Chiang Mai’s 137 Pillars hotel establishes a Bangkok presence
One of the legacies of Chiang Mai’s late 19th-century heyday as a hub of Thailand’s teak trade was Bain House, the impressive wooden headquarters for the Borneo Company as well as the residence for its company director, Scotsman William Bain. Among Chiang Mai residents it was also known as ‘137 Pillars House’, for the number of solid teak logs supporting the tropical-colonial house well above ground in traditional Lanna style.
A few years ago, Bain’s descendants renovated and re-purposed the elegant home as the centrepiece of a boutique hotel that’s now one of the best places to stay east of the Ping River in Chiang Mai, especially for those exploring the historic Wat Ket district along the river. The Wongpanlert family bought the old house from Bain’s descendants, and a few years ago they renovated and re-purposed the elegant home as the centrepiece of a boutique hotel that’s now one of the best places to stay east of the Ping River in Chiang Mai, especially for those exploring the historic Wat Ket district along the river.
In April 2017, the Wongpanlert clan, the Thai owners of 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai, opened a branch hotel in Bangkok. When I stopped by 137 Pillars Suites & Residences for a visit last month, I half-expected to see a similarly historic wooden structure, but what I found instead was an ultra-modern, custom-built hotel tower in the heart of Thong Lor. Once I began touring the sizeable building, though, I begin to feel the Chiang Mai spirit, even in this urban monolith.
To begin with, the reception area boasts a huge multi-media panel by Panya Vijinthanasarn, a well-known painter who attained National Artist status in 2014. Although Panya hails from Prachuap Khiri Khan in central Thailand, many of his works bear the influence of Lanna temple murals, including this one, a 15 million baht work entitled “Path of Auspiciousness”.
Spheres of cobalt blue, goldleaf, amber, and pale green combine with animal, human, and divine imagery to present a modernist interpretation of tribhumi, the three planes of existence in Theravada Buddhist cosmology: Desire, Form, and Formlessness. In Lanna temples of Northern Thailand, this is a common theme often found on the back wall of the main sanctuary, behind the principal Buddha image.
Other contemporary Thai art is sprinkled throughout the public spaces. Among the more notable works is a series of abstract paintings in the Leonowens Club, the 26th-floor lounge and breakfast dining venue. These bold creations were painted by Ithipol Thangchalok, who is one of Thailand’s premier specialists in mixed media and graphics and an art professor at Silpakorn University, Thailand’s top fine arts institute.
The lounge’s name pays homage to Chiang Mai resident Louis T. Leonowens, son of Anna Leonowens, the English governess who wrote Anna and the King of Siam, a semi-autobiographical book on which the Broadway show and later films The King and I were based. Louis served as a captain in the Royal Siamese Cavalry, worked for the Borneo Company, and then later established his own Louis Thomas Leonowens Company, still operating in Bangkok. Early in Bangkok’s history, he also owned the legendary Oriental Lodge, today’s Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.
Jack Bain’s Bar, perched on one of the higher floors, is a tribute to William Bain’s son Jarin ‘Jack’ Bain, who lived his entire life in Chiang Mai. Affectionately known around Chiang Mai as ‘Uncle Jack’, I knew him as the curator and caretaker of a rustic museum he founded in 1999 on the grounds of Chiang Mai’s Wat Ketkaram. Housed in a former abbot’s residence, the museum houses display of quirky Lanna memorabilia along with an extensive collection of historic black-and-white photos. Jack passed away in his 90s a few years ago, but his name lives on here, as well as at Jack Bain’s Bar at 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai.
In Bangkok, the bar is styled after a colonial gentlemen’s club, with plenty of wood and brass. Craft cocktails are a specialty, and for stogie-puffers, imported cigars are available in an adjacent smoking den.
Suites are found between levels 24 and 32, and divided into four categories, each named for a different kingdom in Thai history: Rattanakosin, Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and Thonburi. All are spacious, with one- and two-bedroom options ranging between 70 and 127 sq.m. Each balcony of the 34 suites features a rocking chair, day bed, and ceiling fan, another nod to Chiang Mai style.
Rattanakosin Suite, the largest of the four categories, measures 127 sq.m and boasts two complete bedrooms along with a dining room, pantry, and a maxi bar with wine cellar. In all four categories, rooms feature an en-suite marble bathroom, complete with circular baths and a built-in TV.
One decidedly unique feature of the hotel is an infinity pool, cantilevered seemingly into the middle of Bangkok air space from the rooftop. Said to be the highest hotel pool in the capital, it’s easily the most visually striking. I confess to experiencing brief moments of vertigo when I first slipped into the water and swam towards seeming nothingness.
Guests in the suites are assigned a 24-hour butler to help with check in and check out, as well as any other requirements. All-day à la carte breakfast is available at Leonowens Club, so you can wake up whenever you feel like it. If you’re a breakfast steak kind of person, I can highly recommend that option here.
Bangkok Trading Post Bistro & Deli, found on the ground floor, offers a large, comfy dining room decorated with compasses, telescopes, field chairs, and other gear from the age of exploration, set amid high ceilings, marble floors and wood paneling. The kitchen serves artisanal breads, jams, coffee, eggs, and specialties from Thailand and the region, as well as a full complement of pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, and other international fare. Open from 6am to 11pm, it has quickly become a favourite not just with guests but among neighbours and local office workers.
Nimitr, a sumptuously appointed dining room on one of the upper floors boasts design by Dutch-Thai architect Faun Israsena Na Ayudhya and Belgian interior designer Sophie Bughin. The kitchen serves Asian-inspired gastronomy for lunch and dinner. Ensconsced on the lower floors are 137 Pillars’ 179 residences, dedicated to long-term guests doing business in town. Studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments range from 40 to 91 sq.m and may be rented by the day, the week, or the month, as well as with bi-monthly and half-yearly contracts. Each comes with a kitchenette, washer-dryer, private terrace, and spacious living area.
What else? For golfers, there’s even a putting green with a view of the city for loosening the muscles and keeping the mind in focus between executive meetings.
By Joe Cummings/CPA Media
38, Sukhumvit Soi 39
Tel: 02 079 7137