Everyone speaks fondly of Thai hospitality. And, to be honest, it’s true. We’ve stayed in some of the country’s best hotels and have been ‘sawàt dii khaa-ed’ ad nauseum, and been handed so many lemongrass-scented cold towels that Mrs Smith has started worrying about her personal hygiene. But, on our way to the new Metropolitan by Como, Bangkok, we couldn’t help but wonder how the relentlessly warm and friendly Thais would deal with the Met group’s famously aloof, urbane cool.
At the moment, if our taxi driver’s reticence is anything to go by, no one seems to know where the hotel actually is. He turns into the Metropolitan’s private driveway, treating the manoeuvre as though it’s the most difficult in Bangkok driving, and then stops suddenly. ‘Met Bar!’ he exclaims surprisedly.
Arriving at the Metropolitan feels like pulling up at a private club. The hotel’s front-of-house staff have the air of doormen and, as we approach the lobby, we’re half-expecting our entry to be barred with a curt, ‘Sorry, private party.’ Thankfully, all we hear is a ‘Good afternoon, sir, madam. Checking in?’ We are ushered through the sleek lobby, which is a wonderfully light and airy space, with a distinctly – and this is the last time you’ll hear this phrase, I promise – East-meets-West vibe, courtesy of designer Kathryn King, who has created the look of boutiques for fashion luminaries such as Miyake, Dior and Armani. It shows. Even the staff sport Comme des Garçons.
We are escorted to our Studio Room, while our baggage goes up via the staff elevator – a thoughtful touch often overlooked by even the best hotels. We’re impressed. Our first impression of the room is that it’s spacious, comfortable and stylishly understated, with only a use of teak and Thai silk pillows to hint at what city we’re in. Most design-conscious hotels, we’ve found, are a little on the uncomfortable side – the kind of places you don’t even want to unpack your bags for fear of soiling the ambience. It’s the opposite here. This is the sort of room that makes you want to hang our shirts on the wooden hangers, put your toiletries bags on the marble bench in the bathroom, throw on the soft bathrobes, raid the minibar and get comfy on the enormous lounges.
We overlook the lack of champagne in the otherwise well-stocked minibar, as some green tea is brought to our door, swiftly followed by a plate of fragrant exotic fruits. The two ripe mangos practically beg to be eaten, and Mrs Smith and I munch our way through them as we walk around, admiring every detail of the room. Our stream-of-consciousness conversation goes something along the lines of ‘Oh my God, these toiletries smell divine! I must go to the spa! Hey look, they have a CD collection! Why would anyone order Radiohead from room service?’
I retire to the gym – a squeaky-clean space with plenty of state-of-the-art torture machines – while Mrs Smith heads to the pool, a beautiful, 20-metre outdoor affair that leaves you without a legitimate excuse for not doing a lap or two between cocktails. Apart from being in full sight of all the guests waiting for taxis by the front entrance, that is… To access the pool and gym, you have to walk through one of the hotel’s restaurants, Glow, a ‘fresh-food only’ eatery adjacent to the spa. The name seems particularly applicable to me as I cross the floor – I feel like apologising to the diners for my sweat-soaked appearance as I pass.
After a brilliant dinner at the hotel restaurant, we approach the famed Met Bar with trepidation. And, as expected, we’re asked if we are staying in the hotel. Once inside, though, Thai hospitality kicks in, and we’re greeted by a group ‘sawàt dii!’ from the staff. It’s a little on the empty side, but we don’t care. So long as the smooth lychee martinis keep on coming.
The next morning we hit the shops, stopping for lunch at restaurant Another Greyhound for Italian with a Thai twist – East meets West, you could say; but I promised I wouldn’t. Later, after penance in the pool, we walk to the Night Market, a couple of blocks from the hotel. We find some Thai boxing shorts for a pugilistic nephew, and then turn our attention to the food stalls. It’s all a bit underwhelming. Hygiene levels are questionable, and neither Mrs Smith nor I fancy sitting down for dinner next to tourists knocking back beer from mini kegs on the table.
It may be 9.30pm, but we decide to call one of the restaurants recommended by our concierge. Five minutes later – ‘Come now, come as you are!’ – we’re sipping heady ginger and fig martinis at stylishly low-key Eat Me. The twice-cooked duck and the foie gras with scallops are sensational, as are the service and ambience, and we immediately hit it off with the owner Darren. It’s entirely his fault that several hours and far too many chocolate vodkas later, we end up having to take a taxi back to the hotel – despite the fact it’s only a few minutes’ walk away.
We’re a little on the tired and emotional side the following morning, so it’s wonderful that the breakfast staff remember our coffee order and room number, and take us to our ‘usual table’. Impressive. As Mrs Smith and I tuck into our haul from the beautifully presented buffet, we reflect on how breakfast is pretty much the only time we get to see the other guests. They’re an intriguing bunch. We can’t figure out what they do for a living, or whether they’re here for business or pleasure. They’re just like the hotel, in fact: charismatic, enigmatic, slightly aloof and endlessly fascinating.