The Waldorf Astoria is the latest addition to the Bangkok hotel scene.
BANGKOK STEEL MAGNOLIA
The Waldorf Astoria’s newest property was 12 years in the making, but the wait was worth it.
01 SERENITY AMID THE BUSTLE
The temperature- controlled rooftop pool is built around a structure inspired by a magnolia flower.
Just one year after the Waldorf Astoria began work on its ﬁrst Thai property in 2013, the country struggled with anti-government protests. Two years after peace was restored, the king died and the country went into mourning. The past decade hasn’t been easy on Thailand’s tourism scene but its recovery has been remarkable, with 34 million visitor arrivals in 2017 compared to 25 million in 2014. Spring has ﬁnally arrived for the industry and the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok has blossomed just in time for it.
The hotel is set up in the iconic Magnolias Ratchadamri Boulevard, with the striking building named after the ﬂower that inspired its architecture. Its interiors were designed by Andre Fu, whose work in Singapore includes Andaz Singapore and The Fullerton Bay Hotel.
Drawing on the futuristic yet organic style of the building, Fu sought to reimagine the hotel group’s legendary Art Deco image into one that harmonises with Thai culture.
“When you think of a Waldorf Astoria, you tend to think of something very rectilinear, with lots of Art Deco and a strong formality,” he shares. “So, when the Waldorf Astoria wanted to put that kind of legacy into such a contemporary building, I was surprised. But I was excited to take on such an interesting proposition.”
The result is immensely soothing. Curving hallways and pillars meet dramatic ﬂoor-toceiling burnished bronze screens in the upper lobby, with a motif inspired by the arched ﬁnger silhouettes of Thai classical dancers. Wall-hung and table lamps cast a warm glow on white Carrara marble walls, and bespoke furnishings are ﬁnished in calm, desert colours. “I wanted to translate a sense of sensuality and ﬂuidity that unfolds as you progress,” he says.
A CONTEMPLATIVE OASIS
The Waldorf Astoria holds up its end of Fu’s vision experientially. “The luxury traveller today requires privacy and exclusivity. It’s all about social currency and hyper personalisation,” says Daniel Welk, vice-president of operations, luxury and lifestyle for Hilton Asia Paciﬁc.
Limousine transfers are par for the course for luxury hotels, but the Waldorf Astoria takes it a step further by having a staffer videocall you via Skype on the car’s iPad, to show you your room all made up and ready for your arrival.
The hotel occupies levels six to 16 and 55 to 57 of the 60-storey building, with 171 appointed guest rooms and suites. Over 2,000 pieces of locally commissioned decor and artwork positioned throughout the property imbue an otherwise modern hotel with a sense of history, and that is mirrored in each room through intricate bronze screens, elegant bar cabinets, hardwood ﬂoors and a dusty gold palette.
All guest rooms enjoy ﬂoorto-ceiling windows but the best views overlook the city and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, where horse races are attended by the city’s social elite.
The two-bedroom Royal Suite is the largest room category at 300 sq m and features two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room that ﬁts eight, and a fully equipped kitchen and bar counter.
FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Even for those whose hotel loyalties lie with other ﬁve-star chains, the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok is worth a visit for its dining options alone.
The lower lobby is home to Front Room, where chef Fae Rungthiwa Chummongkhon combines her experience from Michelin-star establishments like Frederikshoj in Denmark and La Belle Epoque in Germany to serve Thai ingredients prepared in a Nordic cooking style. What ends up on your plate is neither strictly Thai nor Nordic, but pure imagination.
Andre Fu isn’t the only creative star to shine here. The top three ﬂoors of the hotel were designed by studio Avroko, a veteran in creating stylish eateries and bars. On the 55th ﬂoor, the 80-seat Bull & Bear specialises in grilled meats and seafood. Its name is inspired by movements in the ﬁnancial markets, so expect a digniﬁed ambience full of ebony and bronze, where deals may close under a magniﬁcent chandelier (comprising 800 hand-moulded glass feathers) and over a shrimp cocktail.
The grandeur continues up a golden central staircase leading to The Loft, where it feels more like the Waldorf Astoria of old. Styled with the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods in mind, the standout feature of this cocktail bar is a communal table made from reclaimed teak wood boards and ﬁnished with paint and materials from a working artist’s studio.
