Wintertime in Taipei has never been too harsh, yet I always desire a Siamese sojourn and yearn for the Indochinese sunshine and inspirational exoticism before the winter solstice. The languorous riverside of the Chao Phraya always summons me back. Literature by Swain and Duras has been my best travel company as I lounge in the afternoon with the view of all the vessels painting the vibrant city daily.
The mighty Chao Phraya River has been the main vessel for the Khun Thep since the very beginning of the civilization. Tired of the bustling traffic in central Bangkok, boat, an heirloom from the Ayutthaya era, becomes the vehicle of choice for me. Pier hopping tethering the Grab app pushes open the splendid underworld of Bangkok, and the river banks are the portal to the past and the future of the metropolis. It is such a bliss to hire a swift long-tail boat and embark from the glittering Grand Palace downstream to the Taksin in peak hours, circumscribing the infamous traffic on the Sarthon.
Or I may board my favorite yacht leaving from the Oriental pier and travel upstream to a Siamese sanctuary for a luncheon. No one can resist such a sail on this stylish and classy teak ferry flying the flag emblazoned a visible white S at the stern. Never can I say no to the temptation of some chilled towels and beverage in the front deck with the exceptional vista of the Wat Arun at noon. As the emblematic yacht sails past the mid-century style Krung Thon bridge and slows down, the joyous journey approaches to its end, and there erects the gem of the Mekong carving from the onyx and nephrite, it is the Siam.
The Siam is undoubtedly the hallmark among the exuberant designs led by starchitect Bill Bensley and, in his own words, it is a unique animal: part hotel, part museum, part resort. Commissioned by the stellar Sukosol family, this 39 units manor houses the stunning 25,000 antiques, it is destined to be its own kind. The ubiquitous Art Decor theme of the hotel transports guests back to the golden age of Bangkok, the reign of Rama V. And the verdant banana trees in the levelled water feature of the Musee d’Orsay inspired main residence add on an incomparable tropical ambience.
Prior to the drafting of the Siam in 2005, when the lease for an acclaimed seafood restaurant was to expire, the Thai pop star owner Krissada Sukosl-Clapp reflected on the future of this prime location in the Dusit once favoured by the dignitaries. A luxurious hotel nuanced by audacious originality and timeless elegance was the choice by pedigree, and Kriss entrusted this ambitious project to the accoladed Bensley Studio. “Bill is entirely original and I love distinct details. Bill and his team understand exactly how to pull these together into a larger work of art”, explains Kissada.
When the two finally met for the future of this Sukosol estate, it was clear that their taste for style clicked. “Long before we started building, Kriss and I went upriver several hours to find these three century-old Thai teakwood houses, which belonged to OSS agent Connie Mangksau. They entertained the likes of Roger Moore, Jackie Kennedy and Henry Ford – it was a no brainer to lovingly renovate them and give them a new home at the Siam “, recalls Bill Bensley. In 2012, the Siam was unveiled and an immediate success, it was the talk of the hoteljunkies and the only match to the iconic Oriental Bangkok.
There are always new luxurious hotels open in the city of angels, but I solely recommend the Siam for an unmatched escapism. The monochromic Art Deco imaginarium envisioned by the Bensleys always allures a visitor. The eclectic family treasure and personal collection of the Sukosols tempt a connoisseur espirit to linger. Nevertheless, the invincible reason for a sojourning is the heartfelt hospitality, a masterful work of art by the legendary hotelier, Nick Downing, who bestows his unparalleled zeal and savoir faire for service excellence and property management upon the Siam.
Nick Downing is known for weaving locality and creativity into a hospitality-centric community and social fabric. His appointment as the general manager of the Siam in late 2016 is the latest stanza in the saga of this seasoned hotelier, which begins in hotel de la paix in Siem Reap, W retreat in Koh Samui, and Per Aquum in Maldives. The trophy of the Sukosol family irradiates true brilliance in his hands and becomes a real legend. Warm and genuine, Nick Downing always stays in the front together with the team to welcome guests and ensure an impeccable hotel experience.
Nick Downing（Left）and Krissada Sukosol-Clapp (Right）
The cordial acquaintance between the general manager and I began almost a decade ago in the Chedi Chiang Mai. I witnessed how extraordinary leadership guided a team and a famed hotel through troubled water of brand transition. “Nick is such a respectable and gracious person, and possibly the best general manager any hotel can deserve “, once raved about Christian de Boer, another fellow hotelier I have also known and admired.
Always devout to the Siam, Nick Downing speaks passionately about the singularity of the hotel.“It is a rare luxury, the Siam is entirely about an extraordinary experience that probably doesn’t appear on a standardized five-star hotel checklist”, says the general manager, and he continues sharing details of villa renovation and exciting restaurant collaboration with the sparks of true enthusiasm.
After a palatable light lunch at the waterfront Chon Thai restaurant, I step out the verdant archway and wonder where to settle my upcoming conference call and craving for sweetness. The spicy savory Yum Som O Gong is a perfect choice for September, the tamarind dressing over the ripe pomelo enlivens my senses and the heat of Thai pepper expels the tropical somnolence. A scoop of ice cream or a soft drink at the tearoom seems to be an adequate treat.
As I ascend the stairs, one of the butlers appears at the landing and chaperones me to the library. “Dr. Joe, I am sent for to lead you to your favorite lounge where you can have your con-call undisturbed, and your Coke Zero is on the way”, says the gentle young man with a revering bow and wai. Such is the paradigm of guest services. All the details matter, and each guest is cherished and comprehended in an individual manner.
Still, my very first sojourn back in 2015 for celebration was a hospitality mare. Signs of tiredness and negligence were obvious, the butler services were pretentious, and the management was in exhaustion. I even did not sleep well owning to the dubious quality linen and malfunctioning ventilation, so I checked out early and wished for no returning. No one could ever believe that I would become a loyal guest with such a favoritism and a trust seven years later.
The complete change of my stance is credited to the extraordinary management and leadership. The architect and the owners shape the deluxe property soma, the general manager and the team breathe the excellent service psyche, yet only the unity of the two achieves a legendary hotel.
“There is no magic bullet, guests can tell,” says Nick Downing. Awarded again the best general manager of the year 2023 in Thailand by T+L Asia, he and the stellar Krissada earlier represent the Siam family for the recognition of the World’s 50 Best Hotel award in London.
The sunlight sprinkles golden and soft into the library as I end the call in contentment, and I decide to walk from the main residence back to the riverside in the poignant scent of frangipani blossoms. At the edge of the pier, the decent general manager and the dedicated team wave to the departing guests on the Siam yacht for the soiree. Afterward, Nick walks toward me and offers me a drink, it is all clear to me that I am home.