RUBINA’S REVIEW | BANGKOK MARRIOTT HOTEL THE SURAWONGSE IS MODERN LUXURY WITH A THAI HEART

Night views of the city of Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse on Thanon Surawong in the Bang Rak district of Bangkok opened in April 2018. Bang Rak is one of the fifty provinces (khet) of Bangkok, that lies on the eastern bank of the Chao Praya river, and it is rich in multicultural Thai history, with the British Club, the Neilson Hays Library and the mixed-use, pixelated skyscraper, the King Power Mahanakhon building in the area. The contemporary high-rise hotel, a 40-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi aiport, is the first Marriott hotel in Bangkok to offer a combination of 303 guest rooms, suites and residential suites from one to three bedrooms for short and long-term stays, making it a very popular choice for both leisure and business travellers, and as a wedding destination, given it won the International Hotel Award for the Best Wedding Venue for Thailand in 2020. The tree-lined, sun-dappled neighbourhood of Surawong equipoises vintage and contemporary Bangkok culture with a steady pace, with exciting stand-alone cafes, bars, restaurants, tailoring shops and foot spas that you can discover walking around, without the noise and traffic snarls of the very busy Sukhumvit, which I had experienced on my first trip to Bangkok on work, for a Bollywood film. I walked in the rain and a thunderstorm on my very first evening out in Bangkok their time around, not of my own volition of course, and drenched as I was, I still found the area of Surawong charming and beautiful.

As you step inside the hotel, the most intoxicating aroma of fresh Thai jasmine flowers embraces your person in the lobby – a beautiful way fo saying ‘Welcome to Thailand’ without any words. The check-in is seamless and very quick, as are the lifts and the speed of their wi-fi. The hotel’s design is modern, minimalistic and discreetly luxurious, with a hark back to traditional Thai culture in its hand-painted walls and glass murals of Thai country and court life in its design story. There’s a gallery in the lobby that displays authentic Thai hand crafts, alongside some beautiful bronze sculptures. Floor to celling windows in the rooms add length and breadth to them, as do the varied shades of grey furnishings and glass murals in the one bedroom residential suite, that also comes with a washer and dryer right by the entrance of the room. It is an important addition to the in-room amenities in the times we live in. The bathrooms are spacious, with rain showers, ensuite bath tubs and ample counter space. The housekeeping and hygiene standards of the hotel are faultlessly stellar and a top priority for them – the kitchen, living area, bedroom and bathroom looked as good as new every day of my stay and it was very impressive as cleanliness in a non-negotiable factor for me when booking a hotel. The one bedroom residential suite starts at THB 7886 per night including taxes, equivalent to INR 17,400 or USD 223 approximately. My room was a haven of peace and calm, where I could hear my own thoughts at my pace, through the blurred lines of reality, drinking my sweet Thai coffee with three shots of espresso – something I created to balance the dominant sweet flavour.

The breakfast at the Praya Kitchen is just the best, with every kind of food imaginable for a global palate. You can get in some cardio first thing in the morning just walking around the restaurant, getting your breakfast items, and there is nothing you could want at breakfast that they don’t have, including Indian. I used to look forward to going down to Praya on the third floor for breakfast every day. I loved their Truffle Scrambled Eggs, fresh coconut water, carrot juice and Thai milk coffee every morning. And I picked and grazed on other dishes. The soft and pillowy croissants were made from riceberry flour, a rice variety manmade in 2002 by the Rice Science Center at the Kasetsart University in Thailand, which is a cross breed of fragrant black rice and jasmine rice, resulting in a deep purple whole grain rice, also known as Forge Husband or Khao Leum Pua from the Tak province. Riceberry is rich in antioxidants, fibre and Omega 3 fats and is considered a Thai super grain. The Praya Kitchen’s buffet dinner, Thursday to Sunday, serves up delicious Thai street and Western food, from Som Tam salad, Yellow Thai curry with crabmeat, Pasta with Bamboo Shoot Beef Ragout, Ribeye Steak with Pepper Sauce, Beef Fried Rice in Chilli Oil, Goose liver foie gras to spicy Beef Chilly Thai style to fresh Phuket lobster and my favourite dessert, Tub Tim Grob. The Praya Kitchen is the busiest at breakfast and during the dinner buffet, but the attentive staff make it an absolute pleasure for every diner with their affable and responsive presence, every single time.

