Can Bangkok’s flash new hotel marry style and practicality? David Whitley stayed anonymously to find out.
If ever there was a hotel to spark a fierce row between my younger self and my inner old man, Bangkok’s new Sofitel So is it. Both were out to play after a long-haul red eye flight; tiredness and fresh-off-the-plane excitement duelled with gusto from the moment I checked in.
There’s no real reception desk, just a couple of staff members standing over laptops. They sat me down on the comfy seats in the lobby bar, whilst the barman came over and poured me a welcome drink out of test tubes. It was simultaneously impressive and annoying – interesting gimmick, but a lot of unnecessary faff when I just wanted to get to the room and have a shower.
The emphasis at the So is pretty clear: style matters. It’s the offshoot’s second hotel – the first is in Mauritius – and it’s a clear attempt to sex up the luxurious but kinda dowdy Sofitel brand. Think of the So to Sofitel as the W is to Sheraton, and you’re not far off.
I’d gone for the cheapest ‘So Cosy’ category of room, braced for it to be ‘cosy’ in the duplicitous estate agent sense of the word. Not a bit of it. Everything in my 14th floor park view pad was a dazzling white and silver, while cleverly designed sliding doors and glass bathroom walls (shieldable by electronically drawing a curtain) made it look far more spacious than it is.
The bathrooms are lovely. There’s a big, deep tub, and a giant walk in shower with both rain and normal heads, depending on preference. Meanwhile, the little his and hers amenities bags are filled with so many goodies that the average travelling kleptomaniac will have a field day.
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
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TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
But those glass bathroom walls are indicative of what lets the hotel down. It’s not just the bath and shower that can be seen from the bed, but the toilet as well. Seeing your travelling partner shower may be sexy in some circumstances. Seeing them run through bodily functions is beyond most people’s prude threshold. And no-one really wants to close a curtain before, ahem, attending to dinner.
It continues; a gloriously comfortable bed has a master switch on only one side, with the sole plug socket on the other.
The So gets the plug issue seriously wrong at the work desk too – it’s a choice of shifting and unplugging either the coffee machine or desk lamp to get at one. But the desk does look gorgeous, sinuously morphing into a chaise longue that has grade A views out over Lumpini Park and the city skyline.
Business travellers are unlikely to be impressed by the mini bar either. The bottled water, collection of exotic fruit juices and snacks are all admirably complimentary. But if you wish to pay for a beer or something a little stronger, you need to phone downstairs and wait ten to fifteen minutes for it to arrive.
I stayed just two weeks after the hotel quietly opened its doors – but these aren’t soft opening problems; they’re inherent conceptual flaws. Other issues will probably get sorted. I found the service a little too over-eager to please – three buzzes for turndown service in twenty minutes despite shouting “No thank you” each time, hovering behind me as I waited for a lift to arrive, that sort of thing. That will hopefully calm down over time.
The private rooftop cabanas – available for drinking and dining – had not yet opened when I visited, but the idea looks fabulous.
The outdoor infinity pool on the tenth floor is a triumph too, especially when lit up at night and with the bar operating next to it. And I especially liked the Red Oven restaurant. There are a couple of other dining choices – a chocolate-focused sinfest on the ground floor and a high concept fine dining joint at the top where you tell the chef which ingredients you want him to make something with. But Red Oven worked best for me. It’s essentially a hyper-posh, sumptuously dolled-up buffet with the option of ordering a la carte dishes. But with chefs at every station, impeccably mood-lit industrial-chic looks and a genuine buzz, it somehow feels perfect for lone dining, a group meal and a romantic date.
In a way, Red Oven sums the hotel up. It looks and feels wonderful. But then you notice that half of the dishes aren’t labelled so you haven’t the faintest idea what they are. Enticing and adventurous, yes, seemingly obvious practicalities, no.
Details: Sofitel So Bangkok, 2 North Sathorn Road, Bangrak, 10500 Bangkok. +66 2 624 0000.
Notes: David booked through Accorhotels.com, paying 7415.10 Thai baht (including tax) for a one night stay. This didn’t include breakfast, but included a US$80 credit for spending at the hotel as an opening offer. Similar rates – without the bonus credit – are currently available later in the year.
Reviewed on 16 March 2012
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