THE WORK ROMANCE
I have a strange relationship with Bangkok. Let me start by saying that I’m never single, I am in a never-ending flurry of simultaneous, serious relationships…with multiple cities. Bangkok in
The journey began as many do, with a glass of red wine and an aisle seat on my first of two flights. Two more reds followed by 22-hours of unconscious and delirious cruising, I finally touch down on my lover’s landing strip. Bangkok’s warm embrace instantly caresses me as I strip off my two huge sweaters to give my own welcome: Well hello lover, I’m back. From welcome back to the back of a cab, a tuk-tuk and a boat-ride down the Chao Praya River, the journey ended at The Siam Hotel where I was first met by Than, my butler for the stay. Oh yes, I have a butler for the stay.
The second Than left the room I couldn’t help myself, I started jumping up and down with excitement that I get to stay here. I wasn’t to share in on all the excitement alone, however, Alex, One Night’s Director of Hotel Partnerships, rings the doorbell just a few hours later. We have a quick catch up before I’m scheduled to meet Nick, The Siam’s notoriously cool, calm and collected GM. I find him in the lobby at Café Cha, we get mango shakes (this is already the most chill interview I’ve ever had) and find a seat in the breezy front terrace adorned in antiques. The first words that came to mind when I saw Nick, silver fox. He’s wearing a button-down navy shirt and white linen pants, but enough about what he’s wearing, Nick begins to unravel his life with my Bangkok lover.
THE NICK TRICK
First, the basics. An only child, a family of travelers, night-shifts at a Hyatt in Perth while he studied information systems and caught the incurable hospitality bug. “After the Hyatt I went into more of an independent thing. I ended up being part of the opening team of the Palazzo Versace in the Gold Coast and after that, I’ve always tended to be attracted to hotels that are creative. I moved onto resorts in beautiful locations like the Maldives, Seychelles, Cambodia, and now Thailand,” Nick casually recalls.
Oh no big deal, I thought, how luxurious it must be to be Nick. But even in his cool demeanor, I catch him looking around making sure his t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. “This is a very strange week,” he shares, “We’ve got some high-profile guests, we’ve got events happening, there’s something every day this week that’s outside the ordinary.” Well, of course, I wasn’t going to let Nick say ‘high profile guests’ without telling me more.
Nick reveals, “The secret is we’re small and intimate, so if people want to remain private they can. Of course, while he was here we couldn’t say anything, but we’ve had Sam Smith stay for his concert this week, he just left two hours ago, he’s on his way to New Zealand now. He even got a traditional Sak Yant tattoo (yes, the one made famous on Angelina Jolie’s back) here in our Spa. It is sort of the Rolls Royce of tattoo experiences. We have Ajarn Boo, one of the most respected tattoo artists in Bangkok, do traditional Sak Yant in the studio in our Opium Spa.”
It didn’t end there, “It wasn’t just Sam who had Sak Yant done yesterday, some of his entourage did as well. Even one of our other guests came to me last night at 1 am and asked if he could have a tattoo in the morning, and well, luckily Ajarn Boo is here. The guest came down after breakfast and by lunchtime, he had a five-line Sak Yant tattoo on his shoulder.”
A GM, who knows about Sak Yant? I wasn’t alone in the surprise, “As a hotelier I find myself talking about tattoos, and I never thought I would but that’s what The Siam does to you. It opens you up to experiences like Muay Thai training with an Olympic boxer in our gym, classes in our cooking school, cruises at sunset on our traditional rice barge past the Grand Palace and Wat Arun, it’s about Thai traditions that you don’t get at just another high-rise hotel downtown. You know the fact that we’re in the royal district surrounded by palaces, we even have one of the royal princesses who trains in our gym. She’s one of our regular members here.”
Me *must inquire about memberships*: Oh, so you have memberships here?
Nick: Well, they’re sort of on invitation only.
Brought back down to reality, I ask Nick how he got himself into such an amazing situation at The Siam. He shares, “I saw it being built and I knew when it was announced it was going to be something special. I knew the opening GM, I knew the incredible designer Bill Bensley. Somebody rang me up and said The Siam is looking for a GM, and I practically gasped. It took me all of about three seconds to say I want that job. Long-story-short I managed to get my details in front of the owning family and was lucky enough to be offered the job.”
I had heard whispers of the fabulous Sukosol family, and now I had someone with a personal relationship to tell me more. Nick described, “The mother is an icon in Thailand, she’s a very clever businesswoman and she’s also in the entertainment industry. One of her sons, Krissada, is basically the creative director and founder of The Siam. Everywhere you look, his antiques, artwork, and furniture are what really creates something different. I often say I think the collection of artwork is worth more than the property itself. There are antique Chinese artworks from the mother’s collection that are centuries old. There are hidden spots like the Vinyl Room that has 300-year-old records in it. It’s not a stuffy place, we don’t have big barricades and it doesn’t feel like you can’t interact with things. It leads you to think: is this real?”
