The last place I expected to find a big-name luxury hotel was in the middle of an arts district, yet here I am, sitting in the lobby of the Four Seasons Chao Phraya River, waiting for a guide to take me on a local walk tour of Charoenkrung, the oldest road in Bangkok, just steps from the clickety-clack of red bottoms echoing through the marble lobby. While Charoenkrung retains its historical aesthetic, it’s now more recognised as Bangkok’s cool artsy hub, with galleries, design concept stores, vintage clothing shops, trendy cafes and bars, and plenty of street art. The lengthy, nostalgic road is one of those hidden gems travellers are always hunting for. It has only recently started popping up on Bangkok travel guides, with most making the trip to explore, but for guests of the Four Seasons Chao Phraya River, it’s on your doorstep.
The Design and Feel
The hotel is the work of Belgian architect Jean-Michel Gathy, who just so happens to be the man behind the most Instagrammed pool in the world — Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, too. We all know how grand and over the top that building is (it’s a good thing). With this hotel, which hugs the Ovaltine-coloured Chao Phraya River, Gathy makes it feel grand and opulent, at the same time, carved out pockets of quiet where you can read a book in a nook or sit outside under the shade of an ancient tree. It seems to be everything to everyone, all at once.
On a business trip? It caters to that clientele. The lobby is filled with young entrepreneurs and business suits. Want to bring the family? There’s a pool, a kids’ club, and family rooms with canvas teepees. Even if you’re on a romantic getaway or honeymooning in Thailand, this is a great spot to get over jetlag and explore a zestful neighbourhood with street food, shopping, and arts on offer, not to mention the hotel’s spa and other amenities that cater for couples experiences.
The room offerings are as diverse as the restaurant offerings. For something simple, opt for a deluxe room or spoil yourself with a premier river room and watch the long tail boats glide back and forth all day. For business travellers and families, the suites offer the extra space you need and a teepee bed in the corner for the little ones. There are also terrace suites, and if you have the cash to burn, the riverfront penthouse is the ultimate in high living, with a private pool, three bedrooms, and an outdoor terrace for sunset dinners.
Restaurants and Bars
From Italian to Cantonese, this hotel’s food offerings match that of a food court; if said food court serves Michelin star dishes, haute Italian pasta, and cocktails from a bar on the World’s 50 Best Bars list.
You can start your day with a breakfast buffet at Riva Del Fiume Ristorante or follow the path to the pool, past the French restaurant Brasserie Palmer and onto Cafe Madeleine. You can grab a chair inside the Parisian bakery or outside, or better yet, grab a three-cheese croissant to go and savour poolside. There’s also an assortment of pastries and treats to take back to your room or home, including jars of condiments, boxed chocolates, and cannelés.
For lunch, settle into the French tropics at Brasserie Palmer, serving shared platters of salt-baked fish, escargot swimming in garlic butter, and an oyster bar. Try the cocktails, particularly the ruby rose spritz or peruse the bible-sized wine list.
For dinner, throw on your best frock and head to Yu Ting Yuan, a one-Michelin-star Cantonese restaurant that requires a booking well in advance. In fact, book the restaurant at the same time you book the hotel, just to be safe. Yu Ting Yuan is open for lunch and dinner, which includes a dim sum set lunch menu. If you can’t decide, you can always have chef Tommy’s tasting menu.
Then there’s BKK Social Club, ranked No.3 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2023 list. This is another venue that requires booking in advance, and it’s well worth the wait. The dimly lit bar is buzzing with hotel guests and visitors looking to get their hands on a new-age Negroni that comes topped with a palm-sized bar of handmade chocolate. Be warned, the cocktail menu is extensive, and if you’re fed up with trying to decide on one, the bartenders are more than happy to recommend it based on your tastes and likes. If you have room for a snack, don’t skip the satay — it’s life-changing (well, not really, but I’m exaggerating for effect). There’s also a box of the finest cigars stashed away, waiting for someone to ask for them.
Health and Wellness
Thailand has long been regarded as a destination for holistic wellness and health retreats, be it for spiritual healing or therapies; it’s woven into the fabric of Thai life, which is probably why this hotel dedicated 2,500 square metres to an Urban Wellness Centre. Spread over two floors, you can start the morning at the gym or in the 30-metre lap pool (adults only). There’s a dedicated mind and body studio for open or private classes. On the lower level, retreat to the spa for a signature Thai massage, body scrub, revitalising facial and a whole host of other treatments and massages. Following your treatment, you can access a steam room and hot pool, then end with a cup of herbal tea. From start to end, the experience is focused on holistic healing.
Just when I thought they couldn’t possibly squeeze in another amenity or space, I stumbled upon an art gallery wedged under the building, between the reception and Brasserie Palmer. The exhibitions change quite regularly, but it’s a lovely surprise to wander through and see what’s on display. During my visit, an artist who bedazzles everyday objects like ramen cups, bottles of dishwashing liquid, and coke bottles filled the gallery with their sparkly objects — some on rotating platforms.
As we’ve all seen on White Lotus, some luxury hotel brands prefer to keep guests caged in luxury, convenience, and comfort. The idea is to never have to leave the hotel, and while Four Seasons Bangkok Chao Phraya River does exactly that with its Rolodex of amenities and dining options, it also encourages guests to immerse themselves in the local culture, to see the sights and temples of Bangkok through excursions. Guests can choose a handful of experiences, like a temple tour, a guided tour, or your choice of famous ones, lesser-known ones, or both. You can take a walking tour of Charoenkrung, see Bangkok by a local longtail boat, or, my personal favourite, eat your way through the street food pockets of Bangkok, including trying some vendors with coveted Michelin stars.
Each experience is accompanied by a local Four Seasons tour guide, so you can expect the service to mirror that of inside the hotel, including an esky filled with every type of drink ready and waiting in the van after a tour temple in 90% humidity. However, it’s not always cushiony vans or the super flash Four Seasons limousine chauffeuring you around Bangkok. Guests have the option to embrace the local atmosphere by hopping into a tuk-tuk and exploring neighbourhoods and shops.
The distinctive feature of this hotel lies in its ability to offer everything within its opulent confines while actively encouraging guests to venture out and immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of the local culture. What’s the saying? You get what you pay for? In this case, you get more.