The Siam, Bangkok.

On the banks of the Chao Phraya in historic and leafy Dusit, the royal neighbourhood just north of Bangkok Old Town, The Siam is unique among luxury hotels. Ever since it opened its punchy black doors in 2012, the riverside retreat has been the benchmark, thanks to its mix of otherworldliness, art deco elegance and rock-and-roll style.

With just 39 suites, The Siam packs some punch when it comes to facilities. These include the usual suspects—a black-and-white-striped lap pool overlooking the river, splendid drinking and dining venues and the sumptuous Opium Spa—alongside eccentric accoutrements that have you wishing you were staying for a month. Time to while away hours in the striking library, or to watch a movie in the screening room, kept company by original models of Yoda and ET. There’s a Muay Thai boxing ring in the gym—a hotel first when it was launched—and even a Sak Yant studio, a consecrated space devoted to the inking of sacred tattoos.

Like the gently sloping floor of a casino luring punters to the tables, The Siam steps down through courtyards and frangipani-fringed paths to the river, its grounds punctuated by 100-year-old Thai wooden houses that belonged to glamorous ex-spy Constance Mangskau. One is Connie’s Cottage, home to Bill Bensley’s gallery (more on him in a moment) and a Jim Thompson boutique, while three other beauties make up the riverside restaurant, Chon.

The story of the hotel begins with its owners, the glamorous Sukosol family: matriarch Kamala and her four children, Marisa, Krissada, Sukie and Daranee, who have all been involved in the creation, reputation and ongoing operation of The Siam.

“Kamala is an icon of Thai society, and apart from being an amazing business leader, she entertains and sings publicly to this day,” says general manager Nick Downing. “Her youngest son Krissada, or Khun Noi as he is known, is the creative force behind the interior spaces. Somehow between his acting and singing career—he recently completed filming in a major Thai production and is back in the studio recording an album with his rock band, Pru, alongside brother Sukie—he finds time to indulge his passion, having curated every room and corner of the hotel with items of his personal antique, artwork and curio collection. We lost count, but there would be literally thousands of pieces throughout the hotel, creating a near museum-like atmosphere.”

Krissada’s musical hand is all over the Vinyl Room, home to a turntable and around 400 albums (think first editions of Prince and The Beatles) overlooked by a rare photo of the late Thai king, Rama IX, jamming with Benny Goodman. “My favourite vinyls are actually the movie soundtracks,” he tells The Pursuit Of. “I believe film composers are today’s Motzarts and Beethovens. As a songwriter, I am more inspired by their material than by rock and popular music. I’ve even nicked a few notes from John Williams… In the Vinyl Room we have classics from Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, 2001 A Space Odyssey to The Godfather, The Deer Hunter and Rocky. But my favourite is the soundtrack to The Mission. To me, it’s Ennio Morricone’s greatest work. Gabriel’s Oboe is the most beautiful piece of music ever written—my wife even walked down the aisle to it.”

Bangkok's most beautiful library, at The Siam.

Bangkok-based American designer, Bill Bensley fused the era of Rama V with Art Deco in crafting The Siam’s sensational interiors. “It was a dream come true to work with the wondrous collections of Khun Kriss,” he says. “We were on the same wavelength, which just makes things so much more fun. Long before we started building, Kriss and I went upriver to find the 300-year-old teakwood houses, which once belonged to the OSS agent Connie Mangksau, the best friend of Jim Thompson. [Both Mangskau and silk-king Thompson had worked for the OSS, the 1940’s precursor to the CIA. Head to the Patpong Museum for the full, spine-tingling tale of Bangkok spycraft.] “They entertained the likes of Roger Moore, Jacqueline Kennedy and Henry Ford—it was a no-brainer to lovingly renovate them and give them a new home at The Siam.”

Guest suites sprawl in size from 80m2 and up, with separate sitting areas, freestanding tubs and butler service as standard. You don’t need to leave the room for the ‘museum’ experience: the walls of my Premier River View Suite were hung with vintage photography and period drawings so lovely I wanted to slip them into my suitcase. Antique carved figures flanked portieres between the dressing room and bathroom, where an old ceramic elephant stood sentry. Curved sofas and a double-bed-sized window seat were upholstered the colour of a purple sapphire, breaking Bensley’s signature black and white—a platform I struggled to pull myself away from, lost in views of palm trees, peaked rooftops and the Chao Phraya. Splurge on a Courtyard or River View Villa (130m2) and you also get a private plunge pool.

Klepto-manic thoughts from back in the room fade at Curio, the hotel’s wunderkammer shop packed with antiques and vintage from Krissada’s collection. Nearby The Siam’s opening chef, Blair Mathieson, has returned to launch The Story House, where delicious international fare is served in a theatrical series of spaces decked out in stripes, splashes of rattan and Cartier-esque ceramic tigers.

The Siam’s sexy shuttle ferries guests up and down the river from its own jetty—a hot spot for sunset drinks—to Sathorn Pier, which connects to the BTS skytrain. A Thai version of the Motoscafi, the Venetian water taxi in polished wood, it is without question the loveliest way to move around the city. Much has been said about The Siam’s outlier location but gliding up and down the Chao Phraya on the shuttle—slowing down in the early evening to watch the sun set behind Wat Arun—is reason alone to travel to Bangkok.

“It is true that The Siam’s location is often a topic of discussion,” says Downing. “I used to feel the same until I really understood how Bangkok operates. For sure, if you are going to go out partying every night and shopping every day, then we are not the right hotel for you. However if you want to base yourself by the river, explore Bangkok’s historic sights and occasionally venture a little further, then there is no better place to return to and decompress after a hectic day of exploring. With the Grand Place, Wat Arun, China Town, Old Town, Flower Market, Creative District, IconSiam and amazing restaurants and cafes all within 20-30 minutes away, who could ask for more when combining with the ultimate exclusive private riverside retreat to escape to at the end of the day?”

The river’s renaissance has been good news for The Siam, although in many ways it was The Siam that set it in motion. “It has been interesting to see newer hotels claiming to be near the areas that The Siam has traditionally been known for—China Town, Old Town, the Grand Palace and Wat Arun—and understanding that these are the places guests truly wish to experience. The riverside districts have bloomed in recent years, from new dining experiences to hidden corners to explore, to galleries and incredible retail experiences, markets to luxury stores. The heart of the city has definitely shifted towards the river with less and less reason to venture to the downtown mega-mall district. It’s also been a pleasure to work as part of the Bangkok River Partnership featuring a coalition of riverside hotels and organisations with a common goal of promoting the Chao Phraya location as the ultimate Bangkok experience.”