In Bangkok, 32 Rooms That Pop

At Relections hotel in Bangkok, each of the 32 rooms has a different theme and artist-designer.
At Relections hotel in Bangkok, each of the 32 rooms has a different theme and artist-designer. (By Eric Percher)
Sunday, April 16, 2006

Those who've always wanted to throw a slumber party in Pee-wee's Playhouse will feel right at home at Reflections in Bangkok.

The Thai hotel in Soi Aree, a northwestern city area near the airport, is a pop-art gallery with sleepover privileges. Each of the property's 32 rooms was designed by a different artist with a distinct theme or vision. But don't go expecting, say, a Monet Water Lilies Room or a Sistine Chapel Suite.

"It's like they've created this hotel where a lot of fantasies come out," said Amit Mody, a 35-year-old visitor from Singapore. "It works with the idea of escaping, of going on an offbeat holiday."

The hotel, completed in October 2004, is a rarity in the industry: No two rooms are alike. Moreover, the artists had few restrictions. That, in part, is what draws the young, unconventional, international guests who care more about daring decor than high thread count. The other attraction: low rates.

"The concept is to have design in the foreground, not function," says Marcel Georg Muller, the flamboyant Swiss artist who conjured "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Room No. 307), which has a romantic gypsy aesthetic. "The idea is to create a little center of art, but not some intellectual avant-garde scene."

Look no further than Room 402, the "Post Industrial" space by Thaiwijit Peungkasemsomboon that has a condemned-building look: stripped concrete and brick walls, a bed sunk in a leather box, robes hanging from an old bathtub evocative of Duchamp's "Fountain." And "Disco Room" (No. 201) by Pilanthana Suktrakan, which feels like Studio 54 after the drugs have run out. Even the "Single Mom" room (No. 403, by Dhiranan Sukwibul) has a fanciful, fairy-tale mural and neon-hued curtains.

The only room that had to be artistically censored was Jitsing Somboon's "Stage of Life" (No. 410). The Thai menswear designer's original concept included videotaping the room's inhabitants. And while the guests could keep the tape as a memento, the idea still was deemed too risque.

"Some people sleep in a room that has no light, or sometimes no shower curtain, or they come downstairs to use the bathroom because theirs doesn't have a door," said hotel owner Anusorn "Nong" Ngernyuang. "Art doesn't always work."

Ngernyuang, a 44-year-old Thai exporter-importer, bought the apartment complex in part as a gift to his artist friends. Residents from the working-class neighborhood, where many government offices are located, gawked at the unveiling: a lipstick-pink building with an irreverent streak.

Take the lobby, for example. It's delightfully assaulting, with vibrantly clashing colors and floral patterns on the walls and furniture, Virgin Mary pillows on the couch and a mannequin with bug-eyed Bono glasses voguing by the check-in desk. Outside, plastic cows float in the pool. The campy aesthetic flows into the two-story restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, the third-floor spa and the karaoke bar, where guests and locals down large bottles of Asian beer and sing Thai tunes off-key.

"It should feel like a second home," said Ngernyuang, who had just returned from a shopping spree in Bangladesh. "Kitschy, happy, colorful."

Most homes -- much less hotels -- don't have heart-shaped shags at their front doors and disco lights in the shower. However, if you covet such eye-popping decor, nearly everything at Reflections is for sale (Ngernyuang also sells his wares to Urban Outfitters). The Lucite table where you ate your whole snakefish dinner, yes -- with add-on chairs. The cloned-Elvis painting behind the lobby bar, yes -- for $8,000. The velvet Mao piggy bank -- pink or red? Only the original art in the guest rooms and the fixed furniture (e.g., the toilets) are off the market.

Yet when necessary, the hotel can keep its kitsch in check. Charles and Apple Gittelsons, an artistic couple living in Bangkok, chose Reflections for their wedding reception and honeymoon night. The couple and their friends celebrated around the cow-less pool. After the party dispersed, the newlyweds repaired to their room, where they spent their first night of marriage in "Bohemian Rhapsody."

-- Andrea Sachs

Rooms at Reflections (81 Soi Ari, Phaholyothin 7 Rd., Samsennai, Phayathai, 011-66-2-270-3344,http://www.reflections-thai.com) cost about $65 for a studio and $82 for a superior room, including breakfast.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company