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Six of the best: Bangkok's nostalgia hotels

JOHN BORTHWICK
Last updated 05:00 29/11/2013
retro

SHANGHAI RETRO: Chinese villa at the Siam hotel, Dusit, Thailand Bangkok.

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In Bangkok there's iconic piles, Shanghai retro and a Thai-Italianate pocket palace to bed down in.

THE SIAM

Shanghai retro on the banks of the Chao Phraya. The Siam (pronounced See-ahm rather than Sigh-am) is the brainchild of Thai pop star-actor, Kriss Sukosol Clapp (whose family just happened to have a suitable plot of prime riverfront land).

This svelte, new, 39-room retreat featuring Bangkok's most spacious suites was designed by the ever-inventive Bill Bensley, whose Thai-Chinese, period decor - black and white tiles, endless Oriental curios, even a diving helmet - is so eclectic you want to hang out in every area, including the bathrooms.

The low-key Siam glam extends to several renovated, century-old Ayutthaya teak houses, with Jim Thomson provenance, that accommodate the Chon ("Spoon") restaurant plus a dress circle view of the great river.

The aptly named Opium Spa offers an almost religious experience. Siam Suite from $446. See thesiamhotel.com.

CABOCHON HOTEL

There's more homage to wicked between-wars Shanghai at the serene and stylish Cabochon Hotel tucked away well down Soi 45 Sukhumvit.

Designed by Taiwan's Eugene Yeh, it has just four suites and four studios. Period references abound: the wickerwork, teak flooring, light-switches and bedsteads should delight Sino-nostalgics, along with free Wi-Fi, cable vision and VoIP phones.

Linger in the intimate Joy Luck Club's library-lounge-bar, then wander down the hall to the Thai Lao Yeh restaurant where the food philosophy is "authentic local", as is the decor, with tiffin carriers, abacuses and marble-top tables.

Twin studio from $151. See cabochonhotel.com.

CHAKRABONGSE VILLAS

This Thai-Italianate pocket palace built by the river in 1908 by HRH Prince Chakrabongse echoes with family lore of romance and elopement. Bump into the owner, Narisa - the prince's granddaughter - and you might hear the details.

She has turned her domain of tropical gardens and teak pavilions into a zone magically removed from the touristic mayhem of Maharat Road just outside.

There are six suites, ranging from a bonsai 12 square metres to the Chinese Suite's generous 155 square metres. Narisa's informed Thai taste comes through in the themed decor of every room.

With a sunset snifter in your hand, gaze across the river to Wat Arun temple and enjoy an aristocratic outlook. Superior room from $180. See chakrabongsevillas.com.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL

This iconic pile perched regally on the riverfront remains simply "The Oriental" to generations of travellers whether they have stayed here or not. It opened in 1876 and its heart is still the venerable Authors' Wing, where the ghosts of former literary guests such as Maugham, Coward, Conrad, Greene and Jung Chang type silently on in elaborate, named suites.

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Notwithstanding its own moniker, the 393-room Mandarin Oriental is too pukka to chase faux Orientalism, offering instead its own tradition of finesse, from the dress code-conscious lobby to the palmy gardens and riverfront dining.

Afternoon tea in the lounge, cocktails and jazz in the Bamboo Bar and your butler looking after the details is what it's all about. Superior room from $446. See mandarinoriental/bangkok.

SHANGHAI MANSION HOTEL

Shanghai Mansion has a long head-start over recent aspirants in the "Sinostalgia" business. This 76-room hotel on tumultuous Yaowarat Road in the heart of Bangkok's Chinatown - the world's largest - is the real McCoy.

Built in 1892, it has been a Chinese opera house, stock exchange and textile trading house and, since 2006, a boutique hotel.

Throughout its public areas you find red sofas, lanterns, decorative screens, a watergarden and much memorabilia, all paying homage to deco-decadent 1930s' Shanghai.

The themed suites, with names including Cherry Blossom Havens, are appointed with chinoiserie a-plenty, including antique platform beds. In the face of such Orientalism, the hotel's jazz bar Cotton offers an Occidentalist respite. Mei Hua (superior) room from $57. See shanghaimansion.com.

THE ATLANTA HOTEL

Her glory days may be gone but if you're seeking history and authenticity, live and sleep it at the Atlanta.

This eccentric dowager slumbers at the far end of Soi 2 Sukhumvit, with its superb Bauhaus-deco lobby and diner unchanged from the 1950s when this was the Bangkok place to be. (A 1962 photograph shows the young King of Thailand playing sax here with Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.)

Today the rooms are tired but the garden pool (the first hotel pool in Bangkok) and public areas are fine. The impeccable LA-style diner still offers Vietnam War-era specials such as Steak Diane and filet mignon from a Fawlty-esque menu that declares, "Typically, the Atlanta is not moving with the times".

Family suite from $81.50. See theatlantahotelbangkok.com.

- FFX Aus

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