Hand-painted mural on the Praya Kitchen wall at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

The Infinity Pool, a good size for a city hotel, is on the 18th floor, with stunning views of the city during the day and at night. The Quan Spa too is on the same floor, as is the 24-hour gym and the kids clubroom. I loved the Aroma Fusion treatment with Rose Oil (a very healing and therapeutic blend) and my therapist was incredible. Interestingly, the oils used for the Aroma Fusion treatment are decided by the time of day – so given my time was mid-afternoon, I was prescribed the Rose Oil. The Muay Thai treatment, very popular with Thai boxers, is their signature therapy, which I will definitely try the next time I am in Bangkok.

The striking King Power Mahanakhon building is a short 13-minute walk away from the Marriott Surawongse, where you can go up to the 76th floor in a lift that takes you there in 47 seconds, and then get on another hydraulic glass lift that takes you to the 78th floor where you can walk all over Bangkok, on a glass tray, 314 metres above ground. Walking on glass is not as easy as walking on the ground people, and if you’re afraid of heights or glass cracking under your feet, it’s a no-go. I walked, but barely! The views from up there are breathtaking and so worth the fear of walking on glass, a terrifying thrill to say the least! Interestingly, the Thai name for Bangkok, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, is actually a short form of the capital’s full name, which is almost a sentence to describe the city than a name: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet. The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun temples are 15-minute cab rides away from the hotel, as is the Iconsiam shopping mall, with queues outside the Louis Vuitton and Hermes stores. The hotel also runs a complimentary regular shuttle van service to Sala Daeng BTS skytrain station for its guests. The Marriott Surawongse has a 101 Things To Do in and around the hotel in every room, which is a thoughtful cultural touch towards its guests. It’s a google concierge on paper that outlines the neighbourhood and Bangkok for you that’s rather helpful in a country where English is a conversational barrier.

Views of the pixelated, mixed-use skyscraper, Mahanakhon, from the infinity pool of the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse

Watching the sun go down on Bangkok from the Yao Rooftop Bar, Bangkok’s first Chinese influenced restaurant and bar, on the 33rd floor of the hotel will have you taking selfies against the stunning skyline with sweeping views of the Chao Praya river and the Mahanakhon, toasting your life. The bar is busy, the music heady and the menus are lit – they light up on touch and that’s a genius move because no one wants to read a menu full of Cantonese and Shanghainese delicacies in the dark. The retro Chinese themed Yao rooftop vibe is all about endless dumplings, dimsums and drinks, delicious living at its best, with a Thai summer breeze caressing your every move.

The hotel is situated diagonally across the privately-funded 101-year-old Neilson Hays Library, founded in 1869, that’s been designed in a neoclassical style by Italian architects, Mario Tamagno and Giovanni Ferrero. The library houses 20,000 books, with a variety of contemporary fiction and non-fiction, with new titles every month and it has one of the largest collections of English language titles in Bangkok. The library seeks to promote English literacy in the country and encourage a love for literature, particularly among younger generations. It is also the oldest non-profit organisation in Thailand and you can support it with 100THB to use the library’s facilities. It has events ranging from musical performances to cultural conversations for both children and adults. It has a cafe the same compound too, Palam Palam, which means “sweet taste” in Thai. The British Club of Bangkok, a private members’ Club on Thanon Surawong, founded in 1903 as a British businessmen and diplomats’ club, but has since developed over the past century to become a social, sports & cultural centre for the English-speaking community in Bangkok, is also a short walk from the hotel. The British Club organises tours on request.

