We depart from our dock on The Siam’s private river barge to cross the Chao Praya River (River of Kings) over to the site of a local temple, where young, underprivileged teens train on donated land that now houses a boxing ring and training center. A strip of mattresses with rumpled sheets lay on the temple floor in the back for homeless teens to sleep, and in the ring, we watch as the older boys spar. But I cannot take my eyes off the eight-year-old, 20-kilo champ, who flexes his biceps at us and demonstrates his 360-degree kicks.
The 2,000-year-old Thai sport of Muay is referred to as “The Art of Eight Limbs” because it uses punches, kicks, elbows, and knees to strike, as well as improves fitness and mixes religious beliefs with traditional cultural practices. And it is one of the specialties of The Siam, whose gymnasium is the first professionally equipped luxury Muay Thai gym in Bangkok. Proceeds from the hotel’s VIP Muay Thai Experience, a three-to-five-day program, partially funds the temple boxing ring so that orphaned and underprivileged youth have a place to practice this physical and spiritual sport.
The 39 suites and villas that make up this urban luxury resort may be located in the heart of the palatial Dusit District of Bangkok, but its soul is General Manager Jason Friedman, whom Andrew Harper named Hotelier of the Year in 2013. Friedman used his genius to create an experience at The Siam that is a win for both guests and locals alike. Instead of helping rescued elephants as he did at his previous post at the Four Seasons Chiang Rai, The Siam helps people – largely underprivileged teenagers.
Back from the ring, we escape the heat with laps in The Siam’s riverfront pool and lounge in the shade while sipping lemonade drinks spiked with vodka.
Before my training session with a famous professional boxer in The Siam’s own boxing ring, I am outfitted with all the appropriate gear. While I will admit I am a bit skeptical of boxing on my vacation, I stay open and present to Friedman’s recommendation to participate and have the time of my life kicking it up with Khun Bee, as they call him. My hour training session could burn up to 1,000 calories, so I follow Bee’s lead and start with stretching and “the stance.” I jump and twist and face the mirror head on as he teaches me to form the most basic punches and kicks, and I work up quite a sweat. The introduction is fun, but it’s hard to describe the feeling of power and confidence you get training in the ring. “Punch me as hard as you can,” Bee demands. “As hard as I can? Are you sure?” I wheeze. And so I punch and kick and throw all my weight into him. “I’m scared of you,” he says.
In addition to screening a boxing film in your own suite, the package includes a Muay Thai Boxing Massage in The Siam’s Opium Spa by Sodashi. An open lounge seating area leads into a den of darkly painted walls and priceless antiques. I nurse sore muscles back to health in the underground hammam, alternating with heated Jacuzzi submersion and freezing plunge pools. The custom organic Sodashi product line infuses heavenly organic essential oils that waft through the open ceiling of the spa.
The VIP experience also includes a trip to a professional Thai fight. Guests have an opportunity to continue the philanthropy by sponsoring a local boxer after departure.
When I finally crawl back to my Buddha suite (which is curated with thoughtful original art), I find my luggage unpacked for me by Jill, my personal Siam butler. At first, I don’t know what to do with my butler, but Jill makes himself so useful carrying my umbrella, walking us to a temple, running up to the room when I forget something, or down to the front desk to exchange dollars for me that now, it’s hard to live without him.
The Siam hotel is the generous result of the creative Sukosol family. Forbes magazine called the regal matriarch, Kamala Sukosol, a hero of philanthropy. The concept for this hotel was hatched when her youngest son, Krissada Sukosol Clapp (a rock star, film actor and anthropology major) inherited the riverfront land. He envisioned a unique retreat to evoke the feel of Thailand’s most glamorous era and a place to house the family’s extensive antique collection. It’s not unheard of to find Kamala singing in the popular lounge. Bill Bensley, the globally known, Harvard-educated designer and architect famous for his portfolio of over 180 hotels in more than 30 countries, signed on to bring the vision to fruition. There is a stunning three-story sunlit atrium containing hundreds of ferns and foliage and water elements which was inspired by Musée d’Orsay. The jaw-dropping central courtyard is surrounded by lounge and library areas brimming with collections of priceless antiquities.
Sure The Siam is in a great historical location. There are Thai cooking classes, fabulous food, hideaway villas, priceless antiques, and it is walking distance to grand palaces, temples and museums. But what sets it apart from other luxury hotels is the heart and soul of The Siam. I could have shopped, but instead I learned something about myself – I box like a girl!