Tag Archives: Thai

Reflected candlelight shimmers from the marble floor of the lobby in the Shangri-La Hotel in Chiang Mai. Beside a picture of the King of Thailand, seven young girls clad in gold satin perform an immaculately choreographed traditional dance to celebrate his birthday.

They pride themselves on doing everything well at the Shangri-La Chiang Mai. It may be one of the reasons it’s been acknowledged by the Thai government as having the best meetings facilities of all five-star hotels in this relaxed city of 130,000 people.

IMG_1922They’re certainly the biggest. There’s a total of 2,350 square metres of meetings space here, including a ballroom that can accommodate 1,800 and an auditorium that can take 99. In the sprawling gardens, there’s plenty of room for special events like dinners, team building, lunches, cooking classes, yoga and other recreational activities. Venues in the grounds include the cabana area adjacent to the pools, ideal for smaller events; what the hotel calls its “secret garden;” and the swimming pool area itself which can be used for functions, cocktails and dinners.

 

In some ways this is a typical Shangri-La hotel, with the marque’s well-known tropical gardens, peaceful aromatic spa, selection of pleasant restaurants, sparkling pools, obliging and smiling staff, and 277 flop-down-on-the-bed-and-sigh rooms.

The mountainous surrounds of the upland city, about 40 minutes flying time north of Bangkok, and the hotel facilities combine to make it an enticing venue in every sense, according to Wiyada Sornprapha (top left), Director of Sales and Marketing.

Moreover the Shangri-La is the only hotel in Chiang Mai that has a comprehensive security system for checking vehicles and bags coming into the property, which is much valued by clients, especially those holding high-profile international events here, says Wiyada.

Outdoor venue_Poolside“That’s not to say Chiang Mai has security issues, it doesn’t!” she laughs. “But we live in an unpredictable world.”

Another huge advantage is the property’s location, adds Communications Manager Saranya Buntem (top right). “We’re in the city, yes, but we’re close to markets, five minutes’ walk from our night market, shops, restaurants and the river and we have wonderful gardens and facilities in the hotel,” says Saranya. “The airport is 15 minutes’ drive away. It seldom takes more than ten minutes to get anywhere in Chiang Mai.”

 

Unlike many other Thai cities, Chiang Mai has no big shopping offer or beaches but it’s culturally rich with – because if its elevation – refreshing weather, says Wiyada. And not everyone wants to shop and breathe traffic fumes. “It’s perfect for those seeking a less hectic city experience in a serene and natural green environment,” she explains. She points out that it was declared “Best City in Asia” and “Third Best City in the World” at the Travel + Leisure awards in 2017. It was also recently designated a UNESCO Creative City.

But one of the best attributes of the Shangri-La, perhaps, is cost. Room rates start at around 130 US dollars, while the full-day conference rate is around 60 US dollars, including lunch. “That’s fantastic value considering we’re a five-star hotel and have indoor and outdoor facilities,” says Wiyada. “We’re very flexible. And when we talk about value, we’re not just referring to price; it’s also about value-added and the offer that we have generally.”

The hotel’s events campaign tagline is “Meetings Made More Rewarding”. In practice that means additional benefits that conference organisers don’t expect, like free cocktails, complimentary upgrades and discounts from the master bill.

Deluxe RoomAnd organisers and delegates can select what they like to match their requirements. There’s a “one-stop” events service, with dedicated staff helping organisers through every step of the process, from the time they arrive, she says.

Rates across the board for rooms and meetings depend on the season, with especially good deals available during the “green” period from April until October, Wiyada adds.

MICE clients include Thais (17% of the total business), mostly from Bangkok, while better air accessibility has resulted in growing trade from elsewhere in the Asia Pacific. For example there are direct flights to Chiang Mai now from major cities in China, Taipei, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and from Hong Kong, which is two-and-a-half hours away.

Indeed the expansion of the China business has been remarkable, adds Wiyada, with Chinese people travelling more than ever before and accounting for over a fifth of the hotel’s MICE enquiries. The Shangri-La has appointed staff who speak Chinese to help cater for this influx.

Events clients also come from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Europe, the US and Australia. About a third of the conference business is corporate, and a significant percentage of these inbound visitors bring their spouses with them, seeking a holiday or engaging outings, such as visits to the nearby elephant sanctuary.

“Weddings are also a big business for us, both for locals and internationally,” says Wiyada. “We’re considered to be the leading wedding venue in town because of our capacity and car park.”

