By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The Nation Weekend
“The Dusit Thani is like my second home – my heart fell when I heard it was going to be torn down,” says Rosalin Alexander, whose family had a shop there the whole time she was growing up.
A beloved Bangkok landmark, the Dusit Thani began life in 1970 as the tallest building in the capital, its eye-catching architecture a gleaming testament to Thailand’s new-found modernity.
But its long run as a posh inn ends on January 5, when the original structure will tumble floor by floor to make way for a Bt36.7-billion mixed-use project – new hotel included – that will open in 2023.
In collaboration with Central Pattana, the hotel’s owners – Dusit International – have planned a sprawling amalgam of residences, retail zones and office spaces along with Mark II of the hotel.
Rosalin’s parents were among the first retailers to take up lobby space at the Dusit Thani, opening Alex and Co Jeweller. She has witnessed the hotel’s history almost from the beginning and amassed a lot of fond memories there over the course of 48 years.
“I hung out at the hotel after school, reading imported comics,” she told The Nation Weekend. “When I was a teenager, my cousin and I loved seeing the foreign superstars who stayed there.”
The five-star hotel’s guest list is indeed impressive. Entertainers lodged in its suites included Rod Stewart, Whitney Houston, Tom Jones, Jackie Chan and Gwyneth Paltrow, and in more recent times the Pet Shop Boys, Coldplay and South Korean stars Rain and Super Junior.
“It was like Thailand’s first big entertainment destination,” Rosalin said. “The Napailai Ballroom was considered the best concert hall in the country and hosted catwalk fashion shows and major weddings. I saw my first concert with overseas acts there – the New Seekers and the Osmonds. And then there was the nightlife at the Bubble, the coolest discotheque of the era.”
The 23rd-floor restaurant Tiara sparkled with big-spending diners who gasped at views of Bangkok never before seen and were often treated to cabaret theatre.
Rosalin warmly recalls dining with her parents at Tiara. “For a little girl, it was so amazing to see how beautiful Bangkok looked from up high.”
Rosalin and Rassamee Rungjang, 74, who used to work at Dusit Thani, both share one great memory of the place – it is where their beaux proposed to them.
“In a small corner of the coffee shop, my husband Paul surprised me by asking ‘Will you marry me?’” Rosalin giggled.
A young man named Prayong, who also worked at the hotel, popped the same question to Rassamee. Prayong later moved to Germany to work and Rassamee, missing him, “often went to the Tiara and gazed at the sky”.
He has since died. “I still miss him,” she said.
Their son, Arin Rungjang, became a prominent artist who never forgot his fascination with the vista beyond the Tiara windows. He recreated the skyline in an installation shown at Ver Gallery in 2007. Its title was “Rassamee Rungjang”.
Fond memories have been inescapable in a series of events taking place to bid the hotel farewell. They began earlier this month with the Thai Night Gala Dinner in the ballroom, at which 95 contestants from the Miss Universe pageant wore traditional Thai costumes.
This past Thursday there was “Together Moving Forward”, a thank-you party for hundreds of VIP guests, at which Koh Mr Saxman, Jennifer Kim and the Silpakorn Band entertained.
Another treat was the unveiling of paintings of the hotel done by invited top artists. Hotel owner Chanin Donavanik was pleased to see the spire rendered prominently – a trademark that replicated the soaring prang of Wat Arun.
It was Chanin’s mother, Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui, who worked with Thai-Obayashi Corp to build the luxury 23-floor hotel. She aimed for and achieved international hotel standards, another first for Thailand.
Now it’s time to preserve the spirit of what’s being lost. Dusit International has commissioned Silpakorn University to document and help conserve the hotel’s most aesthetic flourishes in a project called “Dusit Thani’s Artistic Heritage”.
It will be a challenge indeed removing the Thai-motif decoration from the facade and the two columns in the restaurant Benjarong that were painted by hand by the late Paiboon “Than Kudt” Suwannakudt.
The project will extend to saving the various plant species on the grounds. The big trees – bodhi, banyan and frangipani – will be salvaged for replanting later around the new hotel, and other plants moved across Rama IV Road to Lumpini Park.
“Dusit Thani Bangkok is preparing to enter an exciting new chapter, and we look forward to continuing these same beliefs in the new version of the hotel, which is due to open in four years’ time,” Chanin said.
“Inspired by our heritage, the new Dusit Thani Bangkok will retain our distinctive brand of gracious hospitality, and will preserve our rich artistic and architectural heritage. At the same time, we will provide new experiences, for new generations of travellers, ensuring we can cement our status as Thailand’s leading hospitality company while delighting guests, and bringing value to our community, for many years to come.”