BANGKOK — After quietly biding its time as a local secret, Praya Palazzo, a boutique hotel on the banks of Bangkok’s legendary Chao Praya River, has hired a blossoming management company and multifaceted general manager to lure international travelers to one of the city’s most appealing locations.
Late last year, the Lifestyle Brand , headed by the former food and beverage director of Six Senses hotels, began operating the historic, 17-room property, built in 1923 for a Thai-Chinese aristocrat and meticulously restored by architect Wichai Pitakvorrarat shortly before his death in 2009.
Then, in January, Gijsbert Roodenburg, who spent 20 years working for high-profile Dutch banking groups before moving into the hospitality industry in 2001, was appointed the hotel’s GM.
The additions have propelled Praya Palazzo to the head of the hotel class in a city rated best in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine readers three consecutive years.
“There’s something special going on here,” said Remon Alphenaar, the Lifestyle Brand’s owner and director. “Bangkok has every international hotel brand you can think of. But if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind, intimate experience in Asia’s most visited city, you’ve got to look around the corner. We’re that hotel, just around the corner.”
Praya Palazzo’s singularity is exemplified by its rooms, all of which feature an array of traits reminiscent of a bygone era, such as vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows and brass fittings.
Dark furniture, bold curtain-and-wall color combinations and flat-screen TVs help strike a balance with the modern day.
Other standout aspects include an all-slate, infinity-edge pool set within a lush courtyard shaded heavily by a stout tree with white, star-shaped flowers; a function room designed for high-end gatherings and with views of the river, an ancient fort and Santichaiprakarn Park, where Pitakvorrarat and his wife, Preeyadhorn, first dreamed of buying the neoclassical mansion; and a private pier, which serves as the arrival and departure point for guests.
“Back in the day, most people got around Bangkok by boat,” said Roodenburg, who moved to Thailand in 1995. “So that’s yet another element of the past that’s a hallmark of the Praya Palazzo experience.”
The cuisine enhances the feeling of being in a time warp. Indeed, 100-year-old recipes discovered by Preeyadhorn while researching traditional Thai fare at the National Library inspired many of the dishes.
A formal dining room with arched doorways, polished wood floors and exquisite rattan-backed chairs reinforces the culinary concept.
Alphenaar, who has co-authored three cookbooks, believes food plays a major role in any hotel’s identity, and that Preeyadhorn’s understanding of that has set the table for everything else.
“This property has groomed itself over the last few years on cultivating a local audience, and the culinary concept is largely responsible for that,” he said. “All we’re trying to do now is ensure the rest of the product is commensurate with the visual and gourmet appeal of the hotel.”
The Lifestyle Brand's long-term plans for Praya Palazzo include the development of a spa and a space resembling an Italian piazza. Roodenburg’s professional experience will only help the management company meet its objectives.
“The difference between banking and hoteliering isn’t as dramatic as one might think,” said Alphenaar. “Both industries can be very challenging. In order to survive and flourish, you’ve got to be able to think outside the box. That’s why we look for people like Bert — creative, innovative and entrepreneurial individuals who are proactive and can problem-solve.”
For more information about Praya Palazzo, visit prayapalazzo.com.