With beautiful assets, business for the Shangri-La Chiang Mai is likely to continue to expand, and official government figures support this view. Last year, Chiang Mai welcomed around 10 million tourists, 7 million of whom were locals and 3 million of whom were foreigners. As of November, tourist arrivals to Thailand had reached 34.43 million, up 7.53 percent, generating an estimated Bt1.8 trillion (AUD 86 billion) in revenue for the country.

More information:

Call (66 53) 253 888

Email chiangmai@shangri-la.com

Web: www.shangri-la.com/chiangmai

Sukhothai RoomIMG_1905Outdoor venue_Cabana areaOutdoor venue_Secret GardenPhayao RoomCHI Spa Room

 

 

 

 

 

There are many wonderful hotels in the Thai capital city, but IHG’s five-star Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park in the heart of the CBD can justifiably claim to be something special – attractive in price and aesthetically pleasing to boot.

When they step into the street-level entry a short way from the roaring traffic of the “Rama IV” thoroughfare, an elevator whisks arriving guests to the lobby and reception area on level 23. This is a peaceful, tastefully lit space of mirrors, sombre panelling and comfy chairs and sofas.

Crowne-Plaza-Bangkok-Lumpini-Park_Sathorn-Meeting-Room-01_Low-Res_RETOUCHNearby, glass-walled elevators glide up and down a soaring atrium whose walkways provide access to all of the 243 guest rooms. A few steps away, also on the 23rd floor, the Panorama all-day-dining eatery has a terrific bird’s-eye view of the city.

The Crowne Plaza Lumpini Park has a selection of meeting venues at good prices. For example, a full-day meeting package starts at around AUD 75 per person per day, including the notorious Thai taxes and services charges. It allows for room rental from 8am to 5 pm, complimentary coffee and tea throughout the meeting, morning and afternoon coffee breaks with two kinds of snacks and fruit juices, a lunch buffet of grilled meats and fish, prawns, sushi and sashimi at the Panorama on the 23rd floor, or a Chinese set lunch at the (outstanding) Xin Tian Di restaurant a floor below.

Twelve meeting rooms, 145 square metres in total, are set over the entirety of the 21st floor, and the largest of these, when fully opened-up, can accommodate 400. Its best-known venue is “The White Room” with sweeping walkways and staircase and much in use for parties after weddings. “[It’s] more like an art gallery than a function room,” says a hotel spokesperson. “So your product or service is ‘framed’ to be the focus of attention at all times. The White Room has been designed to promote and flatter any event, whether it’s a product launch, press conference, wedding or mini-exhibition. It’s also ideal for company events as well as private parties and receptions.”

The guest rooms themselves are adorned in bright, jazzy and engaging colours, with rack rates starting at around AUD 210 a night, which is competitive, to say the least, for a five-star property.

But the facilities are what you’d expect – five restaurants and bars, a spa, outdoor pool overlooking the city on Level 24, outdoor jacuzzi and a well-equipped fitness centre.

The hotel “guarantees” PCOs that it’ll respond to enquiries within two hours and provide a full proposal by the next business day. At the end of meetings each day a Crowne meetings director will proivide an itemised account of that day’s expenditures, gather feedback and handle further requests.

There are also club floors with lounge benefits like free breakfasts and cocktails, all-day snacks, late check-outs at 4pm and complimentary laundry and local calls.

More info: Call +66 (0) 2632 9000 or click here.

Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park_Crowne Ballroom 10_Lo Res copy

Sala Daeng

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“Why choose our meetings facilities?” says Gregory Preslier reflectively. “Without sounding selfish, look at the destination. Bangkok gets 37 million visitors a year, but in a way it’s the best-hidden secret in the world.”

The urbane, immaculately attired Area Director of Sales and Marketing for the InterContinental Hotels Group in Thailand is chatting over coffee in the vaulted lobby of the five-star Intercontinental Hotel, Bangkok. IMG_1505

Events organisers at the 381-room hotel have 22 meeting rooms, all on the same level, to choose from, Gregory observes. Yet the bustling urban precinct in which it sits is probably just an important consideration as venue flexibility and price.

It’s no cliché, he adds. Bangkok is a dynamic mega-city with wonderful attributes, for Gregory a mix between Casablanca and London, and it has two tiers. One involves the Thai culture which is manifest in the restaurant scene and food variety and quality. The other relates to what you can do for fun.

