We were recently invited for a sneak peek of the brand new Bangkok Tree House hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, just beyond Bangkok’s city limit. What we found was an eco-masterpiece in the works, conceived by the son of a Bangkok hotelier now very much a world-class hotelier himself!
After a 30 minute ride on the Skytrain from central Bangkok and a 15 minute cab ride, we arrive to the pier next to the Bangna Nok temple and followed the instructions to call the manager of the Bangkok Tree House and he and the captain of the tiny speedboat arrive in two minutes. The manager is dressed to impress in all black, bringing the aura of luxury with him to this otherwise grubby pier. We load into the boat and are whisked across the river, and in three minutes pull up at simple bamboo pier overlooked by the hotel’s organic restaurant. As we carefully, perhaps clumsily, disembark, an older local man observes us from the comfort of his wooden fishing boat.
His boat is just a few feet from the one of the twelve modern tree house suites behind him, and the contrast between his leathery, wrinkled skin and well-worn fishing boat to the gleaming glass of this modern abode strikes me as relevant. This is the first hotel built on the river in this area of Bang Nampheung, which feels like an entirely different world to the jam-packed chaos, consumption and capitalism just over the river in Bangkok.
We meet the owner Joey Tulyanond in the restaurant, which is temporarily serving as the hotel reception. Joey’s impeccable English reveals time spent abroad working in Washington, DC. This was before returning to Thailand to open the Bangkok Tree House, an extreme departure from the traditional Thai style of his family’s Old Bangkok Inn in central Bangkok (click the link to see our review of the hotel).
What the two hotels do have in common is a strong adherence to a green policy, but Joey has taken this to an entirely different level. First, the hotel is entirely carbon neutral, and promises to collect a kilo of trash in the area for every booking to the hotel. As we tour the property, we see the space where the pool will go in. The plan is to create a natural pool, which uses plant life to clean and regulate water quality, without using chemicals like chlorine. The pool, along with the entirely organic restaurant, should be up and running by late February, Joey explains as he escorts us to our bungalow. There will be three set menus available – one Thai option, one seafood and one vegan, all set at 490 baht. For now, only the delicious breakfast (included in room rate) is served here, he apologizes, sliding the door open to the tree house.
The bungalows are set over three levels. We enter on the ground level which is essentially a large bathroom with a toilet nook (complete with glass floor looking down onto the river) and a gorgeous outdoor rain shower (and a second shower) on the bamboo deck, made private by an unrolled, heavy bamboo curtain. Upstairs, we see why our room is called the Ant room: there are giant 8-inch ants traipsing across the wall and the strikingly familiar wooden IKEA furniture inside. Each room is equipped with 32 inch computer monitor stocked up with hundreds of movies, documentaries and music to watch and play during our stay. The outdoor patio on this floor overlooks miles of mango trees, which are fun to look at from the comfort of the bed.
Upstairs on the roof are two sun beds perfect for sunbathing. On hot days there might be nothing better than going down to the communal refrigerator (rather than one in every room, this communal fridge saves energy) on the ground floor and grabbing some of that bottomless ice-cream – one of Joey’s more creative (and tasty!) hotel policies. Running up and down the stairs to get that ice cream, however, requires full concentration, thanks to the architectural style that keeps the treehouse feel at the forefront of our awareness.
We start the morning by watching the waves of the river lap at the bank below our hut, thanks to the glass floor beneath the toilet in the bedroom. At the top of a set of staggered steps, there is a second pane of glass in the floor through which we see the river as well. Ascending to the roof requires stepping safely onto a piece of tarp that covers the shower space and below, and then swinging up onto a ladder and climbing that up to the roof. The warm rain shower requires us to even undertake some of our very personal business outdoors – and we love this as much as we did on the island of Koh Lanta. In fact, all of this in no way inhibits the relaxing effect or luxurious feel of the hotel, and it is actually quite satisfying to ‘climb’ up to the safety of our nest for the night.
As for filling the days, the Bangkok Tree House is not ideal for power shoppers focused on deals in central Bangkok. Guests are better off staying out here, renting (for free) the fashionably rusty bikes to explore. In fact, if you do not do cycle here, you are wasting your stay at the Bangkok Tree House.
