In the Ratchaprasong shopping district of the Thai capital, my wife and I once stopped to cross a busy intersection when she felt someone rummaging in her handbag. “Hey!” She swung round to confront the thief.
She found herself facing an elephant, accompanied by its human handler, digging its trunk into her bag, looking for something to eat.
On my most recent visit I realised there’s usually something in Bangkok that surprises or confronts, and it’s not always the traffic. But the residents are used to it. Every day its 14.5 million people do battle with serious urban overcrowding, not to mention pockets of shouty, occasionally violent demonstrators – who for the time being are kept quiet by the imposition of martial law.
Yet with a smile and a shrug, the vast majority carry on working, making a buck, eating, drinking and having fun. To the Thais the country’s cultural, political, diplomatic, commercial, financial and religious epicentre is known as Krung Thep, City of Angels. It welcomed more visitors (16 million) in 2013 than any other city in the world, according to Time magazine.
The Ratchaprasong district lies in the hyperactive heart of the city. One of the buzziest shopping, entertainment and restaurant precincts, it’s also home to a clutch of beautiful hotels. When you consider the quality of the accommodation, meetings facilities, service, food and entertainment on offer, these are ridiculously cheap.
For me one of the most remarkable is the Marriott-owned Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong, with 322 rooms and suites, where local glitterati are routinely photographed at functions, and which has nearly 20,000 square feet of meeting and events facilities – as well as a special car lift to carry automobiles up to exhibition space on the first floor.
The five-year-old hotel is a balm for the senses. The lobby is a spectacular place of shimmering marble and glass-and-chrome fittings, with muted lighting and dark teak alternating with pink to create a welcoming, unusual space. As you’d expect in a five-star property, there’s a fine spa, a state-of-the-art gym, full-service business centre and bunch of dining options, including high-end Italian and Chinese. If you choose you can laze in the indoor pool high up in the hotel, overlooking the city.
The ballroom can accommodate 600 and there are dedicated event planners onsite. It’s close to the Chit Lom Skytrain station (the super-efficient transit system) and upscale shopping at Gaysorn, Zen, Central World, Siam Paragon and the new futuristic Central Embassy mall. “The location is perfect,” says Wanpen Chanthariyab (pictured, left), Director of Marketing Communications.
“In many hotels you have to get a cab to get anywhere; here everything’s where you want it.” And importantly for Bangkok, there are four parking levels on site, according to Soo Oftana (pictured, centre), Director of Sales and Marketing.
From USD108 per night
How much will a room set you back here? An online check reveals Internet specials starting from 3,500 baht (USD108, AUD120) per night, a terrific deal considering what’s on offer. “The rooms were outstanding . . . the location is great . . . the staff is very friendly . . . and the best thing was [the] price,” writes one online reviewer. “Excellent value for money. I’ll certainly be back.”
The marketing folks are reluctant to publicise meeting or conference rates, saying they’re subject to negotiation. But one of the best times for good events deals is the last two weeks of December, holiday season in Thailand, according to Sukhum Trongcharoen (above, right), Director of Sales.