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Oct 22, 2010
Dream Hideaways: The Eugenia, Bangkok - Forbes

The Eugenia, Bangkok

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Of course. Please come over," the polite voice at reception encouraged me when I asked whether the Eugenia was still open. I had arrived in Bangkok in the middle of last May's antigovernment Red Shirt Riots, and the Eugenia--a Relais & Châteaux member, 12-suite boutique hotel located on a quiet side street of the then-shuttered Sukhumvit business district--happens to be next to the prime minister's residence. Wading through the Red Shirt camp and a military cordon, I emerged into a pleasant tree-shadowed lane where a polished 1970 Daimler gleamed in the Eugenia's driveway.

Whisked through the front door by a man in a tux, I found myself in a languorous 19th-century world. Books, tribal masks, and animal trophies held court over hushed salons of leather furniture and ancient broad-plank floors. A white-vested butler served me an immaculate welcome martini while through the French doors waiters were giving the silverware one last polish before the night's dinner.

This fantastical outpost of Victorian comfort is the creation of the Bangkok-based Taiwanese interior designer Eugene Yeh, who spent decades probing the world's flea markets and antique stores for a bewildering array of stuff that wouldn't have passed anyone's mom's "Are you really keeping that?" test. Everything from the ancient brass light switches and the copper bathtubs to the 12-foot alligator floor piece was hoarded by the peripatetic Mr. Yeh. Result: the sort of rambling gentleman's lair one imagines Somerset Maugham nestled into while writing one of his voluptuous tales of local intrigue when this country was still known as Siam.

The only obvious sign of the 21st century in each bedroom is the flat-screen TV hung discreetly amid the white linen curtains and antique prints. Those in the know grab the spacious Eugenia Suites on the second floor, whose louvered windows overlook the palm-lined pool in the courtyard.

To forgo the hotel's restaurant, DB Bradley, named for a 19th-century American missionary, would be sinful indeed. Seven cooks, including a pastry chef, under the management of kitchen maestro Jutamas Theantae, formerly of the venerable Mandarin Oriental in Chiang Mai, toil away to prepare exquisite French-Asian fusion dishes--foie gras and truffle miso soup, anyone? No wonder well-heeled local politicos and bankers spill in here for dinner.

Still, the Eugenia is not for everyone. For starters, its 19th-century aesthetic might get a bit too real for some folks. Old-fashioned plumbing requires that used toilet paper go into a separate bin--that never happens at the Four Seasons. Also, it's far from the river and most tourist sites. But the location is a great excuse to get whisked away in the Daimler or one of the hotel's antique Jags. Besides, the Eugenia is a destination unto itself. The week after I was there, the whole hotel was rented out by an English hipster who flew in his friends for a house party.

But even a houseful of English jet-setters couldn't do much to disturb this rarefied and polished world. During my stay, despite one of the great riots of the past hundred years going on just a few blocks away, I didn't detect the slightest stir. --FINN-OLAFJONES

THE DETAILS $222–$275 Contact 66-2-259-9011-7, theeugenia.com

   
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