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Relaxed Luxury: Sala Bang Pa-In, Thailand

It has been quite a while since we have written about a property that piqued our interest. Well, we are happy to say that the wait is over as a very worthy contender has just emerged on the Thai hospitality scene. We must say that it always brings joy to our hearts and minds when we see properties reflecting the rich cultural heritage or historical backgrounds in their designs. However, an even bolder approach of breaking away from this tradition may sometimes yield even more curious results.

This seems to be precisely the case with sala bang pa-in, a new hotel designed by the Bangkok-based Department of ARCHITECTURE Co. and taking over the tip of a small island in the Chao Phraya River. Instead of focusing on Thailand’s ancient capital’s envelope-pushing design, this property prefers to pay tribute to contemporary village life. ‘The architecture pays homage to the houses in the surrounding area,’ says architect Twitee Vajrabhaya, principal at Bangkok-based studio Department of ARCHITECTURE Co., who spearheaded the project. ‘Not to the traditional Thai dwellings from the past, but to the contemporary vernacular buildings around.’

The hotel’s entrance blends perfectly with the village that looks authentically local: a ragtag jumble of teakwood, low-pitched rooflines, and clustered houses in all shapes and sizes. The lobby building, the only part of the hotel located uniquely on the mainland, takes after the surrounding houses, which makes it hard for the guests to understand where the village stops and sala bang pa-in begins. From here, a crimson red bridge leads guests across the water. ‘This red bridge, seemingly very distinct in its color, actually blends into the village,’ Vajrabhaya says. ‘It speaks the same language as its colorful context and bridges the new architecture with the local tone and culture.’

Sprinkled on both sides of the island tip, the 24 rooms and villas occupy buildings of various heights and positioning, so that the whole complex does not look or feel artificial. Some come with private plunge pools, others feature cozy wooden patios overlooking the river. While their exteriors are purposely varying, the inside looks are more uniform: whitewashed brick and blonde wood furnishing, highlighted by Thai ceramics and textile wall paneling.

The rather edged design of the triangular courtyard between the rooms is mildly softened by curved pathways and flourishing gardens. In the center of it all, a giant rain tree — lovingly taken care of during the construction process — anchors a seating pit overlooking the river and the welcoming communal swimming pool. Round steppingstones make a path to the restaurant that stretches down to the riverbank. The day starts with sets of dim sum, Thai noodle soup, or banana pancakes, later giving way to goong mae nam, the giant local river prawns.

Overall, sala bang pa-in seems to be a perfect choice for those of us looking to emerge themselves into an authentically local environment while enjoying all the fruits of modernity. While there surely are lots of properties all around the world that would fit such a description, this particular hotel deserves a mention as one breaking away from the tradition of honoring the locale’s historical background and paying attention to the vernacular culture of the day instead.

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