 

“The tourist places, shrines and cultural areas convention people can visit in Bangkok are extraordinary. There’s so much to do. The hotel is fantastic, sure, but you don’t need to stay in it all the time. You can’t be a hypocrite and deny what’s around here. Clients [we talk to] like this aspect because we’re not selling anything. We’re introducing a product but at the same time there’s so much more the destination itself can give.”

Located adjacent to a big Holiday Inn, the InterContinental Bangkok itself has one of the largest hotel banqueting, meeting and convention facilities in the city. Its main ballroom takes 800, theatre-style, and caters for many weddings – especially at weekends – of up to 1,200 guests. “You can come here for a conference, exhibition, seminar, product launch or fashion show and do everything on the same floor,” says Gregory. “They’re purpose-built facilities so we’re never improvising; I have fifteen people in my events team alone.”

Moreover it’s easy to get to. The two good airports have great connections. In addition investors from round the world – and Asia especially – are investing in Thailand and Bangkok, whose infrastructure grows all the time. “There are a lot of positives here and people like going to positive places,” says Gregory. “Wherever you are as an events planner in your industry, things are happening here. Medical, association, sport, education, welfare and so on; there’s really a mix of everything.”

Premier Suite BedroomImportantly, it also represents good value. A hotel in New York comparable to InterContinental Bangkok would cost three times as much, Gregory says, so the tagline “affordable luxury” here means what it says. “For a hundred and sixty US dollars you can get outstanding bed and breakfast at the Intercontinental Bangkok. I hear sometimes from clients that we’re expensive when they’re talking in baht, and sometimes hear ‘five thousand baht, that’s a lot of money!’ It is, to some people, don’t get me wrong, but for many typical international congress or conference organisers, I’d like to see them do an event for that price somewhere else in the world in a hotel of this calibre.”

The staff, 99 per cent of whom are Thai, are continually trained and participate, too, in a variety of charitable and team-building work on an ongoing basis that helps them connect, also, with guests. “Our people go directly to hospitals and schools to help out; it’s not just about giving, it’s about connecting, caring about something other than yourself.”

Gregory, 43, born in England and brought up in Lagos, Nigeria, speaks from considerable experience. He’s worked in London, Morocco, Dubai, France, (his father’s French and his mother English), and Monte Carlo. He was involved in the opening of Le Grand in Paris, a beautiful 500-room hotel on the Opera square, and the Atlantis, Dubai, which has 1,500 bedrooms, and One&Only Resorts.

intercon-11Few of the properties he’s worked in have matched the InterContinental Bangkok for position. With a BTS station, Chit Lom, on its doorstep, the hotel offers easy access to the city’s major business precincts along with shopping destinations and dining, in addition to the hotel’s plethora of eateries. These include Theo Mio, an Italian restaurant with open-to-view kitchen on site named after famed London chef Theo Randall, who was on hand to meet staff, clients and media when The Siteseer visited recently.

IHG has recently also opened in front of the complex a new beer house and brasserie, Beer Republic.

Offering seventy beers, twenty of them local, alongside delicious Thai and European bar food, it’s due to open mid-December as an independent, chilling-out venue, accessible from outside the hotel.

What’s the best time to organise a conference at the InterContinental? It’s pretty busy all year round, says Gregory, but some times may best be avoided, like Chinese new year and other occasions when there are lots of leisure guests. Otherwise January-February, just before Chinese new year, are good, then April to June. “Because we’re so close to China, Singapore and Hong Kong, our market and calendar of availability is not just about Thailand, it’s about the region. For example when Australia Or India have holidays it impacts Thailand as a destination.”

Meanwhile the IHG group is expanding. It has 24 hotels in Thailand including IHG brand, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Indigo properties.

Online rates start at around US160 a night. More info at http://bangkok.intercontinental.com/

Siteseer says: I loved the airy feel of the hotel and its meetings room. Especially liked the muted-ochre colours of the guest rooms and the fantastically comfortable bed, which has a choice of sink-into-and-sleep pillows. The sounds of the busy city are well muffled by the windows.

The pool on the thirty-seventh floor is of generous size considering how far it is above street level, with a pint-size bar and good bar menu. Other minor much-appreciated attributes include plenty of drinking water in the room.

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If you line up 20 boxes that Bangkok ticks that places like Singapore, KL and Sydney don’t, it wins on price, food, service, luxury and setting, says this hotelier. And the City of Angels has one other, matchless attribute.

