SwimmingPoolFrench elegance in Thailand’s Vibrant Capital

by Scott Resch

In an ascending elevator at the posh Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, the hotel’s sharply dressed communications director is briefing me on what I’m about to see – a lounge, bar and restaurant that was conceived to look and feel like a 19th century penthouse apartment, owned, perhaps, by a wealthy Parisian but occupied by his spoiled nephew with an affinity for sophisticated soirees.

When the lift stops at the top floor, and the doors open, our heads naturally turn left.

On the other side of closed glass doors, there’s a group of 20-something Thais, all with camera equipment, all fixated on one person: a woman in blue shorts, a white tank top and high heels, sitting on a counter, striking poses that are distracting more than a few of the gentlemen in nearby company.

We’ve unintentionally dropped in on a photo shoot for Maxim magazine. If there was anything more to my site-inspection leader’s spiel, she didn’t share it. She didn’t need to.

“Come back tonight and I’ll bet you see this kind of crowd,” she says. “For the young and affluent in Bangkok, L’Appart is the place to see and be seen.”

LobbyAs late as the beginning of 2013, the idea of a hot spot at 189 Sukhumvit Road seemed like a long shot to Anthony Slewka. In November 2012, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing and his colleagues were presented with a sizable task: get the doors open in five months on a building that needed a lot of love.

“There was so much to do and so little time,” says the fast-talking Canadian. “But to everyone’s credit, we dug in and got it done.”

On April 2, 2012, the hotel’s first guest checked in. And the turnstiles haven’t stopped ticking.

Certainly L’Appart has something to do with it. Inspired by the design preferences of Baron Haussman, who helped modernize Paris in the late 1800s with wide boulevards and beautiful stone buildings, the hip hangout is about as chic as a food and beverage outlet comes.

From wooden floors and monochrome tiles to eclectic art and whimsical knick-knacks, authentic French decorative touches abound. It’s also got a spacious, outdoor terrace that offers birds-eye views of one of Asia’s most vibrant cities.

But there’s more to the 32-storey property than its popular sky-high haunt. Much more.

On arrival, guests enter an ornate lobby accentuated by a towering marble and chrome arch that is a modern interpretation of La Grande Arche de la Défense in Paris. It is also a tribute to Thailand, as the fixture features a pattern based on the shape of a lotus flower.

Spa-01Bank right, and there’s Le Macaron, an inviting patisserie with divine desserts, gourmet coffee blends and outdoor seating reminiscent of — you guessed it — the City of Light.

“If there’s one thing we’ve really tried to do it’s infuse a great deal of French elegance,” says Christian Schlegel, Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit’s hotel manager. “It’s at the foundation of everything we do and provide, from the words we use to welcome guests — ‘bonjour sawadee ka’ — to the names we’ve chosen for the facilities and even the newspapers we carry.”

The idea, Schlegel says, is to differentiate the hotel from all the run-of-the-mill luxury options that have saturated Bangkok over the past decade.

The concept is exemplified in all 345 rooms, which feature pastel color palettes, rich timbers and gleaming marble. Club level suites boast another layer of perks, including Bose home theaters, Hermes bath amenities and an Illy espresso machine.

It would be easy to spend your entire stay within such cozy confines, but you’d be missing out on perhaps the hotel’s greatest asset: Its location.

After World War II, Sukhumvit went from rice fields to affluent residential suburb. Today, it’s home to — or within walking distance of — some of Bangkok’s finest restaurants, shopping malls and nightclubs.

RestaurantsBars“I always say that the beauty of this area is that it’s got everything,” says Schlegel. “If I could choose where to put a hotel, it wouldn’t be far from here.”

I could’ve taken the expert’s word for it, but what’s the fun in that? That evening, I went on an exploratory stroll of Sukhumvit Road. I passed all manner of souvenir stalls, food vendors selling popular Thai snacks from compact carts and pubs teeming with tourists, expats and Thais.

Then I walked up a flight of stairs to check out the BTS Skytrain, an easy-to-navigate monorail system that hovers above Sukhumvit Road on massive concrete stanchions.

From here, I could’ve gone anywhere — a few stops down to the sparkling Siam Paragon shopping center, or all the way out to the international airport.

Instead, I headed back to the hotel. It was getting late, but I wasn’t ready to call it a night. I had a reservation for the one thing I couldn’t leave Thailand without experiencing — a traditional Thai massage.

I got it on the ninth floor, at the blissfully aromatic Le SPA with L’Occitane, a 2013 AsiaSpa Awards ‘Spa of the Year for Southeast Asia’ nominee.

Here, Mediterranean-French wellness philosophies and ancient Thai massage healing practices form the foundation of all treatments, which are based on L’Occitane products.

An hour later, I was still in heaven, sipping lemongrass tea in the spa’s lounge and feeling the warmth of its dark wood walls and ambient lighting.

I had half a mind to crash whatever party was sure to be brewing 25 floors above. And maybe I would. In time. S’il vous plaît.

www.sofitelsukhumvit.com