Sunday, 5 October 2008

The Dusit Thani Hotel – the City in the Fourth Heaven

The Dusit Thani Hotel Bangkok, at the junction of Rama IV and Silom Roads, overlooks the busy Saladaeng junction and Lumphini Park beyond, its lighted obelisk at the pinnacle glowing like a magic wand in the night.

There's a celestial allure to the name Dusit Thani. In astrology, the Sun, Moon and the five planets visible to the naked eye, Mercury Venus Mars Jupiter and Saturn are referred to as heavenly bodies. "Dusit" in Thai is the fourth heaven and "thani" a city.

The concept of Dusit Thani, the city in the fourth heaven, was propounded by King Rama VI in 1918 as an ideal state of human well being, a model city of freedom and happiness.

The history of the hotel dates back to 1949 when Thanpuying Chainut Piyaoui started the first hotel in Charoen Krung Road called the Princess Hotel with a loan from her parents.

From this humble origin, she set her sights to develop the five-star Dusit Thani Hotel in Rama IV Road in the 1960s. Her vision was realized with the grand opening of the hotel in 1970. Back then, it was the only skyscraper in the neighborhood. This move was to lay the foundations for expansion of the list of Dusit hotels in the next four decades.

The Dusit Thani Hotel is located in an area that's rich in history and regal tradition that's also linked to King Rama VI. At the turn of the 20th century, the surrounding area was royal land called Saladaeng.

The land got its name from the red roofed pavilion (sala daeng) of the train station. The station was part of the Parknam Line, a Belgian-Danish joint venture, which operated Thailand's first railway from 1893 – 1959 linking Bangkok to the river mouth (park nam) where the ships were anchored.

When King Rama V died in 1910, his son King Rama VI set up Chulalongkorn University, the oldest and leading university in Thailand, in memory of his father. Part of Saladaeng was allocated for the campus.

In 1925, King Rama VI made a further donation of Saladaeng to be a public park. This park is the vast Lumphini Park, named after the birth place of Buddha, Lumbini in Nepal. The King Rama VI Monument stands at the gate to Lumphini Park just across the road from the Dusit Thani Hotel.

The land on which the Dusit Thani Hotel, Bangkok stands was once the site of a nobleman's mansion.

In 1987 the Dusit group expanded beyond Bangkok to other parts of Thailand by establishing Dusit hotels in Chiang Mai (1991) Chiang Rai (1991), Hua Hin (1989), Pattaya (1987) and Phuket (1987).

The group has also ventured into boutique hotels with the D2hotel in Chiang Mai.

In keeping with its origins, the Princess brand was revived in 1989 with the launching of the Royal Princess Hotels, five of which are in Bangkok:

Bel-Aire Princess Sukhumvit

Grand China Princess

Pathumwan Princess

Royal Princess Larn Luang

Royal Princess Srinakarin

The other Princess hotels in the list are in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Korat, Ranong and Koh Chang (to be completed in 2007)

Frequent visitors familiar with Bangkok will remember the Pathumwan Princess in Mah Boon Krong Centre and the Grand China Princess in Chinatown.

By 1991, the Dusit group went beyond Thailand into the international hotel scene with Dusit hotels in Balikpapan Indonesia (1994), Dusit Mangga Dua Jakarta (1994), Dusit Hotel Nikko Manila (1995), Dusit Inya Lake Resort Yanggon and Dusit Dubai (2001).

For her contributions to tourism, Chainut Piyaoui was awarded the aristocratic title Thanpuying, the highest royal decoration awarded to women. Officially called Knight Grand Commander (Second class, higher grade) of the Most Illustrious Order of Chula Chom Klao, this title was bestowed upon her by His Majesty the King on the 53rd anniversary of Coronation Day on 5 May 2000.

Over five decades with Thanpuying Chainut Piyaoui as Chairperson and Managing Director, the Princess has grown into the flagship Dusit Thani Hotel Bangkok which in turned has sprouted 20 hotels in Thailand and the region - a feat in individual enterprise.

The Dusit Thani Hotel Bangkok turned 36 in 2006. Despite new skyscrapers around, the city in the fourth heaven remains the dominant landmark in the Saladaeng junction.

Down below the subway rumbles into the Silom station just by the side entrance to the hotel. High above Silom Road, the skytrain glides into the station aptly named Saladaeng. The legacy of the red roofed pavilion lives on.

The Dusit Thani Hotel heads the list of hotels in Silom an old district remembered for its canals, windmills and connections to nobility.

Tour Bangkok Legacies is a historical travel site on people, places and events that left their mark in the landscape of Bangkok.

The author, Eric Lim, is a free-lance writer who lives in Bangkok Thailand.

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