Retail therapy, massage and delicious food are the three elements that define the Thai capital. Experience all three under one roof; at the Amari Watergate.
Bangkok and its ever pulsating energy and Technicolor chaos - the glittering temple roofs, the sinuous river, the street hawkers, the raucous bars, the tangled roads and the exhaust spewing tuk-tuks - this city has always enthralled me. Retail therapy, massage and delicious food are three elements that define the essence of Bangkok. If you want to experience all under one roof, just check into the Amari Watergate Hotel like I did. Located in the bustling and vibrant Pratunam district, this swank hotel with a plush atrium lobby has 596 rooms, an all-new Sivara spa, a state-of-the-art gym and eight restaurants. If you want the ultra-luxe treatment opt for the top four storeys, which have a private reception, an executive lounge and a 24-hour butler service. My Grand Deluxe room has a huge flat screen television, a dramatic view of the city skyline and a bathroom that I can get lost in. Just across the road is the all-popular Platinum Fashion Mall, a shopaholic's paradise; around the corner is the World Trade centre, the Erawan shrine and the MBK mall. I begin my ‘Watergate experience' on the right note: by walking to the newly renovated Sivara Spa decorated in contemporary Thai style with bronze lotus flowers, walkways, flickering candles and spacious Zen like rooms. There are body wraps ranging from the Dead Sea and algae wraps to even Wasabi and packages with oil massage and a body scrub.
Themed treatment rooms
There are three themed treatment rooms: the Mystical Forest room, which is a botanically inspired room with a tropical rain shower; a Floral Bloom Room where ylang ylang, lavender and marjoram oils drain away your tension; and the Herbal Inspiration Room where the healing qualities of herbs are used. I have a Sarada package with relaxing oil consisting of a massage and a body scrub with a gentle therapist. I am relaxed and rejuvenated at the end of it; no, I am almost levitating!
The best thing about the hotel we realise are the dining options it offers. Our gourmet foodie evening begins at grandiose Heichinrou, the Cantonese chain of restaurants well known in Japan and Hong Kong. Red and black lacquered furniture, polished floors and muted lighting, twin columns and gargantuan stone elephants, this restaurant also has private dining rooms. Dinner is a fiesta of colourful vegetables in garlic sauce, a Szechuan style hot and sour soup interspersed with cups of oolong tea but the dessert is certainly the piece de resistance: chilled sago and cantaloupe melon topped with coconut cream. I spend a pleasant hour chatting with Hans Peter Kaserer, the executive chef, who's Austrian but loves living in Thailand. He talks about why Thai cuisine is so interesting: the colours, textures and spices as well as the different tastes like tamarind, lime and chillies which give it that zing. He talks about Miang Kam, a tasty snack often sold as street food; it involves wrapping little tidbits of several items in a leaf, along with a sweet-and-salty sauce. Chewing all the myriad ingredients together gives multiple flavours – from the rich, roasted flavours of coconut and peanut, to the tanginess of lime and the pungent bursts of diced ginger and chillies. He assures me that Thai cooking has a wide gamut of choices for the vegetarian: in order to really understand that he recommends that I visit the Vegetarian Festival, a colourful nine-day festival held in early October every year in Phuket. Local residents with a Chinese ancestry observe a vegan diet during this period for spiritual cleansing and there is a colourful pot-pourri of delicious vegetarian food. I quickly put it down on my travel wish-list.
Later that evening, we dine at the classy, modernistic ‘Thai on 4' hotel restaurant (so called as it's located on the fourth floor). The advisor for the menu is Khun Srisamon, who was head chef to the Thai royal family, has authored several books and still teaches at the Royal Cooking School. ‘Thai on 4' has been voted the best Thai hotel restaurant for a number of years. We have a many-course meal starting with some tangy Yam Som-O or vegetarian pomelo salad with spices. Every meal comes with a choice of four different kinds of rice in cane baskets: wild brown, white jasmine, saffron and green pandanus. I try all four kinds with a tangy Thai green curry and some Pad Thai. The dessert is quintessentially Thai: sweet-and-salty sticky rice with mango.
Satiated with food, I indulge in some retail therapy the next day. The Platinum fashion Mall is a warren of unending delights: clothes, jewellery, belts, bags, tribal regalia. And, yes, if you buy three things in one shop, you get wholesale rates! The atmospheric Chatuchak weekend market sprawling over 27 acres is next on my agenda and I trawl the labyrinthine shops looking at the rich offerings of wood carvings, traditional handicrafts, hand-crafted bags, jewellery and even a pet section. I munch on some fruits on skewers and sip on a refreshing coconut smoothie as my driver assures me that I have seen only a small portion of this humungous market.
The last evening, we head off to Amari's basement drawn by the lively music and are in for a treat at the Henry J Bean's Bar & Grill, a worldwide franchise of a British style pub with a live band. The walls are bedecked with retro American bric-a-brac, advertisements of the 1950s and the 1960s, black and white photos of cars and skyscrapers. The food is American with a Tex Mex flavour: large, succulent and scrumptious. Nachos, hot dogs, wraps and over-sized burgers with drinks in large stemmed glasses are on the menu. We spend the evening enjoying the raucous ambience with impromptu dancing. A fitting finale to a wonderful break.
The author is a Japanese language specialist and travel writer based in Chennai.
Where it is
The Amari Watergate is at 847, Petchburi Road, Bangkok.
Tel +66(0) 26539000. Website: http://www.amari.com
The hotel has a hot deal with four nights stay in a deluxe room with breakfast starting from 14,099 THB.
Published in THE HINDU SUNDAY MAGAZINE, 2011