“If you’re bringing eighty or a hundred people to a conference and you tell them it’s in Bangkok or Thailand, they’ll be excited,” says Paul Counihan, Cluster Director of Sales and Marketing for the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort and Spa.

“On the other hand if you say it’s in Bhutan or KL, they might decide to give it a miss. That’s because Thailand has an allure that makes it a wonderful choice for MICE decision-makers.”

IMG_0777Paul Counihan (pictured) should know. The engaging, effervescent 36-year-old is a career hotelier who admits to having started pulling pints when he was 14 years old in his native Ireland.

He’s lived and worked in Bangkok for the past nine years, and in his current post has helped make the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort – a sprawling, leafy resort on the banks of the Chao Phraya River – a five-star property that challenges brands like Peninsula and Shangri-la for luxury and service.

Thanks in part to Bangkok’s growing international appeal, the Anantara Riverside is attracting unprecedented levels of business and enquiries, Paul says. “The number of events we’ve hosted recently or that we have booked in is extraordinary.”

Recently a global pharmaceutical company had their annual conference at the hotel. It’s also hosted a German car manufacturer’s Asia-Pacific team, an airline’s internal meeting and launch, and a clean energy organisation among others.

Anan 1Another key reason for his property’s – and Thailand’s – success as a MICE destination is price, Paul observes. The feedback he and colleagues are getting from clients in Australia, Singapore and elsewhere is that with the current economic and political uncertainty in the world, organisers are seeking to cut costs, while wanting to reward their people with great incentives at the same time.

‘Cheap as chips’

Room rates at Anantara Riverside Bangkok including all taxes, services and gourmet breakfast served on the hotel’s serene riverside terrace start at 5,000 Thai baht (about USD 140). Day conference rates range from USD 50 per person and delegates can upgrade up to USD 100 per person per day if they want to tailor-make the experience with, for example, additional servies like in-room baristas.

“In a city like Sydney you’d be paying $450 per night at a minimum to get into a place anything like this, with all additions on top of that,” says Paul. “We do fantastic private gala dinners for clients with over 20 live stations and 30 chefs serving, for around USD 50 per head; that’s cheap as chips.

“I’ve been in Bangkok for almost ten years and I want to cry sometimes at the prices I confirm for our premises, because it’s such good value! If I go to a meeting in Singapore and pay three times in a four-star hotel that I’m paying for a five-star suite on the river at Anantara, I’m reminded again that Bangkok is a winner.”

This may all help explain why the Anantara Riverside, a pleasant shuttleboat jaunt away from the centre of Bangkok, is seeing growth in events business that would normally have gone to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and other such destinations.

Hi_ARIV_43418935_Tropical_garden“We’re seeing more quoting up against other international cities than ever before,” Paul says.

The hotel is the flagship of the Anantara brand (owned by the Minor International group), which now operates 35 resorts in 11 countries.

With 408 bedrooms, which recently benefited from a USD $20 million upgrade, it’s set on 11 acres with 1,200 trees and 283 plant varieties growing on site. From the walkways of the lavish gardens and rooms, the Chao Phraya River and its teeming boat traffic are invariably visible.

The 12 meeting venues, spanning more than 3,000 square metres, all have natural light and include a grand ballroom that can comfortably seat 600 and which recently also underwent a million-dollar upgrade.

Avani opening next door

These spaces will be complemented by the addition of Avani Riverside, a new hotel, events and shopping precinct (opening scheduled April 2016) located adjacent to Anantara Riverside Bangkok. The $90 million Avani complex has 26 storeys, and when entirely complete will have 68 bars, restaurants and shops, and meeting facilities of 4,500 square metres (the new ballroom is pictured below). Each of the 248 Avani guest rooms and suites will have uninterrupted river and city views, Paul says.

IMG_0795Avani hotels, also owned by the Minor group, are what Paul describes as lifestyle, contemporary and international-style properties while Anantara represents more of a retreat and an experience – “luxury, relaxation and cultural experience of the location”. Avani is the first purpose-built hotel that Minor’s created worldwide.

“Meanwhile we’re developing an Avani in Perth, on Australia’s Gold Coast, and we’ve got 12 in Africa, having taken over half the Sun hotel group last year.”

Paul recognises that, now more than ever in the MICE market, corporate people are making big budgetary decisions when opting where to put their key people together for four or five days for an event. “Corporations see it as an opportunity to get two, a hundred or a thousand people in a room because that helps drive their business for the next year and beyond.

