As we start to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic here in Thailand, some of us might have the confidence to consider a limited form of domestic travel. But before you look to escape our City of Angels, have you thought of a Bangkok staycation?
I would love to highlight our experiences in Bangkok hotels over the past few months. A handful of hoteliers, often because of their long term guests, remained steadfastly committed to keeping their hotels open, at this difficult time.
This letter is a testament and a thank you to the hotel industry staff from Housekeeping to the General Managers who, when their livelihoods were put at risk, turned up day after day, to greet a handful of guests. Their determination to ‘keep calm and carry on,’ and to provide an outstanding guest experience, when the majority of hotels were forced to close their doors, has been a bright light in our coronavirus days here in Bangkok.
Thailand’s Emergency Decree (20 March – 31 May)
When the Thai government issued the emergency decree on 25 March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, we respected this decision. Home working has become the norm, and I have not walked outside my condo building for six weeks. I drive to the supermarket once per week and I support local food establishments for the delivery of takeaway food.
Every Saturday night however, we switched our social distancing life inside our condo, for a well chosen and safe retreat. The criteria was to find forward thinking hotels who had embraced the challenges of operating in such times. We wanted to see how they would rise to the occasion, how they would think creatively in terms of guest experience. In short, how they could turn the negatives of the pandemic into a learning experience for their staff and potentially develop any valued guests into life long ambassadors.
The list of Bangkok hotels remaining open was small and became an ever decreasing list. As March and April turned into May, more smaller boutique hotel closures followed.
Health and wellbeing of guests and staff.
Our first priority was our personal wellbeing. We needed hotels who could demonstrate extraordinary attention to detail with regard to the health and safety of their staff and guests.
I looked for hotels that had a clear COVID-19 policy for both guests and employees. I checked my trusted Trip Advisor for those who scored highly for cleanliness. We welcomed knowing that some hotels worked to an alternative staff roster and allocated rooms for staff onsite. This reduced the risk to staff, through keeping them onsite and off public transport and away from any potential external COVID-19 exposure.
For any hotels that I felt I needed extra clarification on their cover protection I arranged for a spot check to see how I was treated on arrival. Was I let onto the premises without having my temperature checked? Was I offered hand sanitiser on arrival? I politely declined any cooling towel that was not disposable. Did all staff wear masks and most importantly of all how were the other guests operating? Were they vigilant wearing masks to/from the dining area for instance?
The importance of the hotel room: bathrooms, balconies, gardens and great views!
As we were to remain respectful of the Government’s request to ‘stay home’ we looked for resort hotels, or hotels which offered an away from it all feel, with some form of outdoor (inside the hotel) experience. Having our own balcony became important! We wanted to gain a different (social distancing) view of Bangkok.
Normally I am not one to care much for what we see outside the window, give me a lovely interior any day. We are not usually the types to stay put in a hotel room. During these stays, the view was a deal breaker. Oh, and as we travelled everywhere with our yoga mats, we needed a room large enough to set up our zen calm.
Most hotels seemed to be offering upgraded rooms, and often we found ourselves skipping round the room in delight. The Anantara Siam Bangkok offered us a corner suite room overlooking the Royal Bangkok Sports Club which was one particular highlight.
Oh and a huge bathroom with a gorgeous big bathtub was important too. When you staying in your room virtually 24/7 you use all the facilities!
We looked for staycation hotels with an urban resort experience and large grounds and garden areas and found we particularly loved watching an unusually calm life down on the Chao Phraya River. How good is that river without the noisy disco boats that normally pulsate up and down? You could seriously perform a whole meditation sequence watching the humungous loads being pulled along the Chao Phraya River by the tiny tug boats.
Our staycation survival kit
On arrival we performed an extra clean of rooms ourselves. In short there was no point switching our careful social distancing condo life, only to contract COVID-19 on a Saturday night.
My staycation survival kit starts with my anti bacterial spray, my plastic gloves, my alcohol wipes and my hand sanitiser and ends with my harmony chakra balancing spray, massage oil, face packs, body scrubs and scented candles!
Whilst in-room dining was in offer at every establishment, we took the view that dining in a restaurant would be a highlight. Oh the joys of sitting at a table together that was not our home dining table and not eating takeaway. So part of the pre-stay check involved seeing what the dining arrangements would be.
When we stayed at the Shangri-La it was post a tropical storm, there was a cool breeze alongside the Chao Phraya River that night and we had a magical evening enjoying ‘mocktails’ and hors d’oeuvres. We overlooked The Peninsula. A solemn sight, closed but lit up with a love heart. Oh how things had quickly changed in such a few weeks. It had only been a few weeks prior that we had my birthday dinner there.
Our rooms at the Anantara Siam and Shangri-La came with an early morning wake-up call and a pot of English Breakfast tea delivered with the Bangkok Post and pastries on a tea tray with a starched white serviette. Picture us in our bathrobes with masks! It seemed a world away from our lockdown life and I will be forever grateful.
Social distancing at a hotel
Our aim was a sanity break from apartment confinement, to support local hotels, and to put some money back into Thai tourism at a time where we felt this would be most appreciated.
We never left the hotel grounds and found social distancing was way easier because of low hotel occupancy rates, than at home in our congested lobby or garden. We were only ever part of a handful of guests within hotels some of which had 500 plus rooms.
I will never forget driving up to the front doors of the Anantara Siam and the Siam Kempinski and leaving the car at the front door as no one else would be arriving by car. We felt like movie stars.
The benefits of supporting Thai tourism
Without exception the hotels that we have supported offered us the most incredible hotel experiences that we will ever have.