Sitting at the very top on the 57th ﬂoor is the Champagne Bar. The intimacy and attention to detail – such as an ornate door with a hidden mechanism to open it, vintage glass chandeliers, rocking chairs, wood sculptures – makes this an excellent spot for a romantic nightcap. While champagne dominates the menu, you won’t want to miss out on having a cocktail or a spirit on the rocks, when the ice cubes are carved directly from an old-fashioned, microwave-sized block of ice on the bar counter.
TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG
02 PERIOD THAI
Designer Andre Fu reimagined Waldorf Astoria’s signature Art Deco look for a Thai setting.
A SWIM ABOVE
The leisure facilities share more of the same serene aesthetic; it’s not every hotel that can make a Technogym equipped fitness centre look as tranquil as the spa. But most inviting (especially for the Instagram inclined) is the temperature controlled outdoor rooftop pool that wraps around a large geometrically tiled structure styled to look like a magnolia.
“It’s all about social currency and hyper personalisation.”
DANIEL WELK, VP OF OPERATIONS, LUXURY AND LIFESTYLE, HILTON ASIA PACIFIC
THE MALDIVES SEA CHANGE
The Westin’s signature brand of wellness makes its debut in the Maldives.
When it comes to hotel launches, the best laid plans almost always go awry. Starchitects demand that their grand visions be executed, stretching budgets beyond what investors initially signed up for; disputes between co-owners see construction screeching to a halt; and, sometimes, it’s all systems go – save for government approvals mired in bureaucracy limbo.
But not with The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort. “We opened six months ahead of schedule. Can you believe it?,” says Varun Bharadwaja, director of sales and marketing for the resort. It’s a rare coup, but an unsurprising one given the pedigree of owners behind the property.
Jointly developed by 50-yearold Japanese company Belluna Co, which has carried over its efficiency in the mail-order business, and Asia Capital, the Sri Lankan investment bank backed with the clout required to pave the way in this part of South Asia – opening fashionably late simply was not par for the course.
All the better for hospitality giant Marriott International, which has been appointed to run this slice of paradise. During our visit in December last year, the property had been open for only six weeks, but it managed to hide its teething issues well – save for the one day when it ran out of avocados at breakfast.
Two years ago, the Starwood Hotels and Resorts group (which overseas The Westin and The Regis brands) planted its uber luxury ﬂag with The St Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort, and it was only a matter of time before it tapped on its expertise in wellness hideaways by debuting the ﬁrst Westin in the Maldives.
INTO THE BLUE
The St Regis might offer luxury in spades, but The Westin’s location is, by many metrics, unrivalled. A 40-minute seaplane ride from Male’s international airport, the hotel has snared an enviable spot on the Baa Atoll, the only Unesco Biosphere Reserve in the South Asian country. Wreathed by over 1,200 species of marine life that call the atoll home, its unique location at the edge of the open ocean and a gaping channel sees hundreds of manta rays and whale sharks gathering between June and November as they trawl the waters for plankton.
The centre of the Baa Atoll, a 20-minute speedboat ride from The Westin, is where endangered hawksbill turtles reside and we encountered 16 of them during an hour-long snorkel in the water. But one barely has to leave the resort to view the marine life. Given its location on a quiet sea channel, dolphin sightings at breakfast are a common occurrence.
In an area teeming with marine life, it’s no wonder Peia Associati’s architects drew inspiration from the sea to create villas resembling turtles and an imposing arrival jetty that has the sinuous curves of a whale shark.
Of the resort’s 70 villas and suites, the 29 overwater suites – each generously sized at over 2,000 sq ft – offer the best views. Glass windows running the entire length of the suite frame views of the sea while a glass-bottomed panel in the living room turns the space into a private aquarium.
WELL TO DO
In keeping with The Westin’s wellness DNA, impossibly comfortable beds coupled with lavender-scented aromatherapy rollons aim to help harried executives sleep better.
Those who need a little more help will do well to check into the on-site Heavenly Spa, where Swedish massage techniques are expertly applied to improve blood circulation, help cleanse toxins, and reduce tension knots. A 24-hour gym – which provides full ﬁtness kits, down to sports shoes – caters to guests whose idea of wellness extends beyond active relaxation.
Clean eating is no mere afterthought at the resort. An inroom orange juice press lets you start your day with a fresh dose of vitamin C, while breakfast at Island Kitchen, the all-day dining outlet, offers organic egg white omelettes alongside superfoods-laden smoothie bowls. Over at The Pearl, an elegant Japanese restaurant that opens only for dinner, a vegetarian option is offered for those who would rather skip the wagyu and seafood.