This was an Eat, Sleep, Seek, Shoot and Spa trip to Thailand for me and the exemplary service at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse made it a flawlessly memorable experience.

Rubina’s Rating: 9/10

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©Rubina A Khan 2022

Writing My First Book, Adventures Through Covid, Grounded Me, Says Author Parris Fotias

Luxury and austerity, antithetical as they are, have never existed in the world as intimately as during the pandemic. Inexplicable, but true, like most things during this time. Parris Fotias, Regional Sales Director, Dorchester Collection hotels, was flying back home to Sydney from a work trip to Mumbai in February 2020 when COVID-19 hit, a nightmare that the world is yet to wake up from. His work life entailed checking in and out of airports and the most luxurious hotels in the world, including nine of the Dorchester Collection that have played architectural parts in films and Netflix series, and are stars in themselves. One cannot think of a London without The Dorchester and 45, Park Lane, Los Angeles without The Beverly Hills and the Bel Air, Paris sans the geranium dotted façade of The Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice, Italy without Hotel Eden Rome and Principe Di Savoia, or the beautiful English countryside without Coworth Park in Ascot. A confined Parris didn’t just work from home, he played from home too. He wrote a book – his first – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel In A Transcendental State that was published in July 2021. His ability to make people laugh in these times through his words, strung together like a bejeweled necklace of hilarious gems is literary art. Rather outré for a jet-setting luxury hotelier you might think, but not if you know Parris, who’s a contemporary Greek Coeus, with an enviable humour to match.

Rubina A Khan converses, albeit digitally, with the luxury hotelier and first time author, Parris Fotias in Sydney:

While the world was grappling with lockdowns, covid news and stagnation, you wrote a book – Adventures Through Covid: The Art of Subconscious Travel in a Transcendental State! How did the idea to write one in such bleak and dire times come by – whilst you were barbecuing at home in Sydney or in one of the umpteen hand-washing or shower sessions at home? 
To be completely honest, I never consciously set out to write a book. The idea to start writing was initially born upon my return to Australia on February 29th, 2020 from Mumbai, India, which as of writing, is still my last international trip. Throughout the month or March, as the severity of COVID-19 became apparent, I felt compelled to reach out to as many of my clients as possible, just to check in on their wellbeing. So, I started sending them a weekly email and by the beginning of April, this had somehow morphed into a Dear Diary episodic series. At first, I tried to keep each entry short and sweet, but then found I myself compelled to share my own frustrations at being grounded and in lockdown. I also began referencing many long forgotten travel journals, regaling my new found audience with anecdotes from past trips. By the time I realised what was happening, it was December and I had been writing for almost nine months.

Adventures Through Covid vacillates from sardonic to dry humour at its best, but your writing is authentic to each chapter. Is the humour an extension of your personality?
I think most who know me well would say that humour does play a big role in my life and that it is an extension of my personality. Not to say that I always try to be amusing, but more often than not, I do try and find the funny side of most things. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence”.

The situations in the book are real to your life in Australia, but the writing commingles beautifully with the fictional reactions to each odd hurdle created by the pandemic at your home and at work
One of the things I attempted to do was to make each entry relevant. I would pick a topic that had made an impression on me and would begin writing. I also tried to weave in personal experiences into the narrative that held relevance to what I was preaching about. I am just fortunate that I had enough entertaining tales that I could incorporate and keep the reader amused.

For someone who lived in and out of airports, traveling to some of the most glamorous cities in the world on work as the Regional Sales Director of the Dorchester Collection hotels, you have expressed your stifling existence very ably through your book. Was it a release to do so? Did the writing help you cope?
Absolutely! Writing has always been a passion of mine but one that I have neglected for many years. Being able to indulge and write again helped me forget about what was happening in the outside world for a while. Yet, it was far more than just a guilty pleasure, it was definitely cathartic. It became a form of therapy, allowing me to express my frustrations which then led to conversations and discussions. And, it also grounded me. The entire process allowed me to remember how very fortunate I have been to travel for a living and visit so many amazing destinations. It made me realise that travel is indeed a privilege and one that should never be taken for granted.

