Celebrating contemporary ‘Thainess’ in the heart of Bangkok.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
While Amari Watergate Bangkok has long been a staple in Bangkok’s diverse and bustling hotel scene, I have to admit that I hadn’t considered staying there in years. So it was with much intrigue that I received the invitation to check out their ‘revitalised and refreshed’ property, with the promise of new renovations, exciting F&B options, and much more to discover.
Arriving at the centrally-located property bright and early on a Saturday morning, we were immediately ushered into their sun-drenched Executive Lounge high above the city by warm and welcoming hotel staff, who checked us in with ease while we sipped on refreshing beverages. Consisting of a mix of comfortable sofas and tables designed for busy executives to work from ‘home’ while surrounded by top-tier amenities and a steady stream of coffee, tea, and snacks; I could immediately imagine myself planting myself in the lounge during my designated work hours.
After we’d checked in, we were given a tour of the hotel, which included a mix of established amenities and ones that had been renovated during the property’s COVID-induced downtime. We started with the expansive lobby where a chandelier made from 847 pieces of crystal hung from the lofty ceilings; which I was informed was a whimsical homage to the property’s address and to the water from the khlong that is referenced in the hotel’s name. I was informed that this was an Italian Murano-crafted chandelier, and that in fact, Murano-crafted glasses are used throughout the property, but in different ways.
We then stopped by the pool, nestled in lush verdure and with enough space to host community events, such as their monthly pool parties and the popular Bloom Komunity events; their sprawling fitness centre, which includes squash courts and a yoga studio that you can book, as well as classes that you can sign up for throughout the day; and my favourite surprise of the visit, their Sky Garden, where they grow their own produce, which I was informed was part of a list of sustainability initiatives that I would learn more about during my stay.
Our tour continued with a peek at their F&B options: their inviting Lobby Lounge Bar perfect for evening tipples; Prego, their Italian restaurant that opened earlier this year to much acclaim; the sophisticated and exclusive wine bar, Italthai Cellar, which can be booked for small-scale events and offers premium wine labels, cheese, and other elevated dishes; and their all-day dining restaurant, Amaya. Haven gotten a taste of these very different but inviting venues, I was looking forward to getting a literal taste of their culinary offerings later.
Finally, we concluded our tour with the two types of rooms in the hotel that had been completely renovated and fitted with modern amenities, while maintaining the Thai sensibilities that make their designs timeless. We first checked out their capacious Two-Bedroom Suite done up in soothing shades of classic grey and teal, which includes a kitchenette and living area, and is perfect for visiting families or maybe groups of friends; before being ushered into our home for the weekend, one of their 202 newly-renovated Premier Rooms. Complete with a good-sized desk for the businessperson on the go; a large, flat-screen TV; a luxe bathroom with his-and-hers sinks and a tempting rain shower; and a view of the heart of the city; the room was chic, contemporary, and inviting, not the least because of the lavish gift basket of delicious Thai khanoms that greeted us as we walked in – truly a touch that, as promised, brightened our world. I was especially pleased to find that the TV had the ability for us to cast shows or movies from any of our devices; perfect to while away the afternoon in plush surroundings.
Alas, we had to drag ourselves away from the room’s comfortable furnishings to make our way to Prego for lunch, but this was no hardship. We were given a cornucopia of offerings to sample, from their world-renowned risottos to their wood-fired pizzas and homemade pastas, and let me assure, you that this restaurant is a must-visit. While everything was delicious, I would definitely steer you towards their risottos, such as their flavourful Risotto gamberi for seafood fans, or their eminently creamy Risotto alla montanara, one of the ‘100 Best Risottos’ in the Gallo Guide, and the sole entry from Thailand. For the vegetarians, make sure to try their Pesto gnocchi, with homemade pesto. And, of course, if you’re fond of a wine pairing with your meal, they have a selection of affordable but delicious labels for you to choose from.
Afterwards, you can spend your post-prandial stupor by the pool or relax at the Executive Club for those who have access, where happy hour begins at 6pm and you can look forward to a free-flow of delicious bites, wines and cocktails. Alternatively, Platinum Fashion Mall is a mere walk away, or you can check out any of the other world-class malls nearby if you want to walk off your meal with a little retail-cardio. In the evening, I personally found my way to the Lobby Lounge Bar for one of their signature cocktails, although I made sure to leave room for the Sailor’s Seafood Showdown buffet at Amaya that evening.
At the risk of this writeup turning into an anthem for their F&B options, I would be remiss not to recommend this buffet, which is only served on Fridays and comprises of a free-flow of fresh, premium seafood on ice; a live station of (unlimited), freshly-made pastas served to your table; and a half-lobster with your choice of preparation and sauce – I got mine baked with cheese, with lemon butter sauce for that extra indulgence. Afterwards, gorge yourself on their desserts – the THB 2,399 you’ll shell out for the experience is certainly worth it.
The next day, we started the morning in the best way with breakfast at Amaya, which has an array of Western and Asian options depending on your preference, and which separates the halal and non-halal sections, for your convenience. However, if you have access to the Executive Lounge, you can also choose to dine there, with a similar spread, a live egg station, and more privacy.
