A riverside antiquarian masterpiece
1620/2 Song Wat Road (inside Wat Pathum Khongka), Bangkok T: (02) 639 1390 , (089) 133 1131
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On a Chinatown back street, a hand-painted sign hangs lopsided from a tree along the footpath that fronts an ancient wat. It leads us past the temple’s chedis and monks’ quarters, into a narrow alley where a couple of kids play with a shaggy dog. Here, tucked along the Chao Phraya River in a restored century-old teak wood house, we find our dream hotel: Loy La Long.
We’re first greeted by a neighbourhood woman who washes dishes while relaxing on her porch beside the hotel’s unassuming frontage. Pointing next door, she says “Loy La Long” with a cool smile. Go ahead, say it out loud — loy la long. The soothing ring of the name is a sign of what’s to come.
When we ring the door bell, a soft-spoken man appears wearing loose-fitting, traditional Thai pants to go with bare feet and a T-shirt. His calm demeanour seems so distant from the pulsing energy that encompasses much of Bangkok. It makes us wonder, “was that alley a wormhole that shot us back 100 years in time?”
Setting foot on dark brown timber planks in the hotel’s open-air lobby that once served as a small fish sauce factory, we’re treated to the same distinctive grace that caused Jim Thompson to fall in love with Thai culture six decades ago. It’s an everyday sort of elegance we’ve experienced in places like Amphawa and along the canals of Thonburi, but this is the first we’ve come across it in such an unforced way at a hotel in Bangkok proper.
A narrow flight of stairs carries us into a living room that begs us to ditch all plans, sit back and “let it be, let it go, let it flow” (the hotel’s slogan). Grass mats, floor cushions and a ukulele are punctuated by colourful portraits and a flatscreen TV. Wood shelves are occupied by thought-provoking books, board games, DVDs and old framed black-and-whites of the Thai king and queen. Natural light shines through wide doors that open on to a veranda perched directly over the river.
Another flight of stairs leads us to a second common space, this time centered around a sturdy wooden table with space for 10 to enjoy a shared meal. While we appreciate the floor cushions on the veranda downstairs, a rocking chair on this third-floor terrace — perhaps accompanied by a good book and pot of tea — is the stuff travel daydreams are made of.
Each designed to the tune of a different colour, the seven rooms are scattered across two floors. All are unique — some big, some small, some with private decks and hammocks, some without. If you can afford it, the ‘black’ room bags you a large window that’s placed just over the surface of the river. Water lapping beneath the teakwood floorboards will either lull you to sleep or keep you awake, depending on how light a sleeper you are.
The ‘green’ and ‘blue’ editions also boast wide river views and paintings that reflect both a modern edge and a tip of the hat to old-style Thailand. Smaller, cheaper and situated along the side of the building but still in sight of the river, the ‘orange’, ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ are no less stylish. The airy ‘white’ features four navy blue single beds across a series of lofts that can be collectively rented out as one big family room or partitioned into shared dorm space. All rooms are equipped with air-con, flatscreen TV, fridge, safe, hot water and WiFi.
In the romantic ‘red’ room, a double bed is tucked on a platform beneath a slanted ceiling, and a red door opens to a small private balcony. Maroon velvet curtains separate the bathroom from sleeping space, which is the case in several other rooms as well. While the lack of a proper door between bed and toilet could be a turnoff for some, the bathrooms sure are classy.
Rates go up by 500 baht during the peak months of December and January, but even then, this is exceptional value — not only for the exquisite design and intimate setting but also the in-room extras and overall comfort. In all seriousness, and even if money were no object, we’d happily choose a room at Loy La Long over those at any of the big five-star hotels downriver that start at around 12,000 baht a night.
As for location, Loy La Long isn’t the most convenient choice in the city, but it could very well be the most interesting. It’s situated within the grounds of Wat Pathum Khongka. Yes, you read that right, this is a wooden guesthouse within a Thai temple over the Chao Phraya River in Chinatown. If that isn’t one of a kind, we don’t know what is.
A stay at Loy La Long involves swapping the convenience of Bangkok’s mainstream attractions for the back alleys of Chinatown, but the latter have their own distinct appeal — the street eating around here is great and the excellent Samsara riverside restaurant is just upriver (five minutes on foot). The hotel also offers a small cafe serving Thai and Western staples to go with a range of beverages.
If you need to get into the rest of the city, both Hualamphong train station and MRT are 15 minutes away on foot, and the Ratchawong Express Boat pier is closer. Not surprisingly, Loy La Long is often full — advanced bookings are essential.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 3rd February, 2016.