Thailand’s beaches, flavorful cuisine, and lively partying draw thousands of visitors each year. Yet Thailand doesn’t get nearly enough attention for its artistic contributions and design aesthetics, which include local galleries and massive arts centers, to hotels with their own architectural feats, and restaurants where “culinary arts” is an understatement. Contributing writer Dara Bramson discovered some Thailand hotels featuring unique art and design that personify the country’s aesthetics beyond the tourist trail.
It’s impossible to miss Chiang Mai’s artistic boom: art galleries and handmade boutiques dot the Old City. They are only outnumbered by those in the trendy Nimman neighborhood, the city’s hub of creative energy, where even hotel architecture embodies the city’s artistic vibe. Creative-minded locals and visitors should have Chiang Mai Art Conversation on their radar for an up-to-date map that “guides art lovers through the current active art venues” and news on the local scene.
The exterior of the akyra Manor is a piece of art in itself, a mix of natural and industrial elements that provide a small reflection of the interior. In the glowing lobby, golden tree-like structures wind between the reception and award-winning restaurant italics. In October 2015, the akyra Manor opened its doors, immediately establishing itself as a local artistic icon. This is no surprise given its origins: a collaboration between the AKARYN Hotel Group and Singaporean design house Manor Studio, which earned its inclusion among the exclusive Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Each of the 23 rooms highlights a courtyard-within-a-room: a large outdoor hot tub boasting the hotel group’s “Outdoor Living In” concept. Yet the architectural aspects of the property, which promises to be an active patron of the arts, are only one aspect of its artistic focus. Hotel Manager Christophe Gestin curates rotating exhibitions in the meeting room in collaboration with local fine arts students at Chiang Mai University. Local art classes and extended art retreats are offered to guests, who admire works of award-winning local and international artists in their rooms and throughout the hotel.
You can wander into the lobby of Art Mai? Gallery Hotel for an immersive artistic experience: a professional art gallery open to the public so popular it even has its own Facebook page. For hotel guests, this is only the beginning. The concept of the hotel was to create an immersive art experience by making the space a canvas for Thailand’s top artists. Each floor—with 79 rooms total—is distinctly themed, including Nude Art, Abstract Art, and Surrealist Art, to name a few. Though Art Mai? is not related to the Nimman Mai? Design Hotel, this nearby property is a budget-friendly option with thoughtfully themed rooms.
The Small’s “Loft Art” concept integrates traditional Thai decor into a design-minded space. Situated in the historic center of Chiang Mai, the hotel sits among art shops and craft galleries. Reds and blacks dominate the lobby, accented with glittering details like pillows and lamps. The 35 rooms are each thoughtfully designed with colorful paintings, local artwork, and handicrafts. Perhaps the most unusual pop of color is outdoors, where guests can admire and enjoy the pink salt pool.
A one-stop shop for Bangkok’s bustling art and design scene is ArtBangkok.com, which highlights popular hubs like the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre and the Museum of Contemporary Art, plus a directory of galleries, schools, and must-know local artists. Bangkok is ripe with art and design-oriented hotels, which are not always on the arts radar. The Mövenpick Hotel in the popular Sukhumvit area (see below for its Phuket property) is one example of a thoughtfully designed space where visionaries transformed an eighth floor rooftop pool into a grassy, tree-lined oasis in the middle of the bustling city.
The international chain is known for its attention to unique artistic detail at each property, and Bangkok is no exception. Pops of color in the lobby greet guests at the reception area, with a handmade glittering façade of a phoenix and a tiger battling based on a Thai legend, setting the tone for the “Bejeweled Mystique” narrative of the property. The glowing purple bar is inspired by Thai boxing—a theme that appears in the spacious rooms; gold boxing ring rope sections of VIP seating. A wall of multicolored tuk tuk taxi lights decorates the elevator area en route to the eight categories of rooms. Oversized sparkling boxing glove pillows are the centerpiece of each bed, matching a custom bedspread of boxing dragons. Even the spa, out of sight to most visitors, is thoughtfully designed with glowing treatment tables with mood-colored lighting chosen by patrons. At the rooftop pool underwater speakers keep the tunes going beneath the amorphous eye-shaped sculpture hovering over the water. You can also admire pieces displayed in the W’s neighboring restaurant, The House of Sathorn, which was formerly the Russian Embassy.
Including the sun-filled lobby, the Oriental Residence emphasizes understated artistic elements. Most notably, the hotel commissioned well-known local artist M.L. Chiratorn Chirapravati to create exclusive portraits of the King of Thailand for the property. These delicate, handmade pieces are displayed throughout the hotel and provide a unique contrast to the pervasive photos of the beloved King, which can be seen throughout the country. Carefully curated patterns, colors, and textures blend throughout the property, which includes a French café and rooftop pool with teardrop-shaped pods and views of the city.
Dusit Thani opened its doors in 1970, and maintains its emphasis on Thai artistry. The property has upheld its focus on local design, which can be admired throughout the hotel and in its 517 rooms. Local silk and teak wood dominate the décor with suites named and designed after different ancient cities. Nine restaurants and bars are open to visitors and the public, the most renowned of which is the Benjarong, meaning five colors, named after traditional painted Thai porcelain. The aesthetics of the recently revamped restaurant echo the artistic emphasis throughout the property, with a menu that deserves credit for its culinary arts.
Cacha, which means elephant, is a theme of the property, which was handcrafted thoughtfully from a converted shophouse. The highlight of the property is its rooms, which are adorned with the artwork of seven renowned Southeast Asian street artists. The group of artists go by the name Death of Black (or DOB) and have distinct styles that resonate in each piece, such as Lisa Mam’s portrait of a woman dressed in Khmer-influenced style.
Krabi & Phuket
The well-known neighboring beach destinations draw thousands of visitors per year, roughing it in one-star hostels or splurging on five-star properties. Last year, Thailand’s Office of Contemporary Art and Culture chose to promote Krabi as one of the country’s contemporary art cities in order to attract more travelers. Properties such as The L Resort are renovating to keep up, with futuristic-looking rooms that will be outfitted with guest services iPads.
The monochrome color scheme of Phuket’s foto Hotel are inspired by black and white photography. Here the details are highlighted: vintage cameras, signature checkered pillows and teddy bears, and framed photographs. The design edge earned its selection among the Mr & Mrs Smith Boutique & Luxury Hotels collection. Surrounded by striking photography and inspiring quotes throughout the hotel, guests may be inclined to take advantage of the Kodak printer, which is available to all.
The open-air lobby pays homage to Thai style with a grand, circular seating area aside traditionally dressed musicians playing with gentle tunes. The design of the 336-room resort feels more like a private garden, which has plenty of quiet nooks—from poolside bungalows to secluded sitting areas—to hide out and relax. It’s no surprise the hotel is part of a Swiss brand, which embodies clean, thoughtful aesthetics with an emphasis on Thai design and artistry throughout the property.
There’s nothing like the Ritz, particularly when it’s a Reserve property on a remote Krabi beach. A Thai pitched-roof pavilion is one of the many traditional local elements integrated into the property. The thoughtfully designed hotel embodies Southeast Asian design elements, from traditional wood furniture to historic paintings and artworks. Local architect Lek Bunnag was the brainchild behind the space, in which he integrated Thai elements with accents of Middle Eastern and Moroccan design, with an emphasis on the natural beauty of the island. During your stay you can take advantage of over-the-top personalized amenities, including a villa butler, seaplane rides, or meditation with local monks.
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By Dara Bramson for PeterGreenberg.com