By Sarah Kantrowitz
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(Travel + Leisure) -- Four small hotels are setting the standard for a more intimate -- and affordable --experience in the frenetic Thai capital.
The look: Hidden on a small residential street in the Old City, this quaint four-story hotel abuts the Chao Phraya river and offers views of Wat Arun, the 19th-century Temple of the Dawn, from its open lobby.
The scene: Diplomats and Thai professionals arrive at the Deck, the hotel's bi-level French-Thai restaurant, for cocktails at sunset, then stay for flavorful dishes such as rice vermicelli with prawns and chiles.
The rooms: Four guest rooms -- each named for a local flower -- have futon beds and glass French doors. The only suite has a private terrace.
The amenities: Arun's space may be spare, but its price can't be beat; we don't mind living without an alarm clock and in-room safe when there's such a genial staff -- and those refreshing glasses of freshly squeezed mango juice upon arrival.
Dirty secret: Call ahead for directions -- most taxi drivers have never heard of the Arun or the small soi on which it's situated.
Nice surprise: The daybreak wake-up calls: roosters crowing, the swish of water taxis and river barges, and the sound of prayers rising from nearby wats.
36--38 Soi Pratoo Nok Yoong, Maharat Rd., Rattanakosin Island; 66-2/221-9158; www.arunresidence.com; doubles from $80.
Baan Thai Wellness Retreat
The look: Five 18th-century teak houses transported from Ayutthaya -- the ancient Thai capital -- create a blissfully shaded 21-room hideaway in the center of the city.
The scene: Fitness mavens and holistic spa-goers love the package deal, which includes meals, a daily spa treatment, and an in-room Thai cooking lesson.
The rooms: Opt for a spa suite with an outdoor massage table, full kitchen and sitting area, or stay above the open-air yoga pavilion and unwind to the soothing sounds of afternoon vinyasas.
The amenities: Choose your spa treatments from a full slate of services. The 50-minute Divine Shirodhara rubdown is thought to cure headaches and reenergize the senses.
Dirty secret: We love the healthful spa-style Thai cuisine, but give yourself time to find the restaurant: the labyrinth of walkways can be more frustrating than relaxing.
Nice surprise: Traditional Thai art is displayed everywhere, from the ornately carved entrance gate to the stone Buddha sculptures beside the three curved pools.
7 Soi Sukhumvit 32; 66-2/258-5403; www.thebaanthai.com; three-night packages from $770 per person, double.
The look: Eastern colonial grandeur meets African game-lodge chic at this old-world hotel. Animal skins and trophies decorate the walls, brass light fixtures are imported from India, and the smiling staff stands at the ready.
The scene: Media tycoons and local fashionistas check out the turquoise pool from the adjacent bar and restaurant.
The rooms: Most of the 12 rooms have four-poster beds and antique wooden desks. Framed vintage maps adorn the periwinkle walls.
The amenities: The Thai-style turndown service includes a fragrant jasmine candle burning on the nightstand.
Dirty secret: Aluminum and copper bathtubs are fancy but work better in theory than in practice -- keep a few towels on the floor to prevent a dangerous fall.
Nice surprise: Forget the rickety tuk-tuks; chauffeurs will take guests anywhere in Bangkok in the hotel's eclectic vintage fleet, which includes a 1970 Daimler limousine, a 1958 Mercedes Ponton and a 1965 S-Type Jaguar.
267 Soi Sukhumvit 31, North Klongtan, Wattana; 66-2/259-9011; www.theeugenia.com; doubles from $165.
The look: Echoing the modern-Oriental style of the nearby Metropolitan hotel, the newest arrival off Silom Road is white-hot, with a glossy bi-level entrance and 13 silver and slate-accented rooms.
The scene: Gen Xers stretch out on the lobby couches to read Lonely Planet guidebooks and Australian fashion magazines while using the free Wi-Fi.
The rooms: Request room No. 12, a junior suite with sliding glass doors, a state-of-the-art sound system, and outsize sofa (only $120).
The amenities: We love the iconic teak-barrel soaking tubs and waterfall showers.
Dirty secret: Room service could have been snappier, to avoid soggy eggs and toast.
Nice surprise: Hit the simple Thai massage parlor next door, or the open-air market just a two-minute walk east on Surawong Road.
6/11 Decho Rd., Bangruk; 66-2/635-8800; www.staywithluxx.com; doubles from $90.
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Copyright 2006 American Express Publishing Corporation . All rights reserved.
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