There’s fodder for the mind, too, courtesy of a library collection valued at £30,000 (S$51,000). Here, non-ﬁction bestsellers such as Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century sit alongside books on mindfulness and meditation. When it comes to crafting a wellness paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean, it appears The Westin has managed to tick all the boxes with its Maldivian debut.
TEXT DENISE KOK
03 LOOK DOWN
Overwater suites feature glass floors that allow guests to gaze at marine life from the comfort of their living room.
04 NATURE’S BEST
The property is located on the Baa Atoll, the only Unesco Biosphere Reserve in the Maldives.
“We opened six months ahead of schedule. Can you believe it?”
Varun Bharadwaja, director of sales and marketing, The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort
LANGKAWI EVER GREEN
After a year-long renovation, The Datai Langkawi is ready to welcome guests back to a natural wonderland.
When we ask what his brief was when tasked with the revitalisation of The Datai Langkawi, architect and interior designer Didier Lefort says: “To not destroy the place.” It is obviously a joke, and one of many that would be exchanged between him and general manager Arnaud Girodon, the man who spearheaded the project, but it was a legitimate concern. With 25 years of history, The Datai is something of a legend.
“This type of concept can be quite fragile,” continues Lefort, who was part of the original team that launched The Datai in 1993. “Balance needs to be maintained between the jungle outside and the spaces inside. Deviate too much from the original vision and you may not feel happy or relaxed in the new atmosphere.”
But a year and US$60 million later (S$81 million), the transformed hotel that reopened last September proves it will continue to be one of the most iconic getaways in the world. The Datai was ﬁrst envisioned by the late Australian architect Kerry Hill, whose legacy also includes the Amankora hotel in Bhutan and the Martin No. 38 condominium in Singapore. But, instead of making the surroundings yield to a polished ediﬁce, Hill let nature take the lead. Rather than build on the waterfront of Datai Bay to capitalise on the popularity of beach resorts, he shifted his site 300m away from the ocean and into the 10-million-year-old rainforest behind it, in order to preserve the coastline and unravel the marvels of life in the canopies. When The Datai was complete, it was a paradise hidden beneath lush foliage and watched over by long-tailed macaques, mouse deer and hornbills.
A FUTURE IN THE FAMILIAR
While all 121 of its rooms, suites and villas have been updated with modern amenities, a prominent addition to the accommodation is The Datai Estate Villa, a ﬁvebedroom facility spanning 3,500 sq m that comes with two 20m connected pools, 24-hour butler service and a private chef.
While staying in is comfortable and, at times, tempting, the real magic awaits outdoors. The resort now has a dedicated Nature Centre where guests can learn about the local fauna and ﬂora through the library, workshops and guided trails. Or sit back and enjoy the serenity of the surroundings with a cup of tea – the selection is curated by Dr Ghani, a well-known Malay medicine guru on the island who uses the rainforest’s many herbs and spices for tasty and healthful brews.
The Permaculture Garden is another new educational feature that shows how a self-sustaining, zero-waste, organic food production system works. It’s not pretty – think composting worms in repurposed bathtubs – but it’s a noble and worthy exercise that’s also put into action outside the garden. Guests are provided with stainless steel drinking ﬂasks on excursions; toiletries and straws are made from bamboo; and the hotel produces its own water from its newly introduced water bottling plant.
THE PULSE OF NATURE
There’s plenty to do on the premises. After a few rounds on the Els Club Teluk Datai 18-hole golf course designed by golf legend Ernie Els, take a dip in the pool or head to the beach for a bit of snorkelling, kayaking, windsurﬁng or sailing.
On a clear, sunny day, take an excursion to Kubang Badak Mangrove. There are over 120 species of mangroves in the world and Kubang Badak is home to over 20 exclusive ones, as well as ﬂat coastal plains, intertidal sands and mudﬂats, and limestone karst.
But all you really need is to take a walk around The Datai grounds to experience the wonder of creation, because, for better or for worse, the hotel and its setting are intricately linked.
You could be enjoying the smell of air thick with dew before spotting a snake slithering across your window. An orchestra of cicadas and frogs in the trees may be interrupted by a squirrel falling out of one and landing at your feet. And don’t forget to lock the balcony door after that nightcap because the resident monkeys have developed a taste for minibar vodka – or so we are told. For all the changes The Datai has undergone, its soul remains enchantingly wild.
A NATURAL REMEDY
Situated in a millions-year-old rainforest, The Datai provides a green escape from city life.
"But, instead of making the surroundings yield to a polished edifice, Hill let Nature take the lead."
TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG