Photos: Robert Muir
What is it? If you didn't know the name, you could just follow the clues: the signatures are voluptuous peonies; a cheongsam-clad lovely gazing demurely over one shoulder; interior walls glazed in spicy saffron and paprika; eclectic mid-20th-century furniture and flea market objets trouvés artfully arranged about the place; and a contemplation pool stocked with many fish spanning the ground floor courtyard (above). One of the oldest buildings in Bangkok's Chinatown, this rectangular colonnaded landmark caught the attention of Thai businesswoman Lily Undomkhunnatum, managing director of the Burasari management group, and its location was the only inspiration needed to re-fashion it into a reflection of the noble mansions of old Shanghai. An operatic makeover transformed an 80-year-old, nine-storey building into a vibrant boutique hotel.
Why would we stay here? Well, to start with, it's the "best value hotel in Asia and Australasia", according to Britain's Sunday Times. Oozing ambience, private interiors and public spaces are furnished with theatrical touches, including sumptuous velvets and glossy silks in hues that reflect the building's earlier incarnation as a Chinese opera house. Situated on Yaowaraj Road, just a few steps from bustling markets and sprawling kerbside eateries, guests can enjoy a free tuk tuk shuttle to nearby places of interest. What's more, if you're feeling lonely, staff will scoop a fish out of the pond and place it in a tank in your room, to keep you company.
What are the rooms like? Who wouldn't sleep well in suites with names such as Cherry Blossom Happiness or Plum Blossom Haven? The hotel boasts 16 suites and 60 rooms, each uniquely decorated with pieces that blend the romance of old Shanghai with modern amenities. Kitsch portraits hang on decorative wallpapers, ruby crystal chandeliers dangle above brocaded chaises longues piled high with lustrous silk cushions and traditional wooden Chinese screens divide bedroom from bathing facilities. Rooms are set off broad verandahs bedecked with floral cushion-softened cane chairs, from where, of an evening, you can look down across the water garden below, to where games of mahjong or checkers unfold under muted lamp light.
Any other surprises? If surrounded by this exotic decor makes you yearn for a top hat and feather boa, then the hotel is only too happy to oblige, with a "feel like a star" photo shoot. And having an afternoon tea of traditional English scones, cupcakes and sandwiches served by staff in beautiful cheongsams after a hectic day of sightseeing or shopping is a singular experience.
What's the food like? The hotel restaurant holds its own with Chinatown's renowned street vendors, serving up wonton soup and dim sum as well as Thai/Chinese specialities including hot and sour Sichuan soup with sliced chicken, rice noodles, fish and meat - all with just the right balance of spice. From 9pm, the restaurant transforms into Cotton, an old-school jazz venue with live music and a light menu that ranges from salad nicoise to Thai spicy salad, baskets of freshly fried shrimp and the sweetest ribs this side of Texas - all good blotting paper for the mixologist's potent cocktails.
What's the bottom line? Rates for a deluxe room or suite (below) range upwards from about 3,700 baht (HK$960); superior rooms can drop below 1,000 baht, depending on the season. When making a reservation, book a room on the building's right hand side, as you're facing it, where the light is better.
Shanghai Mansion is at 479-481 Yaowaraj Road, Samphanthawong, Bangkok, Thailand, tel: 66 2221 2121; www.shanghaimansion.com .