Slow Living – Thai Style
Here’s the perfect recipe for a holiday escape with stylishly inclined family and friends.
It was instantly (and very pleasingly) obvious as soon as we arrived at the Wes Anderson-esque Josh Hotel. As far as both aesthetics and energy go, for me and my sisters Zanele and Kholeka – my Thailand travel companions – this is exactly the kind of Bangkok we were looking for. While many travel to Thailand to enjoy the Phuket and Khao San Road party circuit, or for the country’s picturesque floating markets and ancient temples, we were after something a little more off the beaten track – and we found it in Ari.
It’s as if time stood still in this gentle neighbourhood, which is located about 25 minutes’ drive north of Bangkok’s buzzing business district and is close to Phahonyothin Road, one of the country’s major thoroughfares. Ari (also known as Aree) is a balance of mod, trendy design and traditional Thai architecture, all liberally seasoned with that easy pace that seems somehow part of life here. The main roads are brimming with cool cafés, spas, artisanal coffee shops and even a Michelin-starred restaurant, while a stroll down the side roads takes you to the residential part of the suburb, where people are tending their gardens and hanging up washing.
Josh Hotel is a far cry from anyone’s everyday domestic reality, however. It’s one of the most Instagrammed hotels in Bangkok, the manager tells us as we unwind poolside with ice-cold Singha beers. They have guests who check in for just a few hours, he says, and specifically request the top room located above the pool so they can take photographs. From that vantage point, you have a dream shot of the pastel blue and cream umbrellas, easy chairs and greenery – and these also frame the rectangular pool, which sports the hotel’s name and a gridded design embossed on its floor.
What’s more, if the IG influencers don’t get that room, they throw a fuss. The manager regales us with stories of bloggers who have had to be ‘chased away’, and Instagram ‘models’ who arrive with a photographer and suitcases full of clothes to conduct mini-shoots around the hotel, some without even asking permission to do so. In a way, you can’t really blame them: the perfectly formed boutique hotel is gorgeous. Decked out in ’80s-inspired decor, it used to be an apartment block and now houses not only the hotel but also a super-cute artisanal ice-cream parlour called Hello Summer; Marigold restaurant, which serves up the most delicious Samui-style southern cuisine; Ari Recipe, a warm and sunny Japanese restaurant that uses organic ingredients; Sunbath and Pool Only, a fashion store; and a 16-seat theatre.
There’s no shortage of entertainment in the surrounding area, too. A cursory scroll through the Instagram feed (find it at @ari.neighborhood) reveals must-visit eateries and bars, homes converted into beautiful co-working spaces, and the latest food trends being served in new-concept cafés. Plus there is some of the best street food (Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and more) that the city has to offer.
It seems there’s always a new kid on the block to check out. Here, an old-school cart selling local and imported ice creams served in a bread roll or cone appears in front of a hair salon, and there, an urban wellness sanctuary pops up. Already considered iconic in Ari, Calm Spa – where you can expect massages and treatments using organic products – is situated on the second floor of Bar Storia del Caffè. Its interior is all green foliage and minimalistic interiors in neutral tones, making for an instantly calming respite from the hot street below.
Need a ‘re-tox’ after your cleansing spa session? PaperButter and the Burger is the not-to-be-missed burger joint in the area. The compact-sized but juicy pork or beef burgers are served with curly fries and/or craft beer, and can be enjoyed seated at the benches in front of the black-painted containers that the store occupies, or while walking around the neighbourhood. And for devotees of som tam (green papaya salad) there’s Lay Lao, which specialises in this Thai classic, as well as fresh seafood from Hua Hin.
Speaking of the latter, when we realised that we seriously couldn’t NOT go to the beach when in Thailand, we took the advice of a local who recommended it as one of the better, closer and less touristy spots. If (like ours), your holiday time here is simply too precious to waste on schlepping to islands such as Ko Samui or Ko Ngai, consider taking the four-hour train ride from Bangkok’s city centre station to the beach town of Hua Hin.
We settled into the two-bedroom Summer Hua Hin by Sansiri apartment that we’d found on Airbnb. And for two days we swam in the sea, wandered around night markets and ate way too much fresh crab, prawns, mussels and squid at the all-you-can-eat Hua Hin seafood buffet, where friendly waiters are also on hand to help cook your food on your table-top charcoal grill.
Hua Hin has been the Thai royal family’s preferred beach destination – reportedly made popular by King Prajadhipok in the early 1920s – and though the seaside resort city is developing rapidly, the local and provincial authorities have committed to preventing it from falling into the tourist trap. It’s an area where visitors can enjoy mountain hikes, temples, watersports and even a butterfly lookout spot in Kaeng Krachan National Park. The perfect spot for some complete time out following your Bangkok big-city sojourn, in other words.