So grateful for our attendance, we have found that If you are brave enough to offer your support we were rewarded by suite rooms outside our financial budgets, Champagne chilling in the room, and more importantly than all of this, the grateful welcoming smiles behind masks, of the reception staff.
However for us, it was without doubt the simple things that we once took for granted, that we loved and will remain with us for ever. A cup of coffee together beside the Chao Phraya River, where we could actually sit down at a table! A moonlit rooftop bubble bath Jacuzzi overlooking Wat Arun at Riva Arun. The outdoor exercise bike set up in the grounds of the Siam Kempinski, or the entire staff at the Avani Pattaya – our last getaway before the emergency decree was announced, singing happy birthday to me. Even the excitement of getting the dry cleaning done when everything was closed.
I have absolutely adored having these hotels virtually all to ourselves. Of course we welcome, for their sakes, when they will be able to fully reopen and the tourists gradually return. But boy has it been great being home alone in these fine establishments, to get to know them better, to get to know how they operate, what makes them special.
Shout out to the staff
We have found that the staff chosen, or in many cases those who had volunteered to work, were exceptional in their customer service orientation. There was a high degree of English spoken. From Housekeeping to the General Managers we applaud their efforts
We felt so privileged to have been able to support these hotels and to have seen firsthand the appreciation and commitment of their staff. Through this time we have had access to some of the top hotel’s executives, where we have enjoyed some fabulous conversations about the future for the Thai hotel profession and the ambitions for their hotels and their industry.
Let’s support our Bangkok hotels
I hope you to will consider supporting your local hotels wherever in Thailand you are reading this. We certainly found that you do not have to leave Bangkok to have a good time, or indeed to feel like you are at one with nature. You will find these city resort hotels can offer a lot in these circumstances.
This letter is a shameless plug for those hotels who have kept going during the weeks of Thailand’s emergency decree.
These are some of the unforgettable moments. Won’t you check out:
Anantara Siam Bangkok’s Luxurious city retreat
There is a reason that the locals love the Anantara Siam. It simply never fails to deliver what everyone wants, a beautiful hotel with effortless customer service. We loved our amazing Thai heritage room overlooking the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. The staff went to an incredible effort for my husband’s birthday with lots of in-room treats. We had a fabulous social distancing breakfast at Mocha and Muffins and a lovely evening of snacks and drinks in the vast and elegant lobby.
Hotel Riva Arun’s Boutique Thai charm
For a sheer spectacular, pinch me, I’m loving life in Bangkok, you will do no better than one of three stylish rooftop Jacuzzi suites at Riva Arun (Room 403 is the best). The views from these rooms and the Above Riva restaurant overlooking Wat Arun, the Chao Phraya River and the rooftops of the Grand Palace are unforgettable. Our moonlight Jacuzzi on our private terrace and dawn yoga overlooking Wat Arun were magical. There was a reason we went there twice!
Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok’s World of serenity
Our Stay in Luxury package for Thai’s and expat residents offered the epitome of modern Thai elegance and luxury. A beautiful relaxing garden was indeed a sanctuary, we loved this swimming pool area. This hotel went above and beyond in regard to thoughtful guest experiences. With their gym closed, yoga mats and gym equipment were available on request in the room, an outdoor cabana had been set up with an exercise bike. An evening foot bath was provided with bath salts in the room. We were even given anti Covid-19 personal protection head visors.
An excellent three course dinner at ALATi restaurant was included and breakfast was outstanding.
The Peninsula Bangkok’s Urban oasis on the River of Kings’
My birthday celebration weekend was held in Peninsula style before its closure. The magnificent suite room with stunning views of the Chao Phraya River and the city beyond never fils to impress and was full of birthday treats and surprises.
Breakfast and dinner at the River Cafe and Terrace and the riverside swimming pool and private cabanas are always a highlight.
Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok’s Tropical city resort
Our executive river suite here was utterly gorgeous, love the Thai design of this room looking out over the Chao Phraya River. We took a package with the Horizon Club benefits. All meals were served outside at the Next2 Cafe Terrace. We loved this riverside retreat, sitting enjoying the evening ‘mocktails’ and exceptional hors d’oeuvres was fantastic and the conversations with the staff about their future plans that makes us keen for a return visit when more is open.
The Athenee Hotel Bangkok’s Dine’cation package
Dine in a stunning restaurant and make The Athenee your home and they will look after you extremely well. From the enthusiastic welcome from all the staff to the three course dinner at The Allium Bangkok this is the best value stay we had. It included exclusive Royal Club benefits of afternoon tea, and evening ‘mocktails’ and hors d’oeuvres.
Avani Pattaya Resort’s Stylish Seaside stay
Our trip to Pattaya was on the last weekend before Thailand’s emergency decree, compared to previous visits to Pattaya, the city was unusually quiet. We enjoyed the central Pattaya location and the grounds with the lovely lush gardens. The spa is to be recommended. We had no idea how special this last weekend away was going to be and would suggest this hotel for it’s tranquility and peace. The staff were lovely and on hearing it had been my birthday the previous weekend all gathered to sing happy birthday.
As the Tourism Council of Thailand is preparing to start the “We love Thailand’ campaign to stimulate domestic tourism after the COVID-19 situation normalises. We shall continue on our support of the Thai tourism Industry. I thank the above hotels for our amazing weekends
Little Wandering Wren is an International Travel Writer currently with her nest in Thailand. This Bangkok Blogger can be found at www.littlewanderingwren.com and on Instagram and Twitter @littlewanderingwren