My favorite space of all, The Atrium that is at the heart of the hotel, has also apparently been home to many surreal moments. “We’ve hosted everything from Chinese New Year events with dragon dancers, to a Brazilian banking group that turned it into a boxing ring. Tomorrow night we have an event with a worldwide fashion house bringing in celebrities from around the world. I can’t share what that is yet but even later in the week, we have a royal event to launch a collaboration between a princess and a fashion house,” Nick says with a coy smile.
THE CELEBRITIES AND CHANEL
Feeling inspired by my meeting, I made my way through the hotel to dinner at Chon Thai with only one thought: if only these walls could talk. After Alex and I stuff our faces with their infamous Gai Yang chicken, wok-fried rice and some Yumkana spicy tuna, I dive into my king-sized bed and despite jet-lag, actually slept seven hours. I woke up ready to fall in love with Bangkok all over again, but rather unromantically we spend the rest of the day catching up on work and jaunting around town to onboard new hotel partners.
When the day is done, we’re ready for romance once again in the form of a riverfront glass of wine. Really, we’re just secretly excited to find out what fabulous ‘international fashion house’ would be hosting their event here tonight. Nick comes to greet us, and while the event was top-secret news yesterday, he is now able to spill all the deets.
It’s a gorgeous dinner for Chanel, all of their classy, and of course intimidating French upper management are in attendance, but most importantly, Pharrell, Lily-Rose Depp, and Tilda Swinton are also dining just a few feet away from us, no big deal.
Chanel is in Bangkok hosting a show for their cruise line that had just been released in Paris, and this very dinner was a secret location to even the A-list celebrities until they arrived at the hotel’s dock by boat. A million surreal thoughts run through my mind: Is this real life? Chanel just happens to be launching their global cruise line at the very hotel we’re at? In Bangkok? Pinch me, or don’t. The show, which is happening tomorrow, is also at a secret location, and all anyone knows is that they will be taken to a ‘Pier No 5.’ Like Chanel No. 5, don’t worry, it took us a minute, too.
We sit a while longer as we wait for the party to walk past us so way we can scope everyone out close up, and judge the outfits. First goes a crowd of trendy Thais in Chanel bags and jackets, one girl wears a Prada bag, rude. Tilda Swinton finally floats by us majestically with a gorgeous bearded and well put together man. She’s wearing a long blue skirt, her hair slicked back, and stunning heels. As she glides almost stoically, her heel gets stuck on the dock…it makes us feel like she’s somewhat human.
We wait for Pharrell, who as Nick revealed, had also inquired about getting a traditional tattoo at the parlor downstairs, but didn’t make it to the needle. He did, however, drop by yesterday for a private dinner upstairs using an undercover Thai name. Appropriately he showed up with a Thai celebrity, casual. The private man that he is, he slyly leaves the soiree through a s
THE BUTLER OF ALL BUTLERS
Post-celebrity-haze we spend the next day jaunting around town for meetings, trying to hold on for dear life on Bangkok’s speediest mode of transport, Grab motorbikes, until we arrive back to the serene wonder that is The Siam. Before checking out tomorrow, I simply had to find out more about the real magic-makers behind the scenes, the butlers. Luckily, I was able to snag a few seconds of Suppakarn’s time, the hotel’s Head Butler who has been filling fabulously ridiculous requests at The Siam since 2014.
Suppakarn, the busy man that he is, was short for time. So, as I shadowed him around the hotel, I got straight to the bizarre: the strangest requests he’s received from the hotel’s guests. We walk through plant-lined corridors as Suppakarn recalls, “A guest once asked me if I could find some insects for him to try, and not just any insect, however, a scorpion to be precise.”
Well, this is off to an interesting start. I pried further and apparently, even through all the eccentricities, Suppakarn has managed to befriend many of his guests. In each story he recounts the endless times he’s gone above and beyond for others, and he reminds me of one of the other reasons I can’t resist Bangkok, the warmth of if it’s people. Suppakarn remembers an especially fabulous guest, “We’re still in touch, I stay in touch with a lot of them! This one even asked me if I could take the next 3 days off, and then took me on a luxurious trip with them.”
Sounds like a pretty sweet gig to me, but I wondered, is it actually that luxurious to be a butler? Well, according to Suppakarn, “We’re basically a real-life Siri or Bixby or Cortana or Alexa, whatever you want to call it. Only we’re better, we are intuitive too.” Intuitive indeed, during my entire stay my butler, Than, preempted my needs before I even knew I needed them. But I’m just an average guest. The most interesting one Suppakarn has met? “The most fabulous drag queen with an endless collection of hats and pearls.”
