IT’s David Whitley is never one to pass up a chance to be a walking cliché. So just two weeks after the opening of Sofitel So Bangkok, he goes undercover to see if the new hotel in this tourist hotspot is a winner.
If ever there was a hotel to spark a fierce row between my younger self and my inner old man, Bangkok’s new Hotel Sofitel So is it.
The emphasis at the So is pretty clear: style matters. It’s the offshoot’s second hotel – the first is in Mauritius – and it’s a clear attempt to sex up the luxurious but kinda older Sofitel brand. Think of the So to Sofitel as the W is to Sheraton, and you’re not far off.
The So is dressed to impress. Dark seductive lighting is the general rule in common areas, but closer inspection shows some fabulous set-pieces. The moat of pools and water features around the lift shaft is particularly impressive.
A vibe has been created to match. The reception is essentially the lobby bar. As I checked in at just after 6pm, a DJ was already manning the decks. Music is inescapable in the hotel; there seems to be a concerted effort to make it feel like a Café Del Mar-esque chill-out club. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on musical taste.
The hotel has been themed around four main elements – earth, metal, water or wood in the guestrooms – with a fifth element, fire, in many of the common areas. It seems I’d drawn metal.
I’d gone for the cheapest “So Cosy” category of room, and braced for it to be “cosy” in the duplicitous real estate agent sense of the word. Not a bit of it.
Everything in my 14th floor pad was a dazzling white and silver, while cleverly designed sliding doors and glass bathroom walls (shielded by electronically drawing a curtain) made it look far more spacious than it is. The views out over Lumpini Park and the city skyline were pretty darned splendid too.
The bathrooms are lovely. There’s a big, deep tub, and a giant walk-in shower with both rain and normal heads. Meanwhile, the little his and hers amenities bags are filled with so many goodies that the average travelling kleptomaniac will have a field day.
Little design flourishes add personalisation. A giant metal flower sculpture is mounted on the bathroom wall, while there’s a chance to “feel your element” on the desk. In my case, that means two metal balls to clack around in a strangely addictive manner.
Alas, it sometimes feels as though the designers have never stayed in a hotel room before. There are precious few plug sockets, and those that can be found are either in use or hopelessly positioned. The lights require needless amounts of tinkering, and the useful hotel information is accessed via endless clicking on the TV remote, rather than a quick flick through a booklet. And I’d prefer not to have to close a curtain before I go to the toilet; the loo can be seen from the bed.
I stayed just two weeks after the hotel quietly opened its doors – but these aren’t soft-opening problems; they’re inherent conceptual flaws. Other issues – such as service, which I found overly obsequious, even by Thai standards – will probably get sorted with time and experience.
The outdoor infinity pool on the tenth floor is a triumph, though, especially when lit up at night and with the bar, The Water Club, operating alongside. Meanwhile, the private rooftop cabanas – available for drinking and dining – had not yet opened when I visited, but the idea looks fabulous.
I especially liked the Red Oven restaurant. There are a couple of other dining choices – a chocolate-focused sinfest on the ground floor and a high-concept fine dining joint at the top, Park Society, where you tell the chef which ingredients you want him to make something with.
But Red Oven worked best for me. It’s essentially a hyper-posh, sumptuously dolled-up buffet with the option of ordering a la carte dishes. But with chefs at every station, impeccably mood-lit industrial-chic looks and a genuine buzz, it somehow feels perfect for lone dining, a group meal and a romantic date.
In a way, Red Oven sums the hotel up.
It looks and feels wonderful. But then you notice that half of the dishes aren’t labelled so you haven’t the faintest idea what they are.
Enticing and adventurous, yes. Seemingly obvious practicalities, no.
Hotel Sofitel So Bangkok
2 North Sathorn Road,
Bangrak, 10500 Bangkok, Thailand.
+66 2 624 0000
David booked through Accorhotels.com, paying (inclusive of tax) $230 for one night. This didn’t include breakfast, but included a US$80 credit for spending at the hotel as an opening offer. Similar rates – without the bonus credit – are currently available later in the year.
What’s the gossip?
Here’s what other reviewers have said: “Located in the city’s coveted Lumpini Park district, the property draws on the expertise of five local designers teamed with architect Smith Obayawat and designer Christian Lacroix.” Alisha Haridasani, Business Traveller.
The IT Verdict
David Whitley, who paid his own way and visit anonymously, says: “The Sofitel So looks great, and they’ve got the big set-piece ideas so right. But they’ve also got the little things so infuriatingly wrong. It’s a hotel that will enhance a good mood, but exacerbate a bad one rather than alleviate it.”