An iconic hotel bids farewell before returning in a different but familiar form.
How often do hotels organise events to celebrate their closing down? None that I know of, yet the iconic Dusit Thani Bangkok, during its 49th and final year of operation, did just that for all of 2018, right up until its last day of operation on the 5th of January 2019.
I’m one of a multitude of Bangkok residents who remember when the 23-floor, 82-metre Dusit Thani Bangkok was still the tallest building in the city, a distinction maintained from 1970, the year it opened, until 1987, when 151-metre Baiyoke Tower grabbed the title. The latter was eventually eclipsed by Baiyoke Tower II (304 metres) and more recently the King Power Maha Nakhon (315 metres).
Built on Crown Property Bureau land once occupied by the home of Chao Phraya Yommarat, the Dusit was the first modern luxury hotel in the country both owned and operated by Thais. Famed for having the most Thai ambience and service of any of the city’s major hotels, it also earned a reputation for innovation and imagination. In 1977, the hotel opened Bubbles, Bangkok’s first high-end discotheque, whose glittering glass dance floor quickly became a favoured spot for Thai celebrities and international DJs. Meanwhile, Mayflower, the hotel’s legendary Chinese restaurant, served as an important gathering spot for Thai politicos and their families.
For the last night of Dusit’s operation, I took a room on the 12th floor, just to bid the grand old dame farewell. During the two days I spent knocking around the fabled grounds, with its waterfall terrace, hexagonal swimming pool and other landmark features, I was impressed not only by the pomp and nostalgia but by the strong sense of pride and solidarity the staff, parting guests, and last-day visitors shared.
Brought in to oversee the transition as general manager, Titiya Xuto says that her most important task was to close the hotel as a legend and “not as a tired old dog or a property that needs to go away.”
Despite being only a year away from shutting its doors forever, Xuto invested in new staff uniforms and other upgrades to the hotel. “We wanted to show the world that yes, we need to go away in order to come back stronger, but we will leave with a standing ovation and bow out with grace and elegance,” she says.
Every month of the final year saw a different special event, culminating in a grand New Year’s Eve party called Journey Across Time, referencing both the end of the year transition and the Dusit Thani Bangkok’s enduring 49-year history.
As for the future, the hotel will reincarnate on the same spot with a completely new Dusit Thani Bangkok, one that will stand taller than the original but reduce the number of rooms from 517 to 250 in order to bring up the luxury standards as high as possible.
Over a period of several months before the original structure is razed, a team of art scholars under the direction of 20 professors from Silpakorn University’s Fine Arts Department is surveying the interior to collect and preserve all the most unique pieces of art and architectural details so that they can be displayed in the new Dusit Thani Bangkok. “We want the new hotel to be modern and relevant technology-wise,” says Xuto, “But at the same time we want to maintain and preserve the essence of the original hotel so that when people return to Dusit Thani Bangkok in four years, they’ll recognise it.”
The roof of the new hotel will sport a recreated version of the original hotel’s iconic golden spire, and the hotel will be built closer to Rama IV Road so that every room has a view of Lumpini Park. Sharing the plot—which will be expanded from 19 to 23 rai—will be a mixed-use project that includes residences, offices, and retail space.
During the construction, some of the 300 remaining staff members will be rotated to other properties while nearby on Soi Sala Daeng, a new enterprise called Dusit House will offer a bakery, restaurant, and catering services so that loyal customers can continue to enjoy favourite dishes from the original hotel’s many dining outlets.