THE PRINCESS AND THE PANTS
An hour left until check out, I decided to put on my fabulous hat and take advantage of The Siam’s riverfront pool. Consumed in my own perceived fabulousness, I only notice the time two hours later. I rush to the front desk in an oversized white t-shirt and my bathing suit bottoms, at the exact same moment the royal princess is set to walk through. Everyone pauses and stands on the sidelines while she walks down the hall to the event she’s hosting with Japanese personal-care giant, Shiseido. Classic me, standing alongside a princess with no pants on.
The lobby is adorned in florals, and she regally strolls through collecting gifts from Nick and a few other honorees from the hotel staff. Music begins to play and cameras start to roll, her Paris Hilton-sized pup prances beside her in a technicolor outfit, followed by at least 10 bodyguards in front and back of her. She’s wearing all pink, a tight long pink skirt and floral pink top, her hair perfectly slicked back. I hear murmurings on the sidelines that she’s wearing her own line SIRIVANNAVARI, and the Shiseido event is a collab for her new beauty line. She reaches her final post to pose in front of the Shiseido sign, and time stands still for everyone watching.
Time stood still, and now Alex and I were running late. After our brief brush with royalty, we were set to make our way over to our own fabulous affair aboard an art barge. Sansiri, the Thai real-estate developers and our parent company, is throwing an art party in honor of Miquel Barceló, a Spanish experimental painter best-known for being the youngest ever artist to show at the Louvre Museum. And yes, I put on my pants to meet them at the Siam Commercial Bank’s pier in Talad Noi. Two feet out the door, we were told they’ve closed off the road to the hotel for the princess’s privacy. Which is no sweat, because we’re at The Siam, and here, we’ve got our very own access to the Chao Praya River.
THE CRAZY RICH ASIANS
At this point, it was safe to say my Bangkok lover was wining and dining me, pulling out all the stops to turn work into play. There I was, spending my days practically prancing from one high-society event to the next, and the strangest part? I belonged. We step into the Sansiri party, filled with Thailand’s top creatives, elder women wearing fabulous over-sized hats and colorful suits, the straggling socialites, and us. And we looked right in place.
It helped, of course, that we had our new-found friends from Sansiri by our side. Pong, the man-in-charge with the world’s most fabulous collection of shoes, Oubib, the effortlessly in-the-know fashionista who embodies athleisure, and Mark, a statuesque could-be-a-model but decided to do something smarter type. The crowd grew around us as we drank champagne and boarded the Sansiri Art Barge where Barceló would be painting live on a 20m wide canvas. Against a burnt-orange sunset and floating past the city’s most storied monuments, hundreds out of Bangkok’s 1% watched as Barceló painted the circle of life. That was it for me, in just a mere moment, my work romance had turned into a full-blown love affair, and I was all about it.
An appropriate amount of wine and socializing later, we were understandably famished, and Pong had just invited us to join him and his fabulously ‘Crazy Rich Asian’ friends for dinner. The destination? Ocken, Bangkok’s latest trendy fine-dining du jour. But first, we had to get through Bangkok traffic. Alex, Pong and I hop into his spacious Porsche Cayenne and use what we thought was our trust-worthy friend Google Maps to get there.
It started as one of those ‘the best part about the night is the drive there’ moments, Pong and Alex were blasting their favorite EDM playlists and it turned into a celebrity-less version of Carpool Karaoke. That was until, our trusty Google Maps took us to a back alley far too small for Pong’s larger-than-life ride. For a good thirty-minutes, Alex and I stuck our hands out of the car to push away the side barricades that were a mere inch off from ruining his baby. The music halted, we were all hyperventilating, and I was secretly plotting my escape through the sun roof. Not to mention, the thousands of motorcycles who were stuck behind us.
Alas, there was a happy ending, and we made it through to find safety in a parking lot. We needed a stiff drink, stat. After practically bursting out of the car, I stop to comment on the fact that we just so happened to be parked next to a license plate that simply reads the number: 77. As someone who has spent much of her life in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I know very well how much a number 77 license plate is worth, and let’s just say it’s a lot. I hear giggles behind me and turn to notice Pong pointing to his own license plate, which quite literally one-ups my reference with the simple number: 1. Check mate, Pong, check, mate.
Drinks upon drinks we’re only interrupted for brief moments to sample delicacies like octopus and lamb. I was impressed, the Thais, even the wealthiest ones, can surely hold their liquor. The night continued in a flurry of more cocktails and fabulousness, a few hours dancing at a bougie night club, The Club at Koi, and a couple of night-caps later before we were ready to head to our next chapter of the trip, in well, let’s say a slightly edgier side of the city.
My strange relationship with Bangkok had blossomed into a movie-worthy romance where I was Cinderella and Bangkok played the prince there to sweep me off my feet. I had officially dipped my toes into high-society, I was invited to the ball, but I was ready to meet my movie’s bruiting man in the leather jacket who would tempt me to an edgier, secretive subculture. And little did I know, my tuk-tuk ride was taking me to meet them in our next stay at Ba Hao.