and five leading Thai designers that make this place sing.
The hotel space is divided into a layer cake of 'Five Elements': four unique room types available in 'Metal' (a hyper-modern, everything-white pad); 'Wood' (an earthy city version of traditional northern Thai houses); 'Earth' (a rich blue open-plan space with indigenous Thai designs); and 'Water' (a sexy black-and-grey enclave with not a hard edge in sight).
The fifth element, 'Fire', is represented in the communal dining and drinking areas from level 7-9, from bulbous netted lanterns in MIXO cocktail bar to a fire-engine-red live cooking station buffet in Red Oven.
I've got a 'Wood' room. It's a homely affair with its polished wooden floorboards, mahogany coffee table and bedhead, and a sliding wooden screen to play peek-a-boo with in the bathroom, designed to resemble homes in Chiang Mai. As my room attendant Penny says, "it's meant to be like you're at home". To which I reply, "I wish I had a home like this".
The message on the LED TV screen says it all: "You are in your element, Mr Bub".
The 'Wood' room: a warm escape from the busy metropolis. Image: Sofitel.
Gadgets and gastronomy
I've got a booking at the rooftop restaurant Park Society, so I have a quick play with one of the room's coolest features: the free Apple Mac Mini technology on the TV, with a wireless keypad you can take to bed with you. It's one of the first hotels in Asia to offer such a service expect copycats.
The fact that the internet is free is a bonus along with a complimentary mini bar and in-room Illy coffee machine. Touches like this put Sofitel So a step ahead of most charge-for-everything hotels.
Cutting-edge is also the mantra at the hotel's top-level fine diner, Park Society. Here, you can literally choose anything you want from the range of fresh seasonal ingredients in the open kitchen and fridge section, manned by Australian chef Paul Smart, formerly of Room81 at the Sofitel Gold Coast.
Admittedly, the concept may bug diners who just want to sit back and be fed, but people seem to be taking up the concept with gusto. There's always the back-up menu just in case, a necessity for group dinners.
Hot tip: book a cabana at the rooftop Hi-SO bar for a pre- or post-dinner drink. Image: Sofitel.
Around the 'hood
Sofitel So is in a central CBD location with easy access by the Lumpini Subway or Saladaeng Skytrain station to shopping centres like the one-of-a-kind airport-themed Terminal 21. This Sukhumvit Road shopping mall has a bizarre twist retail assistants are dressed as flight attendants and different levels represent famous neighbourhoods of the world, like San Francisco pier and Champs-Elysees in Paris. The mainly Thai boutique shops are a nice change from the usual global brands you can find anywhere.
If you have time, take a boat ride along the Chao Praya River, a great way to see Bangkok's famous temples and their opposite barely stable shanty river houses with smiling locals waving as you pass by.
How to get there
Thai Airways has daily non-stop flights to Bangkok from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Sofitel So Bangkok is an hour and a half's drive from Suvarnabhumi International Airport. An airport shuttle service is available from the hotel for a surcharge.
Room rates start from:
- *4300 Thai baht (AUD$135) twin share low season (April 1 - October 31)
- *5100 Thai baht (AUD$160) twin share high season (1 January - 31 March, 1 November - 31 December).
To book, visit www.sofitel.com.
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