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Roadbook Journal: Heritage Hotels

Roadbook Journal: Heritage Hotels

Bangkok is better known for modern skyscrapers than historical hotels but exclusivity can be as much the province of throwback boutiques as luxury big names. Tom Vater visits some heritage properties that hit the spot.

The Praya Palazzo, a royal tax collector’s Italian-designed early20th-century villa, is very much a unique hotel experience–in Bangkok, or anywhere, really. I hitched a ride up the Chao Phraya River on the Palazzo’s own river taxi (the only way to reach this handsome property), cruising past many of the city’s landmarks. Once on terra firma again, I was more than a little awed by the elegantly restored building, its sumptuous rooms, fronted by a garden with a small pool and a rather good restaurant. And more importantly, I had the feeling of being far away from the megapolis just across the water.

Praya Palazzo, Bangkok

The Thai capital is dense with hotels, and it seems like a shiny new tower is going up every month. But I often get asked by visitors about boutique hotels, the kind that doesn’t dominate the booking apps, the kind that offers immersive experiences amid preserved architecture in living local neighborhoods. Such places can be hard to find, says Panida Tosnaitada, the young owner of Bangkok Publishing Residence, because “collecting old stuff is not really a thing in Thailand. Locals want modern and luxurious.” Still, heritage hotels like hers can really help a visitor get at the heart of the city—so I took a few staycations and dove into the past.

Bangkok Publishing Residence
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Not far from Khao San Road, the city’s backpacker ghetto, Bangkok Publishing Residence offers just eight chic, retrofitted rooms in a row of restored shophouses once home to a printing press that churned out Bangkok Weekly, a garish entertainment magazine. Tosnaitada has turned the common areas into a shrine to her family’s trade, packed with old magazine posters and printing baubles. “I created a hotel for a niche market,” she tells me, “for creative types from the West, Japan, and Taiwan. They get the value of it.

Bangkok Publishing Residence

I fell in love with the rooftop, which features a jacuzzi, a great library and an original 70s pinball machine (incidentally, the breakfast tables on the ground floor are vintage arcade machinesperfect for guests who can’t keep still after their second cup of morning coffee). And privacy is king. There are no walk-ins allowed and the front door is always locked.

Most of these heritage hotel properties are found near the river, on Rattanakosin Island, and in Chinatown. Probably the best known of the bunch is Shanghai Mansion, on Yaowarat Road, the very heart of Bangkok’s Chinese enclave. This 70-year-old building once served as a house of ill repute but long ago morphed into an affordable heritage hotel that recreates Shanghai’s roaring twenties to great effect. Stepping into the inner courtyard, which features a long rectangular water basin lit by dozens of Chinese lanterns that float downwards from the high ceiling, is a magical experience. The restaurant and bar feature stylish furnishings that make you feel like you’re in a film set.

Prince Theatre Heritage Stay, Bangkok

Speaking of movies, my hands-down favorite property is the eclectic Prince Theatre Heritage Stay, a restored Art Deco cinema that’s been converted into a slick flashpacker dorm. The highlight is the two large rooms behind the movie screen with walls decorated with stenciled images of golden-age Hollywood stars. Wooden floors and faux vintage furniture throughout create atmosphere. Best of all, the staff took me out on a street food tour and enthusiastically introduced me to some of Chinatown’s culinary highlights, a personal touch that might be rare in a big-brand hotel, but is fully apiece with the nostalgic neighborliness of these little properties.

Prince Theatre Heritage Stay, Bangkok

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Roadbook Journal: Heritage Hotels

Bangkok is better known for modern skyscrapers than historical hotels but exclusivity can be as much the province of throwback boutiques as luxury big names. Tom Vater visits some heritage properties that hit the spot.

The Praya Palazzo, a royal tax collector’s Italian-designed early20th-century villa, is very much a unique hotel experience–in Bangkok, or anywhere, really. I hitched a ride up the Chao Phraya River on the Palazzo’s own river taxi (the only way to reach this handsome property), cruising past many of the city’s landmarks. Once on terra firma again, I was more than a little awed by the elegantly restored building, its sumptuous rooms, fronted by a garden with a small pool and a rather good restaurant. And more importantly, I had the feeling of being far away from the megapolis just across the water.

Praya Palazzo, Bangkok

The Thai capital is dense with hotels, and it seems like a shiny new tower is going up every month. But I often get asked by visitors about boutique hotels, the kind that doesn’t dominate the booking apps, the kind that offers immersive experiences amid preserved architecture in living local neighborhoods. Such places can be hard to find, says Panida Tosnaitada, the young owner of Bangkok Publishing Residence, because “collecting old stuff is not really a thing in Thailand. Locals want modern and luxurious.” Still, heritage hotels like hers can really help a visitor get at the heart of the city—so I took a few staycations and dove into the past.

Bangkok Publishing Residence

Not far from Khao San Road, the city’s backpacker ghetto, Bangkok Publishing Residence offers just eight chic, retrofitted rooms in a row of restored shophouses once home to a printing press that churned out Bangkok Weekly, a garish entertainment magazine. Tosnaitada has turned the common areas into a shrine to her family’s trade, packed with old magazine posters and printing baubles. “I created a hotel for a niche market,” she tells me, “for creative types from the West, Japan, and Taiwan. They get the value of it.

Bangkok Publishing Residence

I fell in love with the rooftop, which features a jacuzzi, a great library and an original 70s pinball machine (incidentally, the breakfast tables on the ground floor are vintage arcade machinesperfect for guests who can’t keep still after their second cup of morning coffee). And privacy is king. There are no walk-ins allowed and the front door is always locked.

Most of these heritage hotel properties are found near the river, on Rattanakosin Island, and in Chinatown. Probably the best known of the bunch is Shanghai Mansion, on Yaowarat Road, the very heart of Bangkok’s Chinese enclave. This 70-year-old building once served as a house of ill repute but long ago morphed into an affordable heritage hotel that recreates Shanghai’s roaring twenties to great effect. Stepping into the inner courtyard, which features a long rectangular water basin lit by dozens of Chinese lanterns that float downwards from the high ceiling, is a magical experience. The restaurant and bar feature stylish furnishings that make you feel like you’re in a film set.

Prince Theatre Heritage Stay, Bangkok

Speaking of movies, my hands-down favorite property is the eclectic Prince Theatre Heritage Stay, a restored Art Deco cinema that’s been converted into a slick flashpacker dorm. The highlight is the two large rooms behind the movie screen with walls decorated with stenciled images of golden-age Hollywood stars. Wooden floors and faux vintage furniture throughout create atmosphere. Best of all, the staff took me out on a street food tour and enthusiastically introduced me to some of Chinatown’s culinary highlights, a personal touch that might be rare in a big-brand hotel, but is fully apiece with the nostalgic neighborliness of these little properties.

Prince Theatre Heritage Stay, Bangkok

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