Mary Gostelow tries two new hotels in Thailand

Girlahead checks-in to Rosewood Bangkok and AVANI+ Samui

Rosewood Bangkok, which opened its doors on 31 March, has added yet another top property to the city’s already well-endowed luxury hotel scene. But no one seems to be worried and apparently, the owners, led by sisters Paetongtarn and Pintongta Shinawatra, as well as Rosewood’s leaders and the on-site management, believe that differentiation will win. These two sisters so love the brand, by the way, that Paetongtarn Shinawatra chose then-unopened Rosewood Hong Kong for her star-filled wedding on 22 March 2019 (she married Pidok Sooksawas, a pilot).

The shape of the sculpture that is the 30-storey Rosewood Bangkok building, designed by architects KPF, means that some rooms have slanting walls. I was in 1812, a Manor Suite, which was actually loft-shaped with some walls sloping inwards. Taiwan’s cult designer Celia Chu has installed interiors for those with elegant tastes. The mini-bar and espresso machine are in a gorgeous lacquer-fronted cabinet; a silver tray on a trolley next to it has bottles of make-your-own Martini, Negroni or Old Fashioned, all from the Everleigh Bottling Co in Fitzroy, Victoria. There is also a bottle of Chalong Bay: The Spirit of Phuket, which I guess is rum but it doesn’t say. There is a helpful book, Shake, Stir, Sip: More than 50 effortless cocktails made in equal parts by Kara Newman, and I have a bottle of Yume Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015, and lots of Legle stemmed glasses.

Food, like the drinks in my suite, is a feature of this 159-room hotel (all restaurants and bars are designed by AvroKO). I loved what I saw of the 19th-floor Nan Bei Chinese restaurant, with lots of private dining rooms and a terrace set with tables and chairs. I dined at the light-bright Lakorn European Brasserie, really a metrosexual boudoir leading off the seventh-floor lobby. This is the place for gin and tonics, which warrant their own menu section, but I had a glass of Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2016, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet, with a green salad followed by a magnificent gourmet burger (wagyu topped with foie gras and Comté) with truffle aioli, parmesan fries in a silver cup and another silver dish holding charred Brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta. Breakfast in Lakorn was another splendid meal, though even more berries and other fruits were available on a smaller, health-oriented breakfast buffet in G&O, the organic eating place near the outdoor infinity pool and the (indoor) 24/7 Technogym on the hotel’s ninth floor.

The big differentiator at Rosewood Bangkok, however, is Lennon’s, a speakeasy with a difference. Take a paparazzi-free lift directly up to the 30th floor to emerge behind a wall of vinyls. Yes, the outer room here has over 6,000 records, plus hundreds of cassettes. Go on through to the main whisky bar, with comfy seating nooks. Let the Record Master turn the Legay tables with whatever you want, or bring your own. It is, of course, no coincidence that the hotel’s MD, Thomas Harlander, is a record fanatic, and the extensive equipment includes a McIntosh C47 Audio Preamplifier.

But it was time to head from town to country, from Bangkok to Thailand’s second biggest island, the 229-square-kilometre Koh Samui. I wanted to try Minor Group’s AVANI+ (‘Avani Plus’), which has evolved out of Minor’s existing AVANI brand. The idea is that every AVANI+ offers something special. Here, at AVANI+ Samui, it is the location, a natural southwestern area of an island that, elsewhere, is sometimes becoming too full of tourists — other tourists. Some think that Samui is being throttled as airfares from Bangkok are high. (It is less expensive to take a round trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap, for Angkor Wat, than a round trip from Bangkok to Koh Samui, whose open-sided airport is, like Bangkok Airways, owned by the Prasarttong-Osoth family.) Others are happy that Koh Samui is not being opened up for the masses that make up today’s scourge of overtourism. Right now, AVANI+ Samui is bliss for its peace and quiet. The resort’s six beach-set villas are especially appealing to nature lovers, and you get a complimentary spell in a traditional Thai long boat, ruea hang yao, with plenty of time to reach Koh Madsum private island for a picnic lunch packed by AVANI+ Samui’s chef Kien Wagner.

Like all 58 rooms, my villa, 506 (yes, one of that beach sextet) is off-white and blue – it has been re-done by owner Minor Hotels’ in-house team. It has the big advantage not only of opening directly on to the beach but also has a six-metre pool at the perfect temperature, and a surrounding fence high enough for skinny dipping. 506 is also directly next to the hotel’s outdoor bar-restaurant, which is open day and evening long. I sat under its big canopy, looking left at an old green VW campervan, now static, that opens up to be the bar. I looked ahead and right to the azure sea. I looked at the menu, a big A3-sized board, printed landscape-style, and was tempted by its gin and tonic section, offering drinks made with Bombay Sapphire, Broker’s, Caorunn, Hendrick’s and Tanqueray.

That evening I did not fall for any of that. I had a glass of Sileni Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and it went beautifully with a bowl of salt-and-pepper squid, with lime and aioli.

As luck would have it I was there on a Sunday, the one evening when a saxophonist plays. This encouraged two female millennials, undoubtedly on a weekend staycation from Bangkok, to pose for selfies and dance for what seemed hours on end (thank you, whoever you were, for that great entertainment).

From my admittedly limited experience of AVANI+, I would say this is a brand that encourages you to be yourself. In my case I swam, I used the bijou but good 24/7 gym, and I borrowed a bicycle to explore several miles around, going past little villages and empty areas dwarfed by sky-high palm trees.

I also had a great hour with Minor’s area GM, Lutz Mueller, who is based 45 minutes away at Anantara Samui. When he first saw this AVANI+, he now admits he knew it needed tender loving care. It was an anonymous detox hotel then, and it has since been through a holding stage, white-labelled by Minor while it evolved into AVANI+. It is not for everybody, he admits. It is for those who want to experience true Thailand, to be far from the madding crowd of too many others. This is the casual luxury that more and more travellers look for today. And it has the service. Honestly, the 62 employees were, without exception, willing to do anything, any time, but, unlike some other places, they never intruded (forget the word ‘butler’, thank goodness that is not applicable here). I will always remember my farewell from this new-look casual luxury hotel. As my car drove away, three young local ladies whom I had never seen before appeared with the biggest smiles outside the realm of toothpaste advertisements. Please come back soon.

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