Travel is indeed a privilege. What did you abhor the most about your forced confinement in the first lockdown? 
The lack of spontaneity is what troubled me the most. Not being able to make that last-minute decision to head out to dinner or catch up with friends. We were definitely just existing day to day, and not living our lives during that period.

Who read the first draft of your book? And what did he/ she/ they say?
As I mentioned above, the concept was originally a Dear Diary email episodic series so, I would hasten to say that my clients were the ones who read the first draft of my book. They were the ones who encouraged me to keep on writing and by sharing their own tales and stories with me, inspired me to relive adventures that I had not thought about in years.

How come you decided to self-publish the book? With your stellar grasp on the language and your bereft-of-emotion prose (which is remarkable given you were low-key venting!) persuading the reader to keep turning the pages till the end, you should have got a publisher! 
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2021 that I even considered publishing Adventures Through Covid and so my rationale at the time was simple. This pandemic would be done and dusted by the middle of the year. As mine is a topical story relating to the pandemic, I needed to fast track the process and get my book published as quickly as possible before everyone got on with their lives and forgot about COVID-19. So I decided to self-publish. Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten a publisher!

What is your favourite part about the writing process? Did you write a page everyday? Was there a method to the creation of the chapters?
That is a tough question. I would say that what I loved the most was when I was able to incorporate an anecdote or memory from my past, into whatever topic I was waxing lyrical on that particular week, making it relevant to others. It was a weekly diary entry so I would write every week. Sometimes I would get an idea at the start of the week and would work on it a little every day. Other times, I would struggle to come up with a relevant topic and would have to write everything on a Friday morning which is when I tended to send it out to clients.

Has writing the book been the most satisfactory aspect of life in the lockdown? 
I won’t lie, writing and publishing a book was a personal milestone that was extremely satisfactory – something that I have always wanted to accomplish. Yet I always abide by the saying that one must make your favourite experience your next one. To this point, I found so much joy in creating new memories with my family during lockdown. This included tuning in, singing & dancing to Hot Dub Time Machine – the world’s first Time Travelling DJ every Saturday night, and preparing Sunday lunch where we would head outside and spend a few hours, forgetting about the world for a while.

Who were you reading whilst writing your book? And who are some of your preferred authors right now?
My favourite authors include Christos Tsiolkas, Anne Rice & Jeffrey Eugenides, although I will say that I normally read whilst travelling. I also enjoy a lot of non-fiction and during the writing process I was reading Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century by American journalist Josh Rogin, which is both fascinating and terrifying.

Have you travelled since the release of the book in July 2021 and where? What feels like the most freeing aspect of life today?
I have only made two trips since the release of the book in mid-2021. One was a work trip to Melbourne at the end of 2021 and the other was a weekend away just a few weeks ago in January 2022 to the Southern Highlands to attend my cousins 50th Birthday party. But since mid February, I am back to travelling regularly for work, new variants withstanding of course. The most freeing aspect of life today is being able to visit friends, family and clients without too many restrictions. And, being able to head out to the amazing restaurants and bars that we have in Sydney.

From writing press releases for the Dorchester Collection Group to publishing your first book in the thick of the lockdown when everyone was at breaking point, you need to write another book this year given the pandemic rages on… what do you think? 
One never knows!  Now that I have whet my writing appetite, the skies the limit.

Adventures Through Covid is available to purchase on Amazon

©Rubina A Khan 2022

CNBC: Secret Escapes Gets $60M Backing Led By Google

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Sunset on Velaa Private Island, Maldives by Rubina A Khan / Getty Images

©Rubina A Khan 2015