“We take the product we offer seriously, to create the right environment in which to conduct business and reward people, entertaining delegates and giving them a fantastic experience.”

For example at Anantara Riverside Bangkok the outdoor terrace has its own purpose-built stage and a light show, and executives can arrange to have private breakfasts on the river for up to 80 colleagues, he adds. Helping to ensure the success of tailor-made events are 630 staff. “It’s their dedication and service, which comes from the heart, that defines their work and our reputation. Their welcome is authentic and it’s what international guests expect.”

bangkokriverside@anantara.com

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The Millennium Hilton Bangkok looks directly over the Chao Phraya River, which snakes through the heart of the Thai capital. From all its 533 rooms, especially those on the upper floors of the 32 storeys, guests have spectacular views of the teeming life of the waterway.

There are plenty of hotels in Bangkok, and some are located near the Chao Phraya. So what’s special about this one? The resort-like attributes of the property are a big drawcard, explains General Manager Heidi Kleine-Möller, pictured below left.

Flow-Terrace“Staying in this kind of atmosphere, with a view of the river and its life is something visitors don’t usually find in other hotels in the city,” says Heidi. “European MICE clients coming to Bangkok tell me they prefer this kind of experience to the shopping-mall set-up they see elsewhere. That may be on reason our occupancies are so good.”

Though it’s not set precisely in the centre of Bangkok, the hotel is well connected to all parts of the city via the waterway and skytrain, and close to many local points of interest, shopping places and a bustling night market. It operates its own shuttle boats.

Another drawcard is splendid meetings facilities – high-ceilinged ballrooms (the Grand and Junior) which can seat over 700 guests and spacious pre function spaces. The hotel has 13 breakout rooms, ten of which are on the thirtieth floor with natural light and river views, says Assistant Director Marketing Communications Suteera (“Pui”) Chalermkarnchana, pictured below right.

Meetings clients have several choices of dinner venues. The ThreeSixty Lounge is an indoor- outdoor place that works well for welcome receptions. Delegates can dine here while taking in spectacular views of the Bangkok skyline. The Flow restaurant, an airy eatery looking directly out onto the river, serves a vast buffet and is flanked by an adjacent cheese room.

IMG_0610THB 1,500 meetings package

Yet another drawcard is price. The rack rate for rooms online (depending on dates) starts at around USD 125. A recent full-day meetings package offer for THB 1,500 (about USD 40) included two coffee breaks and lunch, all AV gear, water, mints and Internet access.

Of particular benefit to events guests, says Pui, is HiltonLink, a free service that makes it easy for individual clients to control their arrangements, enabling them to book online using the group rate they’ve secured.

“They have the option of building a custom web page or we can provide them with a booking link in up to 23 languages,” says Pui. “Then they simply share their link with their guests – send it in an email or post on other sites to spread the word.”

Many of the hotel’s MICE business these days comes from government and embassy clients, the IT industry medical and pharmaceutical companies and bridal parties, says Heidi. The hard-working staff spend much of their time “making the impossible possible,” as when they worked overnight recently to set up an Oktoberfest function, or when 400 people arrived for a dinner when fewer than that had been catered for.

Executive Suite“It’s about flexibility and how willing you are to make the impossible happen,” Heidi says. “Our attitude is of course we can do it. How we’ll do it is our problem.”

As a result the hotel is on the “TripAdvisor Hall of Fame” for consistently achieving good traveller reviews. “The five-day event was professionally slick and ran seamlessly and, most importantly, we received very positive feedback from our internal and external guests,” wrote one client. “We are pleased to share that our guests had had only good comments and positive feedback regarding the Hilton Millennium Bangkok.”

 

Siteseer says:

This is an elegant, comfortable good-value hotel in a spectacular location with excellent food, facilities and staff. But Hilton should review its irksome policy of charging guests for Internet access in rooms.

For more information, click here, or email bangkok.reservations@hilton.com.

The Siteseer was a paying guest of the Millennium Hilton Bangkok.

Millenium Hilton Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asia’s a better deal than ever. It’s the only region in the world where the prices of hotel rooms dropped for Australian travellers in 2014. Admittedly, some of the falls can likely be attributed to the weakening of the Aussie dollar, which has hit a six-year low, but the results will doubtless be of interest to most organisers seeking to run an event offshore – and not just Australians.