The area surrounding the hotel, where the river meets the land, forms miles of lush green swampland, conquered by the locals by creating raised cement sidewalks that snake in and around amphibious neighborhoods of houses on very low land. The pathways all eventually connect up to larger roads with plenty of roadside restaurants (keep your eyes open for a fantastic coffee shop called Coffee Professionals on one of the main roads).
We lost ourselves in here for an hour or so, stumbling upon the Herbal Joss Stick house, privately run by an adorable husband-wife duo who immediately welcomed us and gave us a tour of the center. Also their family house, the wife hand makes herbal joss sticks, which are like incense to ward off mosquitos, and runs Thai cooking classes, while the husband does cycling tours through the area in his down time from teaching at a Bangkok university. You won’t find them online anywhere, however, (our limited language skills kept us from understanding how they host all these tourists), and the entire Bang Nampheung area feels almost completely undiscovered, save for the newly created Bang Nampheung floating market.
Stand Out Feature: Location
Initially, we thought that the location of the Bangkok Tree House would be an inconvenience, and too far from central Bangkok to attract enough guests. On the contrary, the location of the hotel is by far one of its most attractive features. At night, we felt safe all tucked up in our tree house watching movies looking out into the jungle on the river, and during the day we were some of the very few foreigners riding around typically Thai streets, quite a feat in Thailand, a country where almost everywhere panders to tourism. We felt entirely local, and yet good and pampered back at the hotel – the perfect combination for a relaxing escape anywhere.
Inside our treehouse at night, the lights bounce off the glass and mirrors in a way that create those endless tunnels of reflected scenes, leaving us feeling in a sort of dreamworld, and then climbing up the staggered steps and watching the ebb and flow of the water below creates an atmosphere that make this an entirely unique Bangkok hotel.
Although the local architect Nuntapong Yindeekhun is nearly as off the grid as this hotel is (he is looking to leave architecture and get more serious about eco-farming!) his design is intelligent and modern, using natural and recycled materials wherever possible and creating a perfect balance of an awareness of nature with luxury.
As of this review, the hotel was still entirely under construction, so we can’t go naming something to improve upon. We did develop a laundry list of concerns, however. This might include a bit more training for the staff, who are very friendly but still a bit awkward dealing with guests. The ‘ground’ floor of the bungalow gets extremely hot as there are no windows, just sliding glass doors, which, due to mosquitoes won’t be opened after dusk. A fan would be a welcome touch. Joey plans on selling green products in the new reception area, and we hope this includes the joss sticks from the Herbal Joss Stick house, both for the mosquitos and to support local businesses. We hope that the wi-fi reaches the bungalows, as promised on the website. Wi-fi was only available in the restaurant (and minimally at that) during our visit. Finally, not because of any extra large fish in the river, but for the flocks of new guests, this hotel is gonna need a bigger boat than its current little four-seater speedboat.
Bangkok is home to over 800 hotels – the budget cheapies of Khao San Road, comfortable mid-range hotels and uber-luxurious five-star properties reserved for the world’s elite…and then there is the Bangkok Tree House in a category and class of its own. There is enough luxury to deserve the $150 minimum price tag, but enough peace and quiet to marvel at its actual proximity to the buzz of central Bangkok. There is certainly not a lack of Bangkok hotels but finding the right one at the right price may be more difficult. By doing research not only are you narrowing your hotel options but you are also creating a budget that works for you. If Bangkok is the city you are destine to visit, make sure to check out an exotic hotel such as the Bangkok Tree House Hotel. With Thailand’s amazing beauty and increasing modern appeal it is no wonder why so many tourists visit year after year.
Location: Moo 1, Bang Nampheung, Samut Prakan Province; 66-8/1453-1100
Price: Doubles from 4,690 Baht / $150
LGBT Friendly: Not outwardly, but they did invite us…
Digital Nomad Friendly: without in-room wi-fi, unfortunately not (yet)
Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi in the restaurant area, complimentary bicycle rentals, an entire digital library on an in-room media center, daily drinking water, pool, restaurant, free ice cream bar