The word ‘boutique’ comes from the old French word ‘botique’ meaning small shop. The word became popular in English to describe a shop that sold designer goods, not mass produced goods. This notion of selling non mass-produced goods has become central to the designation ‘boutique’. Thus a boutique hotel has to be above everything else unique, not built to an often used template.
Hotel chains in the 1960s and 1970s sought to bring standardization to hotel construction. It was thought that customers were reassured that a Hilton or Intercontinental looked and felt the same from Iceland to South Africa and Japan to Canada. The same basic format of neutral tones, CNN on the TV, minibar and free toiletries in the bathroom was essentially copied around the world for high end tourists and traveling business people.
In the 1990s thing started to change with the gradual loosening of the baby boomers hold on spending power. The new generations wanted more culture and individuality from their hotels. They didn’t need reassuring with standardization, after all globalization has already done that.
One of the best places to find boutique hotels is in Bangkok. The Thai capital has over 30 hotels that could be fairly called boutique because of their specialness, design and history. Many of them have very affordable room rates. Here is my list of the 5 best boutique hotels in Bangkok:
The Mandarin Oriental is still regarded by many as the only place to stay in Bangkok. It is located on the Chao Phraya River. It has its own private pier. For 135 years the hotel has been receiving famous guests. It even has an author’s wing. Such notables as Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, John Le Carre and Graham Green have all made the Mandarin Oriental their base.
The hotel has lost its original look by extensions but the interiors retain its boutique appeal ? there are antique furnishing and artwork in every room.
Siam@Siam Design Hotel
One of the best modern boutique hotels in Bangkok is the strangely named Siam@Siam Design Hotel. It is a tall building with a cutting edge contemporary design. On the thirteenth floor is a swimming pool that vertiginously overhangs the building. The hotel boasts 5 eating and drinking options including the 24 hour Party House One where the rich and beautiful of Thai society are sometimes to be spotted.
Often boutique hotels are designed around a certain central theme. This is the case for Shanghai Mansion in Chinatown. The hotel is in 1930s Shanghai art deco style. Far from being tacky the theme really works. The hotel has won numerous awards including the 2010 Sunday Times Travel Award. The rooms feature dark wood furniture, four-poster beds and paper lanterns. The hotel has a jazz bar and a Chinese water garden. Staying in the Shanghai Mansion is an unforgettable experience ? it literally transports you back to 1930s Shanghai.
Often boutique hotels have a history behind them. That is what makes them unique. This is certainly the case for Chakrabongse Villas. It was the former residence of Prince Chakrabongse. It is a beautiful mansion on the river, just 300 meters from the Grand Palace.
In 2002 the home was converted into a 9 bedroom boutique hotel that features a marble floor in the lobby, walls covered in family paintings and carvings.
There is a restaurant that specializes in royal cuisine and that has uninterrupted views of the striking Temple of Dawn. The hotel also has its own teak boat to take guests up and down the river.
Seven Hotel is located in the popular Sukhumvit area of Bangkok. It is a small hotel designed around the theme of the 7 day week. There are 6 individually decorated guest rooms and a seventh communal room designed in red (Sunday being the ‘sun’ day) that features a library, bar and lounge. Thai artist Khun Pylin Sanguaniyapand designed each room to fit in with a celestial body. Seven Hotel has won a number of accolades and has been featured in such publications as Conde Nest Traveller, Elle and Grazia.
This list of 5 boutique hotels is just to whet your appetite. There are many more to discover in Bangkok. And the good news is that many of these hotels have rooms for under $100 a night. You couldn’t hope to get exclusive accommodation at such prices in Europe.