Italianate Lifestyle

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A stay at Praya Palazzo is very special; it doesn’t feel like you’re a guest in a hotel but rather in a very comfortable home of a benevolent gentleman.

By Laurence Civil.

During the reign of both King Rama V and his son King Rama VI, Italianate architecture was very fashionable for royal palaces, government buildings, and the mansions of wealthy merchants. They both hired European architects, mostly Italian. Even architect members of the Royal Family where building in the Italianate style. Exactly who designed Praya Palazzo remains a mystery but what is certain is that its DNA is Italian.

The Praya Palazzo, a stunning Paladio-style built in 1923 during the reign of King Vajiravudh (King Rama VI), stands majestically on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. It was built by Col. Praya Chollabhumipanich, a Thai-Chinese nobleman and millionaire who collected taxes for the king and was responsible for the interior and foreign affairs (mostly with China, Cambodia, and Vietnam).

His wife, Khunying Suan, had been raised in the inner court of the Grand Palace and was the favorite maid of honor to Queen Saovabha, the Queen of King Chulalongkorn. The mansion was originally known as Baan Bang Yee Khan, a name taken from the local surroundings.

They raised 10 children and the family lived in the mansion until 1946 when they moved to the Sukhumvit area on the other side of the river. Ownership was then transferred to the Foundation for Muslim Community and subsequently, it was turned into Rachakarun School, replacing the original school, which was destroyed during World War II. It operated as such until 1978 when it closed down due to financial difficulties. Five years later, the building became the Indara Vocational School until 1996 when again the school closed down due to financial reasons.

After that the mansion remained empty; neglected for over a decade, until it attracted the attention of Wichai Pitakvorrarat, assistant professor of Architecture at Rangsit University, who enjoyed looking at it while sitting at Santichaiprakarn Park in Bang Lamphu on the other side of the river. Wichai and his wife Preeyadhorn decided to restore the building back to life despite the costs. He was most insistent that the restoration should be as authentic as possible, which meant seeking out materials and the services of craftsmen whose skills were almost extinct. Three years later, after much hard work, the elegant mansion was brought back to its original glory. It was christened “Praya Palazzo,” which means “Praya Chollabhumipanich’s Mansion.” This was Wichai’s swan song; he passed away the same year.

For the past three years, Praya Palazzo has been a boutique hotel that takes guests back to a time when the local people’s lives were associated with river and Thailand was still known as Siam in the golden period of King Chulalongkorn’s reign. But the lifestyle of the past has been combined with the conveniences of today such as LCD television with a choice of satellite and cable channels, CD/DVD players, and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout.

For the ultimate stay experience I checked into their Chao Phraya Suite, an epitome of early 1900s luxury. It was completely decorated in the style of the period. Behind the king-size bed is the smaller of the two bathrooms with a shower. There’s a lounge with a sofa armchair and writing desk. From here is an uninterrupted view over to the pool to the river and Pom Phra Sumen, one of 14 fortresses built during King Rama I’s reign to protect the capital. Leading off the lounge is the second bathroom with a standalone massive bathtub. This suite is an absolute haven of privacy, perfect for couples wishing to spend quality time with each other.

Some say it’s on the wrong side of the river but that’s a matter of perspective. From downtown Bangkok, Praya Palazzo is just 30 minutes by Express Boat from Saphan Taksin to Phra Atit pier. Upon arrival, call the hotel for their ferryboat, which collects guests 24 hours a day. Likewise, the ferryboat takes guests back across the river to enjoy Khao San Road’s vibrant nightlife or to explore the oldest parts of Bangkok a few stops down river such as The Grand Palace, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn).

A delightful element of Praya Palazzo lifestyle is the Edwardian ritual of “Taking Afternoon Tea.” The food was a blend of Thai and Western, the service elegantly British, served on floral bone china, with matching three -tiered cake stand. On the lower tier, white and rye bread sandwiches with different filling and crusts removed. The middle tier offers a selection of pastries while on the top, freshly baked scones, homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream served on the terrace beside the pool looking out over the river.

After dark the illuminated Rama VIII bridge is the jewel of the night reflecting in the calm of the river. Dinner was served either on the terrace or in the ground floor Praya Dining room. The menu is a choice of authentic Thai dishes made with recipes from the palace or European fine dining. Service in both locations was impeccable. A la carte breakfast is served in the dining room with tables available on the adjacent patio.

The stay is very special; it doesn’t feel like you’re in a hotel but rather as a guest in a very comfortable home of a benevolent gentleman.

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