The latest hotels.com index, which compares Asian prices, shows that they were in fact only slightly higher than they were 10 years ago, and fell for a second consecutive year.

In Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka prices paid for hotel accommodation in cities like Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Chiang Mai, Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok all fell – some quite substantially – in 2014. These ranked among the best-value cities in the world for hotel stays. The only exceptions to the slump were China, Hong Kong and Japan, where prices rose modestly last year.

20150220_Hotels.com_ACCESS Resort & Villas_Phuket  (2)Conversely, says Regional Director for hotels.com, Katherine Cole, hotel rooms in Rio, Honolulu, San Francisco, London, Dublin, Berlin, Madrid, Milan and Paris were all subject to double-digit price rises. Prices rose by 15% in New Zealand, 12% in Fiji and 11% in New Caledonia. The city where Australian travellers paid the most for a hotel room in 2014 was New York, where the average price was $317.

In Australia prices increased on average by only 1% in the past year. They rose slightly in Sydney (1%), Brisbane (2%) and Melbourne (1%). They fell in Darwin (-4%) and Perth (-3%).

Best-value hotel destinations for Australian travellers in 2014:

 

Destination Average price paid in  2014 (AUD)
Cambodia $73
Vietnam $91
Thailand $113
Poland $116
Egypt $117

 

Countries where hotel prices fell the most for Australians:

Destination Average price paid in  2014 (AUD)
Oman -18%
Russia -7%
Sri Lanka -5%
Croatia -5%
Taiwan -4%

 

Top five international destinations where Australian travellers paid the most for hotels in 2014:

Destination Average price paid in  2014 (AUD) % change on 2013
New York $317 7%
Rio de Janeiro $299 14%
Cancun/Riviera Maya $282 19%
Honolulu $281 10%
Boston $272 10%

 

Top five international destinations with the highest growth in hotel prices for Australian travellers in 2014:

Destination Average price paid in 2014 (AUD) % change on 2013
Morocco  $169 41%
Mauritius  $277 25%
Greece  $196 18%
Qatar  $197 17%
New Zealand  $162 15%

 

Change in Australian hotel prices for domestic travellers in 2014: 

Destination Average price paid in 2014(AUD) % change on 2013 
Hobart $176 6%
Adelaide $153 6%
Canberra $185 4%
Brisbane $172 2%
Sydney $200 1%
Melbourne $177 1%
Perth $184 -3%
Darwin $200 -4%

 

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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.

Hotel-Lobby1Yet 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.

IMG_8249The 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.

Email: wanpen.c@renaissancehotels.com

Studio-Suite-1 Royal-Maneeya-Ballroom

The Kalima Resort and Spa is an imposing multi-level complex that sprawls over a jungly hillside on the Thai island of Phuket. From inside the lofty foyer – and most of the 190 rooms – visitors look out over the sparkling blue waters of Patong Bay.

When I arrived at the two-year-old property on a warm day recently, I sat in the lobby for a moment to catch my breath and mop my brow. Seconds later, a smiling staff member brought me a scented refresher towel and chilled glass of lemon-grass cordial. I’d be happy to spend a few days here, just unwinding, I thought.

Duplex Pool Villa 4Plenty of events organisers are thinking the same thing, according to the Kalima resort’s marketers, with delegates in the past year from countries including Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, the US, Singapore and Australia. One of the main attractions is the flexible, hi-tech conference hall, which has a maximum capacity of 220, theatre-style, (130 classroom-style and 80 for banquets) and can be used for any kind of gathering, big or small. Its plug-in-and-play laptop facilities and high-tech gadgetry make it useful for video conferencing, seminars and other events that require folks attending to be connected.

But as an old mentor of mine once observed, most people remember the fun they had at conferences and nothing else, and the apres-conference facilities here are very appealing. Some rooms have their own private infinity pools, and the main swimming pool area is a vast space with panoramic views of the sea. The hotel has its own nine-hole mini-golf course and a private “beach,” an exclusive, elevated stretch of sand, and plenty of dining options. It has its own luxury spa and is a short drive from the big tourist hub of Patong with its bustling nightlife.

Meeting and accommodation rates are flexible and depend on the season, according to Senior Sales Manager Minako Koreeda. The time for the best rates is April through to October.