That afternoon, we truly indulged ourselves by heading to their Breeze Spa, which whisks you away to an oasis of tranquillity with its light wood and soothing tile patterns. There, you can opt for a treatment depending on what you’re looking for, whether it’s rejuvenation, relaxation, or extra focus; and they ask you to answer a short questionnaire so you can pinpoint what’s best for you. I chose one of the stress-easing treatments, and I can truly say that for that hour, all my troubles seemed a million miles away. You’ll also have the chance to buy any of their own spa products if you wish to recreate the experience at home.
The Inside Scoop
I had a chance to sit down with Area General Manager, Sukamal Mondal, who gave me his insight into the property, its possibilities for the MICE sector and beyond, and what we can look forward to in the future.
Can you give us a brief rundown of your responsibilities as Area GM and GM of the hotel?
I’m the Base GM, so I look after all the operations of Amari Watergate and seven other Sharma properties besides. My main responsibilities are to oversee their commercial performances, but other than that, I only oversee the other properties; I don’t micromanage them.
Tell us a little about your professional background, and what attracted you to Amari Watergate Bangkok in particular. How do you hope to expand the hotel’s USPs?
I started my career in 1999. When I was 21, I moved to Shanghai and started my career as a bartender, then moved up to a restaurant manager, and Assistant Director of F&B, and after that I was a resident manager for ONYX Hospitality Group in Shanghai. Then I moved to Bangkok in 2010 as the pre-opening General Manager of Shama Sukhumvit Bangkok. I’ve been in Bangkok since; going on 12 years now.
Since I was GM, I reported to the ONYX head office, and the GM of this property was always my boss. I always looked up to them, and I remember thinking, “I want to run that hotel that day!” It just goes to show – be careful what you wish for! [Laughs]
I always thought this property had huge potential. It’s a legendary name; it’s a very popular property in Southeast Asia. I’d go so far to say that it’s iconic. And I want to grow that further – I want to bring some European guests, other geo-sources, and we can already see those changes. We get a lot of visitors from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Israel, Australia, the UK. It wasn’t like that before.
And a lot from India too, and now, we’re getting a lot of corporate Indian guests. A lot of MICE business, which is another thing that I’ve wanted to build. The hotel is perfectly-situated, and we’ve now got 26 beautifully-renovated meeting rooms, and a 990sqm ballroom; one of the few in this area connected to the car park. We are planning to do car trade shows, and we even recently had an aircraft show!
I don’t want to run the hotel as a typical corporate hotel, but as a destination for corporate types. When they finish their meeting, they can come back and have the Executive Lounge experience, go down to Prego, or any of our new F&B options.
What is the philosophy behind this property, and what sets it apart from other luxury properties in Bangkok?
Our tagline is, ‘brighten your world,’ because who doesn’t want that? Hospitality starts from a very basic idea: courtesy begins at home. We want to make our family happen and take care of them; and that’s where our tagline came from. The moment you walk into the hotel, we are here to brighten your world.
That’s where our DNA comes from. We’re in Thailand, and our company is a Thai-owned company, but other companies are doing the same, so how can we bring a twist to it? So we thought, why not bring a contemporary feel and touch?
That’s one of the thing that we want to convey to our visitors: we are here to celebrate contemporary ‘Thainess.’ We’re a Thai brand, but we want to portray a contemporary point of view, in as many ways as possible.
Who are your usual clientele, and which elements of your hotel would you recommend most to visitors?
We are very popular among the Southeast Asian market, but we are now focusing on MICE meetings and incentives groups from Europe as well. That’s one of our goals for the coming year. Our meeting rooms are very bright, and 80 percent have natural light – Europeans love that! The new meetings concept is not the typical classroom-style meeting. We call it the Social Sphere: the idea is you can still have your meetings, but when you come out, it’s a place to socialise and network; it’s meetings in the new era.
Amari Watergate Bangkok is a popular hotel for Indian guests, and many in the Thai-Indian community have held events here. What do you think are the USPs that make it attractive to your Indian clientele?
We have Indian clientele from India, but also from Bangkok. We’ve participated in a lot of local trade shows, and in fact we recently held a wedding fam trip with Masala. I’ve seen a lot more from the Thai-Indian community visit Prego as well, because Indians love good vegetarian Italian food. You know us Indians – we’re big foodies!
We have an in-house wedding team, who curate the whole wedding experience, and we have a team who looks after only Indian weddings. We do not focus on the main events, but we encourage people to do their smaller events here – a sangeet night, or similar. We try not to do buy-outs because we want to cater to other guests, so our main focus is not the main wedding, but pre- and post-wedding events.
Amaya, which caters to all our in-house guests for all-day dining; and Italthai Cellar, which is a recently-launched wine room, is a great place for smaller groups – friends, connections and hang-outs, which you have to book in advance.
Tell us about the latest developments and renovations done on this property, and how you hope to expand further.
Prego is one of our projects from earlier this year, and this is the 2nd one in 19 years. Soon, we’ll open a third Prego in Pattaya, and in Phuket by early next year. Those are very exciting projects.
