Rice balls! I make a second attempt to guess a dish in front of me. I am fairly confident in my answer and continue digging in. For my next course, my server, Khun Moo, brings forth a soup (pho, by the smell of it) in a jug and encourages me to pour it out myself. Baby steps, she tells me. It isn’t every day that I act this unfamiliar with the customs of eating out. But then again, it isn’t every day that I sit in a pitch-dark restaurant in downtown Bangkok, making my way through each bite with newfound wonder.
For a property that has been around for as long as Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Luxury Collection has (which is, a well-rounded twenty years), one doesn’t expect it to offer something new. But ‘Dine in the Dark’, the hotel’s unique culinary experience, in which people have a meal in complete darkness, is the first telltale sign that this isn’t your ordinary city hotel.
The second sign is The Sala, a tropical oasis in a concrete jungle. Here, tall palm trees reflect on an asymmetrical pool, and gentle sunlight streams through. At the same time, guests lounge under copper-red umbrellas, prop open a book for aesthetics and compete for the best vantage point (further investigations yield that it is to the left of the Jacuzzi).
Not ordinary, I say, because any hotel—no matter how luxurious—becomes tiresome after a while. The view grows stale; the breakfast buffet seems repetitive; the bar, seedy. But there’s no cause for complaint at this Luxury Collection property. During my three-day stay, I take a cooking lesson at the Thai restau rant, Basil, where the chef teaches me how to make an aromatic green curry from scratch. I watch an Italian spectacle of spaghetti being tossed in a Parmesan wheel at Rossini’s—and I eat it too. I hobnob with serious travellers in the business lounge, who glare when my phone pings too loudly. I have cocktails at the lovely jazz bar, The Living Room, where there’s a live performance every night. I surrender myself to a blissful spa experience and have various types of tea in the name of relaxation—butterfly pea, lemongrass, white. And of course, I dine in the dark.
Now and then, when I realise that my first trip to Bangkok deserves seeing more of, well, Bangkok, I find it convenient to do so. The area, Sukhumvit, often overshadowed by its colourful history and red lights, is the epicentre of the city’s hotspots—gin bars, concert halls, Michelin-star restaurants and even night markets. One can zip on the connected BTS line to a different part of the city, while serious shoppers need only stroll along the connecting skywalk to the malls around.
The property itself, with all of 420 rooms and 33 storeys is luxury from the get-go. The premium, such as the one I was staying in, had the butler on call with complimentary tea or hot chocolate at all times. The concierge service plans offbeat trips in the city; ours is planned to Mahasawat canal in Bangkok to see lotus fields, farms and the making of rice crispies. And the service is immaculate, but not interfering; the detail, sophisticated, but never too much.
Back at my meal, Khun Moo offers me something after dessert. A surprise, I hear her say with glee. It’s wrapped in a packet and I shake the contents to guess it by its sound. All at once, I’m a five-year-old guessing her birthday present. I tear the gift open, and eat it; the candy crackles on my tongue. ‘Magic Pop’, I remember from my childhood, and smile. The hotel is so much like its city. Neither is afraid to have some fun.