The Banyan Tree Bangkok
when people think Banyan Tree, they think "resort," as the luxury hotel chain has
retreats at some famously exotic spots--the Maldives, Phuket, Bintan and Bali.
However, they also have city hotels around the world, and one is in the heart of
Bangkok. When we were considering what to do over Spring Break, we happened upon a travel agency
special that included 3 nights, flights on Thai International Airlines, breakfast and
two massages for a fraction of what we paid for our trip two years ago to the Banyan
Tree Resort on Bintan Island. We were curious: could a city hotel replicate the
utter tranquility of that trip to Bintan? Well, in most respects, "yes." While
the hotel is located in the heart of a bustling city whose noise can still be
heard 35 stories above traffic, the hotel is an oasis. It is beautifully
appointed, and the service, as it was in Bintan, is wonderful. The photo to
the left shows the unusual design of the Banyan Tree Bangkok, which dwarfs most
surrounding buildings. The top floors feature three restaurants with
breath-taking views of the city. The same peace and quiet that we found on
Bintan is evident from the moment you enter the Banyan Tree. The photo to the
right shows the entryway and concierge's desk.
The entrance opens onto the piano bar and lounge area, shown in the photo to the left. The piano player is there most of the day; we could hear him play in the morning throughout breakfast in the coffee shop below. A high tea is also served there in the afternoon, while at night the piano bar is front and center as the entertainment for the cocktail crowd. There is non-stop background music in this area. When we returned from the Narayana Market mid-morning, the women shown to the left were playing traditional Thai instruments, while later in the afternoon a flautist had joined the pianist. In addition to the subtle and understated music, the main areas of the hotel are always aromatic; each day a different (again, subtle) scent is featured. Another nice touch is the traditional Thai greeting (joined palms, fingers pointed upwards, just touching the tip of the nose) with which one is acknowledged at every turn. It is hard to believe that the city is just outside.
And the rooms? We were in a deluxe suite, the standard room at the Banyan Tree. The"suite" consists of a small sitting room, appointed in teak with Thai fabrics. One of the hallmarks of the Banyan Tree Hotels is their use of the local handicrafts in the furnishing of the rooms. The sitting room contain a chair, couch and coffee table ensemble, shown in the photo to the left. The room looks out over Bangkok and Lumphini Park, visible in the photo to the right. The other half of the sitting room consists of a desk/work area, while the far wall is lined with recessed shelving and a mirrored area that makes the room appear a bit more open. All in all, it is a very attractive and functional room. The bedroom area is small but comfortable, dominated by a king size bed and a window that reaches nearly to the floor with another great view of the city. The slide show to the left offers a complete tour of the deluxe suite. Just click on the picture to the left to start the slide show
What is there to do at the Banyan Tree? Well it is not quite the same as a resort -- no water sports to be had. However, if you want to relax, there are two key features: spa facilities and great restaurants. The spa is at the heart of the Banyan Tree experience, and massages came as part of the package we purchased from the travel agent. Spa enthusiasts choose from a wide variety of spa techniques and oils; the massage can be for a single person or for couples. Tracy enjoyed two excellent massages in what she describes as one of the most beautiful spa areas she's had the pleasure to visit. (note: the picture here is only of the upstairs "meeting/fitness" area; downstairs, the massage rooms below are stunning.) The Spa features a pool, steam bath and sauna, and a fully-equipped fitness room. The photo to left shows the entrance to the spa, while the photo to the right shows a view of the pool, both located on the 21st floor.
The other great indulgence at the Banyan Tree is great dining, and we found plenty to occupy our time in this category! The Rom Sai restaurant, located below ground level and adjacent to a rock garden/ornamental pond, is pictured in the photo to the left. It features international fare, and is the venue for the daily splendid breakfast buffet. In the main lobby, the open lounge (described above) features drinks and high tea. The three remaining restaurants are located on the 59th floor and above. The first of these is Saffron (pictured to the right), a Thai restaurant "in an eclectic dining and lounge atmosphere with live, sophisticated entertainment" (a piano combo). The prices are reasonable, and the chicken in pandan leaves and the Pad Thai were great! The second restaurant is Bai Yun, a contemporary Cantonese restaurant, voted "Best Chinese Restaurant in Bangkok 2000." (photo to the left) It is easy to understand why. We dined on salad prawns, sizzling prawns, exquisite vegetable spring rolls, and, of course, Pad Thai. Familiar courses all, but each with a flair that distinguished this restaurant. Bai Yun's setting is equally memorable: A series of three windowed arches that look out over Bangkok. One of the great features of these restaurants is the atmosphere. The service is excellent, and the atmosphere is always quiet, perfect for conversation and the enjoyment of fine cuisine. And the city at night takes on a magical sheen, a ribbon of neon extending in all directions.
The signature experience at the Banyan Tree, however, must be reserved for Vertigo, a rooftop restaurant that is truly -- wow! I do mean rooftop. From the 60th floor you ascend the staircase (left) to yet another stairway, illuminated by candles (photo to the right). On top, there is a center dining area flanked by two even higher perches at the opposite ends of the building. The far end is strictly for dining, while the near end (where we dined) was also a combination of bar/grill area. The specialty of Vertigo, in addition to breathtaking views of the city from one of its finest vantage points, was its grilled meat and fish. We chose a table next to the railing and were treated to a magnificent view of the city...at least, Tracy was. I spent a good part of the evening living the restaurant's name: heights aren't my favorite! Although Bangkok has a reputation for its heat and humidity (we were there just two weeks from the onset of "Songkran," the famous [infamous!?] Thai Water Festival, marking the hottest time of the year), the temperature was absolutely balmy on the 60th floor, with a gentle breeze. With the lights of the city all around us, we dined on great grilled food. Tracy had the seared foie gras and a grilled kebab of snapper and prawns. The photo to the left shows the grill chef hard at work on the rooftop. I ordered the vichyssoise and grilled Phuket lobster with potatoes au gratin. Yes, we went for the low-cal, "healthy eater" menu! The photo to the right shows the view from our table. Great food in a splendid (if somewhat disconcerting, to some!) setting.
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