Our goal is, with the support of our Chef Marco, to finish our Prego projects firstly in all the equity properties owned by us, to have a proven track record financially. The moment we prove ourselves, we’ll reach out to the non-equity hotel owners, third party-owners, and ask if they’d like to partner with us and bring Prego to their hotels.
We’ll soon have a new bar at the Lobby Lounge, and our all-day dining restaurant, Amaya, is undergoing renovations. From lunch onwards, it will offer two restaurants, with two different cuisines – contemporary Thai, and Indian cuisine. But this will be announced further early next year.
We’ve also renovated two types of rooms, and the design has been inspired by the ‘water of life,’ which you can see in all the artwork. And that’s another way we bring ‘contemporary Thainess’ in – the patterns in the rooms have been designed from traditional Thai patterns, but we’ve made them more modern, with geometrical shapes. We’re changing the uniforms as well from the end of this year.
These days, green tourism and MICE are taking centre stage, and even local guests are looking for sustainability when they choose where to stay. What are the hotel’s sustainability programmes and initiatives?
My favourite topic! [Laughs] We recently launched our sustainability tagline, called ‘Sustainably Conscious.’ It has four sectors: Sustainably Conscious Dining; Sustainably Conscious Meetings; Sustainably Conscious Stays; and Sustainably Conscious People. For the latter, for example, if you’re staying with us for 2-3 nights, if for one of the nights you don’t want housekeeping, we’ll return THB 100 credit. We plan to launch it in January. Our goal is to source 80 percent of our products locally. And of those, 8-10 percent, if not 5-8 percent, will be grown on the 8th floor, our Sky Garden area.
This tagline is not just for our guests, but also our team members. We haven’t officially announced this yet, but one of our programmes is to support the Pimali Foundation, where we train people, and then hire them. We partner with them to promote and support their school. I specifically want to mention this as I hope people – individuals, other hotels – who read this may be inspired, and find ways to also help.
What other facilities do you offer for other events, such as MICE events, mid-to-large conferences, concerts, and other weddings?
We do focus on community events. Bloom Komunity is one, for example. One of my goals is to turn this property into a vertical destination. Birthday parties, kitty parties, pre-wedding shoots. We have concerts here as well. Our goal is to do three concerts next year, with local artists – that is also part of our sustainability initiatives, to support local talents.
Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Please do come visit me! [Laughs] But more importantly, I want to underscore how blessed I am by our leadership team here. I took a risk to hire a young and dynamic leadership team, and I can see our progress. There are pros and cons – the pros are, they think outside the box. The cons are, they might not go the extra mile like the legendary teams. We need to find a good mix between the two. Think outside the box, but also go the extra mile.
Night of Tales and Discovery
Amari Watergate Bangkok held a “Night of Tales and Discovery” for the media of Thailand to delve deeper into their sustainability programme, and to celebrate the hotel’s 28 years in the city. Editors from far and wide arrived in their best ‘contemporary Thai’ outfits, and the night started with everyone visiting a total of nine booths that introduced the hotel’s new accommodation, F&B options, and event possibilities, as well as the refreshed vision of the ONYX brand, including its sustainability initiatives. There were delicious Thai amuse-bouche options and drinks aplenty, before Area General Manager Sukamal Mondal officially welcomed everyone to the event.
He praised the property’s 28 years of being a stalwart in the hotel scene, and further elaborated on their four pillars of sustainability, namely:
Sustainably Conscious Dining: This was introduced by a touching and beautifully-shot video about the local farmers that they had partnered with. On top of moving towards sourcing 80 percent of their fresh, organic produce and poultry from local farmers, they talked about growing some of their produce in-house, and joining hands with SOS to reduce food waste by donating it to people in need.
Sustainable Conscious Meetings: on top of their recent meeting-room renovations, their meetings set-up has sustainability mind, including eradicating table linen and plastic water bottles.
Sustainable Conscious Stays: Multiple-night stay guests are offered THB 100 hotel credit per night that they refuse housekeeping services.
Sustainably Conscious People: Sukamal emphasised the need to give back to the community, and announced their partnership with the Pimali Foundation, as well as other universities around Thailand to give underprivileged students a chance to be trained in the hospitality industry, to give them a good foundation for their future.
Afterwards, guests were ushered into one of the meeting rooms that had been transformed into a banquet hall, resplendent with Amari’s colours. After introductions from the people who were responsible for the event, we were served a multiple-course dinner of authentic Thai favourites, but elevated with modern preparations and presentation – the epitome of ‘contemporary Thainess.’ Carefully curated by newly-appointed Executive Chef, Michele Bravo, the majority of ingredients were purchased from local suppliers, and was a scrumptious representation of the hotel’s renewed focus on sustainability. One of the highlights of the night for me was their contemporary take on Khao soi, which was a feast for the both the eyes and the palate. They also served Butter chicken as one of the mains, a hint of more cuisines to come.
The night ended with plenty of laughter and revelry, with many getting up to cut a rug on the dance floor, and a singer crooning hits all night long – a true celebration of a property whose heart revolves around brightening people’s days.