The Dusit Thani Hotel: a reflection of 1960s Thai pride
For a long time, the Dusit Thani Bangkok, at the corner of Silom and Rama IV roads, was the most striking skyscraper in Bangkok’s landscape. For decades it was the highest building and one of the best hotels. But the clock is ticking and the end is near for this prestigious property.
When it officially opened in 1969, the Dusit Thani was the talk in town. “At that time, structures in Bangkok were mostly two or three storey buildings,” recalls Chanin Donavanik, Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Dusit International. “The highest structure rarely exceeded six or eight floors. But my mother, Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui, wanted to represent the best of Thailand and also herald a new era for our country. She fought with architects to be sure that our property would turn into an icon. In fact, she was inspired for the height of our property by Wat Arun on the Chao Praya River—another high-rise structure which is another icon, of course of another time and with another purpose.”
The hotel had to be a true reflection of Thailand’s essence; a contemporary icon with a twist of local wisdom and design. The Japanese firm Kanko Kikaku Sekkeisha, a famed team of architects in the world of tourism, conceived the design of the property. In Southeast Asia, the company built not only the Dusit Thani Bangkok, but also the Federal Hotel in Kuala Lumpur (1968), the Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La in Singapore (1971), the Century Park Hotel in Manila (1977), the Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur (1985), the Shangri-La Bangkok (1986), the Shangri-La in Surabaya (1995), the Traders Hotel in Yangon (1996), and the Hilton/Meridien twin hotels in Kuala Lumpur (2006).
Construction of the Bangkok property began in 1967. It was soft-opened in 1969, before its official opening in 1970. With a height of 82 metres (100 metres including the spire), and 21 floors above ground, the hotel was—for over 15 years (up to the mid 1980s)—the tallest structure in the Thai capital. It also became the first Thai five-star hotel in the Kingdom.
“The triangle shape of the hotel, the spire evoking a chedi, the use of wood, the gold coated and green mosaics, and the ogive-style windows were all reflecting our Thai culture,” explains Chanin. Walking in the garden today, with its waterfall and triangle-shaped canopies, illustrates how the tropical modern style of that time could match with the desire to exhibit an architectural ‘Thainess’.
The hotel was not only a new landmark for the capital it was also a landmark for the tourism industry. The hotel pioneered five-star hospitality, inspired by authentic Thai values, and ushered in a new era of tourism for the city—revolutionizing dining, entertainment, and even the way people organized wedding receptions in the process. The hotel was not only visited during official events by the members of the Royal Family, but also the place to be seen for celebrities, whether political or from the world of the arts. The Dusit Thani Bangkok welcomed Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Jackie Chan, Jay Chou, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tom Jones, among a long series of personalities.
“My most vivid memory is about Deng Xiao Ping, the Chinese leader,” Chanin remembers. “He had such a clear vision about the future of China when he spoke about it. I was totally impressed.”
How many guests have stayed at the Dusit Thani until now? “Difficult to say but one of our employees has made a hobby out of the counting of our guests. And he told me that we saw, over the past 48 years, some 30 million people,” Chanin goes on to say.
A few of the Dusit Thani staff who started working with the hotel from its opening are still active, and many have a career spanning 25 to 30 years. “Many told me that they will quit with the closure of the hotel next year”, added the Vice Chairman. Sadly, the days of the hotel are already numbered. In April of 2018 the hotel will close its doors and be demolished.
“I am sad about this but we must think about the future of our hotel,” Chanin admits. “We used to incarnate the best of Thailand for 25 to 30 years, but the opening of new luxury hotels has made our business difficult. We have troubles to attract the younger generation which finds our hotel old-fashioned. Despite renovations, we cannot compete anymore with upcoming properties. We thought a lot about ways to reconstruct the hotel, and keep the structure, but this is almost an impossible task. And even if we managed, our 50-year old property could still not compete with other brand new hotels, as the constraints attached to the architecture would remain. Best is to demolish and construct something new.”
However, Dusit Thani promises to bring again the best of Bangkok and to once again become an icon.
“We will again be a true reflection of Thai values and culture,” says the Vice Chairman. “We will try to keep as much as we can the pieces of art created fifty years ago, as well as some architecture details. We will, for example, transfer all the sculpted pieces of wood and bas reliefs of the current structure to the future Sukhothai restaurant. And we will try to replant, as much as possible, the trees from our garden.”
In 2022, the new Dusit Thani will open its doors. And it should open a brand new era for the Dusit Thani hospitality group and tourism in Bangkok in general. The 60s structure will have disappeared, but not its original spirit.
Other 60s Style Hotels in Bangkok
Few 1960s style hotels in Bangkok can still be seen today, and only the Dusit Thani is considered a five-star property. All the other hotels from that time are mostly two to three and a half star properties.
NARAI HOTEL: Until the opening of the Dusit Thani, this was the highest building on Silom Road. It was opened in 1968 and retains its typical sixties architecture.
INDRA REGENT HOTEL: Opened in 1971, this gigantic structure could do with a much needed renovation, but back then it represented a new style of property—as it integrated, under one roof, a hotel, shopping mall, theatre, and department store.
FLORIDA HOTEL: A simple property dating from the late sixties, the hotel is a two-star property which used to welcome GIs during the Vietnam War.
By Luc Citrinot