With its hectic cities, heaving tourist spots and high octane nightlife, you might be forgiven for thinking Thailand is a big, bold and brash destination. Yes, it is, but it also has plenty to offer if you are looking to get away from it all.
Bangkok might be considered an odd choice for holidaymakers looking for a peaceful break, but don’t be put off by the fact that it is the world’s most visited city. Yes, you’ll be in the company of some of the 20 million people that are estimated to touch down there per year, but that’s not to say there aren’t some tranquil spots to be found.
Akyra Thonglor is an under-the-radar hotel – yet with plenty of charm – and the perfect spot to explore the quieter side of Bangkok. Recently given a makeover by design agency Begray, known for its conceptual architectural interiors, it is found in Thonglor, a hip corner of the city which was once predominantly the commercial district. Its apartment-style accommodation means rooms and suites have contemporary lounge-dining rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows, and marble bathrooms, with plenty of glamorous detailing (think: eclectic art work, large terraces and advanced technology).
On the roof, serenity is guaranteed at the scenic swimming pool. Offering cityscape views, and prettied with lantern-laden trees, this is just the spot to float on by, after a day spent exploring the city – the hustle and bustle left far below. The hotel’s Som Tam & Chardonnay Restaurant is also found here. The market-style restaurant marries Thai cuisine with Mediterranean dishes – so, as well as Pad Thai and five different Som Tams (Thailand’s staple green papaya salad) you’ll also find Beetroot Gnocci and White Pizza.
Boasting a thriving arts scene and innovative restaurants, Thonglor is one of the most up and coming areas of Bangkok and has called in a hipster following due to its ‘insider’ attractions. One highlight of the area, for example, is its penchant for speakeasy-style bars, such as the industrial Rabbit Hole (it’s found behind an unmarked wooden door between Soi 5 and 6) and J Boroski, found at the end of a dimly-lit street (off Soi 55) attracting an ‘in-the-know’ crowd due to its custom-made cocktails and quirky interiors (check out the arched ceiling which is covered with steel scarab beetles). Collaborative spaces are also a signature of Thonglor and, found in what appears to be a derelict building, Badmotel has become one of the hottest spots in the area, with its vibey restaurant, garden area, club and art space – a world away from the obvious tourist sites. The Commons, meanwhile, is a loft-like community mall, which brings together vintage fashion and some of the best dining to be found in the area, such as Soul Food 555 and Egg My God.
Despite its glitzy interiors, this ‘downtown’ experimental vibe is also reflected back in Akyra Thonglor, which has recently opened its own speakeasy, the 008 Bar, tucked away on the 11thfloor, with signature cocktails inspired by original Prohibition recipes. Also on offer are ‘insider’ tours of the city, including one run by a professional photographer, who will guide guests on how to take the ultimate snap while discovering lesser-known areas of Bangkok.
For another take on the city, it is also worth making a pitstop at the hotel’s sister property, the nearby Akyra TAS Sukhumvit. Both are owned by the Akyran Hotel group, which has a sustainable yet glam approach to hospitality. Opened last year, this gives guests more of an urban experience with eco-consciousness placed at its heart. With over eight million tonnes of plastic thrown away each year, the group aims to become single-use plastic-free by 2020, starting with its new opening.
From arrival, you are given gentle reminders as to the ethos – there are stylish, stainless-steel water bottles left in your room (which can be refilled at water stations found on each floor) and in-room toiletries packaged in locally-made celadon containers (these are filled with fragrant, essential-oil-based products). There are no single-use plastics in the bars, bio-degradable bin bags are used in rooms and fabric totes are available, to encourage guests to refuse plastic bags when out shopping.
Décor at TAS Sukhumvit also pushes boundaries and is industrial and edgy – albeit with plenty of luxe touches, such as fine linens and oversized duck-down pillows. There are caged exposed bulbs for lighting, natural wood accents and travel chests doubling up as coffee tables. Balconies give views over the heart of the city, while Marshall speakers and 50s-style leather chairs give a retro feel. For sunset drinks, head to the Rise Rooftop Terrace Bar, which offers a chill-out soundtrack, a Southeast Asian cocktail list and a craft-beer menu. The bar is also home to a transparent swimming pool – ideal for midnight dips under the stars.
Once you’ve had your urban fix, a trip to Phuket is the perfect way to round off your me-time experience. Here, on Natai Beach, on the Andaman coast, Akyran’s laid-back Akyra Beach Club continues the ‘quiet luxury’ feel. Offering a bare-foot approach, it has just 58 rooms, so small enough to be able to offer a personalised approach to holidaying.
The blue-and-white hued resort is focused around a curvy pool, and private beach, where you can kick back in a cabana or on one of the oversized bean bags. Rooms and suites are pared-back yet elegant with wood furniture, incredible ocean views and contemporary bathrooms. If you want to be left alone, simply place a carved wooden turtle outside your door – the resort’s USP is to help you do as little or as much as you want.
All-day dining is relaxed yet doesn’t skimp on culinary prowess – you can start your day with a gourmet breakfast or healthy granola, for instance, while for lunch tuck into a freshly-caught snapper or spicy crab tempura. Come evening time, you can watch the sun go down in the al fresco dining room, with a signature Thai dish, such as Khao Pad (a local fried rice), Paneang Prawns or Green Curry.
For those wanting to be active, there’s plenty of classes to keep you occupied, from paddle boarding to surfing, Thai boxing to Crossfit. There is also daily beach yoga, Thai Chi, aqua gym and volleyball. The go-with-the-flow approach also sees the concierge offer a curated choice of inspiring trips on a daily basis – highlights include island hopping around Phang Nga Bay, early morning hikes to watch the sun rise, rubber plantation bike trips and visits to the night market in Phuket Old Town. Recently launched are a range of immersive offerings, such as Thai cookery lessons, spice market shopping and sunset fishing to offer more of a hands-on experience.
For the dreamiest moments, however, head to the Ayurah Spa for a Fusion Massage Therapy which takes place in a beach cabana and uses locally-sourced aromatherapy oils to release tension. It’s the ultimate feel-good factor, just keep it on the quiet.
Stay at Akyra Thonglor Bangkok, from £120, and at Akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok, from £100 per night, for a double room on a bed and breakfast basis. Stay at Akyra Beach Club Phuket, from £120 per night, for a garden view double room on a bed and breakfast basis.
*A version of this article is out in the April 2019 issue of Canary Wharf Magazine