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

Mumbai’s Realty Buys On A High | Gulf News

One of the world’s most desirable real estate markets, Mumbai, is open for business in the new world. But, is anyone really interested in buying anything aside from essentials, groceries, masks and maybe some peace of mind under clear blue skies and warm, aureate sunshine right now? Yes, they are – and they’re buying real estate, not Chanel! Well, Chanel masks to be honest, not couture.

Mumbai’s realty buys are on a momentous high, never mind all the financial despondency that’s engulfing the world. Who are these cash-on-deck people with the flux of money that are buying in such an indeterminable financial climate? Not whimsical buyers for sure, as the realty business is no place for fiscal braggadocio or investment buys right now. People who have been on the market for a buy are closing deals swiftly, as are the indecisive fencers. And why ever would they not, given apartments in Worli in South Mumbai are selling at INR 6.2 CR today versus the initial asking price of INR 9.5 CR, and a 10 CR apartment is available for a negotiable INR 8.5 CR and new developments are being offered, and purchased, at INR 9.5 CR from the original price of INR 15CR in midtown Mumbai? Incredulous, but true.

“Buy land, they’re not making it anymore,” said author and humourist Mark Twain and that holds true for Mumbai’s realty buyers of high-rises built on land, and reclaimed land. During Covid19, buyers are seeking balconies and private terraces that are the new amenities today, instead of gyms and swimming pools, and if a luxe apartment has either, it’s a singing deal straight to the bank. Photographs, virtual tours and a final show-around – when everything is almost set in stone between the realtor and the buyer – but not without seriously vetting of the buyer prior – is the new order of the realty business in Mumbai.

One of the primary reasons for the astounding spike in buys is the sharp reduction in the stamp duty levied on the sales of apartments from 5% to 2% from September 1 to December 31, 2020 and 3% from January 1 to March 31, 2021 by the Maharashtra state government, as a relief measure for the real estate, commercial transport, agriculture and fisheries sector, that have been hard-hit by the lockdown over the past six months, and counting. Otherwise, the stamp duty in the state is 5% and 4% in urban and rural areas respectively, apart from the 1% surcharge in urban areas and 1% zila parishad cess in rural areas. Investors offloading their inventories in developments that they had bought high in, is also adding to the dramatic depreciation in prices across Mumbai as they’re being compelled to sell low, strengthening the buyer’s position furthermore. Mumbai’s realty business is no longer a simple or a compound process, but a variable, with only one constant that it is a buyer’s market, and has been for a while now. 

Luxury rentals too, both residential and commercial, have seen a stark downswing of 20-30% reductions in the city. Residential properties going for INR 2,50,000 per month pre-Covid19 are available for INR 1,60,000 per month and a 2000 square feet commercial space on Marine Drive that commanded INR 6,50,000 per month will in all likelihood find it difficult to get even INR 4,00,000 today given the negligible human footfall in the largely residential sea-facing block.

The Kala Ghoda area in downtown Mumbai commanded fashionably high commercial rents pre Covid19 for the last decade ever since fashion designer Sabyasachi opened his flagship store in 2010. Up until then, Kala Ghoda was an arts and museum nucleus, but Sabyasachi’s arrival inadvertently turned it into Mumbai’s fashion precinct with every fashion label in India opening shop here. Despite the high rents, some adjusted, some not, designers are still holding on to their stores because of the business of Indian weddings and in a bid to stay relevant on the fashion marquee, all the while keeping the rental business in the area brisk and sharp. A 1500 square feet store here, at the end of Rampart Row towards Lion Gate, was upwards of INR 3,50,000 and is now available for INR 2,00,000 and a INR 10,00,000 per month commercial space can be rented for INR 7,00,000. Rental deposits that were upwards of six months or more are now at a flexible three months odd and the lock-in period too has gone from a standard three years to a variable one or two.

Realtors in Mumbai have struck gold during the last six months of the lockdown as compared to the past financial year because of the collapsing prices and the reduced stamp duty that is acting as an incentive, enabling and accelerating the buys. The demand for ready homes versus under-development / under-construction properties is predominant. The recent demolition of actress Kangana Ranaut’s property in Mumbai on the grounds of illegal construction within 24 hours of giving her notice of the same (the case is in the Bombay High Court) has further deterred under-construction sales. No one is willing to risk the bulldozers of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for any irregularities in their homes and prefer MahaRERA and BMC compliant properties with all the legalities in place.

With the grand realty depreciations, temptation to buy low and rent lower is rife in the city where there’s more sea than land. To quote Shakespeare, “I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground.”

This feature first appeared in Gulf News on October 2nd, 2020

©Rubina A Khan 2020