From AUD105

Daily accommodation rates vary according to the season and room types, but start from just over 3,000 baht, which is about AUD105. The full-day meeting package, including lunch, two coffee breaks, organising support and all the usual technological bells and whistles (and floral arrangements) is USD66 a day per person. The half-day rate is USD55. Yet more evidence that Thailand is terrific value for money.

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Double Pool Access 6

Dusk falls over the Chao Phraya river, the broad waterway that snakes through Bangkok city and surrounding countryside. Against the darkening horizon, barges and small craft churn the surface of the river into glittering points of light. On the open deck of the teak river boat Mekhala, moored beside a temple, guests are enjoying drinks before sitting down to a Thai meal.

feature_1_image_1 It’s an experience that more and more incentive groups are enjoying as they savour the delights of a Bangkok river cruise. Adventure tour company Asian Oasis operates three converted rice barges on the river, for a one-night, two-day trip that alternates upstream and downstream to and from Bangkok and the former capital of Ayutthaya.

The three boats have eighteen air-conditioned cabins in total, each a marvel of compact design, with en-suites. The overnight stop is at Wat Kai Tia, a Buddhist shrine in a tranquil rural village, where obliging staff serve central Thailand specialty dishes by candlelight on deck. The boats stop at a traditional market as well as an ethnic Mon village; for the rest of the time guests can marvel at life on the teeming waterway on which half of Thailand’s population depends.

feature_1_image_2The clientele is mostly Australian and European, says Chananya Phataraprasit (pictured), the company’s Executive Director and pioneer of eco-tourism in southeast Asia, and all meals are included. Guests pay for their own booze, or can buy a package that includes drinks.

From $110 per person per day

The cost: from around USD110 per person per day. “That’s good value for money,” says Ms Phataraprasit, with some understatement. “It’s a vibrant, unusual way for many inbound visitors to see Thailand.” As I can attest.

See www.asian-oasis.com or www.mekhala.com
Email: info@asian-oasis.com

Mekhala image

Mekhala cabin

Mekhala barges 2 (2)Mekhala dinner

By Derryn Heilbuth

Some years ago I was asked to write a piece for the Australian Financial Review’s “AFR Traveller”. For those who don’t know the format, it’s a brief Q&A where business travellers are asked to name their favourite hotel, restaurant and travel experience and provide travel tips.

For someone who travels a lot, on business in my own right, as an occasional travel writer and the spouse of The Siteseer, naming the hotel was the most difficult part of the assignment.

What hotel did I choose? Well, two actually, equally memorable but completely different. The first was The Mayflower Renaissance in Washington DC, a perfect setting for the global speechwriters’ conference I was attending. It was here that Franklin D Roosevelt worked on his “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” inaugural address.

The hotel, which will be 90 years old next year, was said to have had more gold leaf when it opened than any other US building except the Library of Congress. It was also a favourite of President Truman’s, who proclaimed it to be Washington DC’s second best address after the White House. Not surprisingly it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Historic Hotels of America.

He mobilised the language and sent it into battle

After the conference I stayed on for a couple of days to visit the city’s museums and the Library of Congress. It was hosting an exhibition of the manuscripts of Winston Churchill’s speeches, the workings of which were real evidence of how, as JFK put it when granting Churchill honorary American citizenship, he “mobilised the English language and sent it into battle”. Returning each night to the Mayflower, exhausted but happy, I was reminded why I love old style American hotels. No one does that understated lamplit elegance quite like the US of A.

My other favourite, the Peninsula Hotel in Bangkok, which I visited 14 years ago as a conference spouse, is a world away from the Mayflower. In those days, The Siteseer was Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest. The Peninsula had recently opened and the Digest had managed to get a special deal for a meeting of its Australasian editors. It was my first visit to Southeast Asia and the hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River introduced me to everything I’ve come to appreciate about this part of the world: the delicate beauty of the orchids, the rich colours of the silks and textiles, the complex flavours of the food, the faultless taste you find in places like the Jim Thompson house or the hotel’s restored rice barges that ferried us across the river into central Bangkok and, most of all, the warmth of the Thais.

A useful reminder

My father-in-law was a newspaperman with printers’ ink in his veins and an almost childlike curiosity he never lost. A favourite saying of his was Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true”. Authentic people, leadership, experiences are what we – increasingly – crave. In a world dominated by global brands and chains it’s a useful reminder that what travellers look for is difference not ubiquity. It’s certainly what the management of these two hotels remembered. Despite the fact that they are part of large groups, it’s why they stand out above the rest.