Business trip: Bangkok
Over the last decade, Bangkok has evolved from a humid riverside city known for its tuk tuks and street food into a modern, rapidly growing Asian commercial hub. Business travellers will appreciate the city’s dramatic advancements in public transportation, its world-class airport and a growing selection of four- and five- star hotels near the city centre.
The 2006 opening of the lofty Suvarnabhumi Airport, located 25km east of the city centre, marked the emergence of Bangkok to the big league, and it continues to be a key engine of growth, with arrivals increasing by 19% from 2011 to 2012. A modern, convenient elevated rail link, which opened in 2010, connects the airport to the city in 30 minutes, helping visitors avoid Bangkok’s infamous traffic jams.
The city’s modern public transportation system – a combination of soaring skytrains (BTS) and underground subways (MRT) – has transformed the bustling city centre into a futuristic warren of street-level sidewalks, skywalks (elevated sidewalks) and skytrains.
The Chao Phraya River flows along the western edge of the city centre, along which stand many of Bangkok’s grandest luxury hotels, including the famous Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and the plush Peninsula Bangkok. But the draw of big business has shifted the upscale hotel scene to key commercial hubs to the east, such as Ratchaprasong, Sathorn, Silom, Siam or Sukhumvit.
Getting to or from Suvarnabhumi Airport is a breeze using the elevated rail link. But travellers with heavy luggage or those who do not feel like riding the frequently crowded trains should arrange for a private car through their hotel or book the airport’s limousine service (1,500 to 2,500 baht one way). Taxis (about 350 baht) are also an option, but queues can be long and scams frequent. Depending on traffic, the drive between the airport and city centre is 45 to 60 minutes.
Business travellers who like to try out new hotels are in luck: Bangkok is in the middle of a boom in luxury hotel development.
The 227-room St Regis Bangkok opened in April 2011 and has quickly become the high-end hotel hotspot for visitors and locals. Oversized butler-serviced rooms overlook the horseracing track and golf course at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. Have a Siam Mary cocktail at the St Regis Bar or a power lunch at the 12th floor Viu restaurant – both are popular among the city’s movers and shakers. The hotel is located in the busy, central area around Ratchaprasong (full of offices, shopping malls and embassies) and conveniently connected via skywalk to the Rajadamri BTS Skytrain station.
Nearby, the new 240-room Okura Prestige Bangkok oozes Japanese style and elegance, from its chic brown marble, wood- and copper-trimmed lobby to its dramatic rooftop infinity pool. The hotel opened on the top floors of a futuristic mixed-use office building on Wireless Road in May 2012 near the Phloen Chit BTS station.
Out by the Chao Phraya River, the 39-villa Siam hotel is spread over three acres in the exclusive northern Dusit district. Although the hotel is new, antiques, art and touches like teakwood floors and private plunge pools give it a historical feel.
French fashion icon Christian Lacroix collaborated with five Thai designers to create the lavish, whimsical interiors of the 238-room Sofitel So Bangkok, which opened in March 2012 in a glass tower at the intersection of busy Sathorn and Rama IV Roads, within walking distance of both BTS and MRT stations. Book a room on the posh executive club level and enjoy evening cocktails and canapés in a private perch high above the smoggy skyline, where attendants are decked out in uniforms and shoes specially designed by Lacroix. The 27-storey hotel overlooks Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s big green central-city lung, which offers guests a chance to wander (or jog) among its trees and lakes away from city’s grit and noise.
Nearby in the Sathorn district, the super-chic, 407-room W Bangkok hotel opened its doors in December 2012 (parts of the hotel are still under construction). In typical, edgy W style, oversized, stuffed and sequined Muay Thai boxing gloves serve as accent pillows on all hotel beds. At night, the hotel lobby’s popular Woobar pulsates with a crowd of curious locals and hotel guests. The W is connected to a unique terracotta-topped 19th-century building that at one time served as the Russian embassy, but will soon become event space for the hotel.