As I type this, I’m sitting on a high-sided, wooden sofa. The throw pillows are faded, tasseled and beaten to a soft, desirable poof. To my left is the Bangkok Noi Canal, a trafficked tributary of the Chao Phraya. Every few minutes, a macchinal, purring growl announces a longtail boat, and I whip out my camera and assume the position.
To my right is Mai. She’s watering the 20 citrus plants that create a wall along one side of this open-air, Thai house. Her little feet announce her too, and whenever she comes towards me, she has something. Cold water and an English lesson. “Na Yen means cold water,” she says. Another time, it’s buttery, greasy, delicious toast. A third it’s an invite to meet her colorful fighting fish. One is called Stefan, named for a German tourist who once visited.
This is the Siamotif, a boutique hotel I spotted last July on a longtail boat tour that I took with a friend around the canals of Bangkok. I snapped a photo of the sign and vowed to come back.
Back I’ve come.
The original portion dates to the 1940s. The floors in this section are stained nearly black and are as soft as snakeskin against your bare feet. This was Mai’s father’s home. Two years ago, she renovated, expanded and created the 8-room, guesthouse hotel. She hired a local art professor to paint the rooms. The newest section, meetings the river’s edge, has a brighter, amber-colored wood. Rattan chairs are clean and mid-century against her carefully arranged banana plants and frangipani.
Our room has a ladder to a roof terrace, where the only furnishings are leather bean bag chairs to flop and watch the river. Flop and watch. Flop and watch. That’s the idea. Disconnect and sweetly be with yourself. Sip some Na Yen.
Boutique hotels are my favorite hotels.
Siamotif certainly tops the ever-growing list … mostly because Mai made me feel at home away from home. Here are several others I’ve found in traveling.
The Grand Excelsior Vittoria
Best Part: Epic views all the way to Naples are easy to come by. Simply step out from your room onto the terrace at this mansion-turned-hotel, established in 1834. It’s the third oldest, family-owned hotel in all of Europe, and it harbors a Michelin-star restaurant called Bosquet, too.
The Prijeko Palace
Full Confession: I only toured and didn’t get to stay in this tiny, art-filled hotel. But I did have three meals at Stara Loza, their restaurant on the roof over looking the tiles of the town. Get the Octopus Gnocchi.
The Holy Shit Moment: When you realize for less than $150 per night, you are steps from the ocean in South Beach and that one of the world’s most acclaimed craft cocktail bars – The Broken Shaker – is attached to your hotel. It’s right by the garden, just north of the swimming pool. This place is a miracle in Miami. For only $35, you can also book a hostel room with other humans in it.
Galle, Sri Lanka
A History Professor’s Dream: The first portion was opened in 1684 and was completed in 1715. The place features 33 suites, where golden light crawls through the louvered wooden shutters in the mornings and monkeys play in the trees outside. The staff is boisterous, gregarious and up for any request. Warning. It’s not cheap to stay here. It’s roughly $1,000 per night. But! You can always enjoy the veranda for tea, book a spa treatment or have a fantastic, Sri Lankan dinner without spending too much.
Song Saa Private Island
The Koh Rong Archipelago, Cambodia
Their Slogan Is: Luxury that treads lightly. The owners are an Australian couple, who purchased these two islands and immediately began restoring the over-fished reefs around them. They lobbied the government, and this became Cambodia’s first designated Marine Park. They have also worked with the neighboring islands to implement gardens and waste removal systems. You cannot visit without booking one of the 27 villas. However, last time I checked Google, you could actually buy a 3-bedroom here with an infinity pool for $600,000. You can’t get a closet for that much in New York City.
The Titilaka Lodge
Lake Titicaca, Peru
It’s In the Middle Of Nowhere: You’ll first need to get to Puno, Peru – a town that looks like it fell straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. You know the scene. It’s about 3 minutes prior to someone being murdered in a dive bar … by having his face shoved into a bucket of stolen cocaine. After you reach Puno, you drive and you drive and you drive down a dirt track. Bounce, bounce. You can’t breathe. You’re currently at 13,500 feet, high in the Andes. But, oh, it’s worth it. The 18 rooms and central restaurant, decks and lounging areas are stunningly appointed in art and woven, Bolivian textiles, carved wooden furnishings and massive windows facing the lake. It’s the edge of nowhere, and it’s the most serene place I’ve ever been. They also have a nurse on staff with oxygen tanks. You really do struggle to breathe your first night here.
The Ludlow Hotel
New York City, New York
New York Insider Tip: The lobby Wi-Fi is free. The lobby coffee is free. And, it’s just goddamn darling in the sunny, glassed atrium. There’s a roaring fire in winter, squishy leather couches year-round, and an attached restaurant called Dirty French. Get the French Dip sandwich. While, I’ve never ever stayed in the rooms, I seem to partially live in this hotel. If you need me and you cannot find me, I’m likely at The Ludlow.
The Cabochon Hotel & Residence
You Can Also Live Here: It will set you back around $4,000 per month for a two bedroom. That’s pretty steep for Bangkok, but it might be worth it. There’s a rooftop pool. The room designs are ripped from Page 38 of a Restoration Hardware catalog. The price per night? Only $120! DEFINITELY a bargain. The lobby is lovable. A mini prop plane dangles from the ceiling. Curio cases are filled with bones and maps and binoculars. There’s various Indiana-Jones-Was-Here type stuff everywhere. It’s also less than a block to Quince – one of the city’s best cocktail bar/restaurants – and to Sing Sing Theater, a nightclub designed by famed artist, Ashley Sutton.
**All photos on this blog are courtesy of the hotels or my iPhone.