Until recently, it seemed like the Thai city of Ayutthaya’s glory days were behind it. The second capital of the Siamese kingdom from the 14th to the 18th centuries was sacked by the Burmese in 1767, its inhabitants dispersed and homes burned to the ground. And though it draws visitors to marvel at the ruins of the Royal Palace and magnificent temples, the city has traditionally been little more than a stopover from Bangkok.
A new wave of design-forward hotels, restaurants, and cafés is changing that. Sala Hospitality Group, which runs a clutch of sleek properties in Phuket, Koh Samui, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, recently added Sala Ayutthaya to their ranks. Designed by Bangkok-based firm Onion, a mix of stark white-and-brick exteriors house 26 minimalist rooms with neutral palettes, marble plunge pools, and river views. Despite the ultramodern aesthetic, Onion’s design director Siriyot Chaiamnuay cites the ancient Phutthaisawan Temple, across the Chao Phraya River, as the inspiration behind it, adding that he hopes it will spur visitors to discover “the beauty of old Siamese temples.”
Joining it is the new Wine Ayutthaya, an eye-catching bar by the award-winning Bangkok Project Studio. The overall affect resembles a boxy, futuristic treehouse thanks to the ingenious use of PVC sheets draped over gridded steel-reinforced plywood. Five spiral staircases leading to landings of varying heights frame the landscape from several vantages. Like Chaiamnuay, Bangkok Project Studio’s principal Boontherm Premthada found inspiration in Ayutthaya’s history. “Apart from numerous architectural ruins and artifacts, like the elephant city tour and floating market, this is a city of inherited cultural traditions, including many that are not well-known,” says Premthada, citing the craftsmanship of hand-beaten steel Aranyik knives, handmade bricks, traditional wooden boat buildings, and the rows of wooden houses along the Chao Phraya River. He hopes that design-minded travelers drawn to Wine Ayutthaya will stay to delve deeper into the city’s heritage and help revitalize the local economy.
Meanwhile, two casual cafés offer cold drinks and a respite from the tropical heat. The Summer House brings industrial vibes with brick walls, marble tables, wooden chairs, and abundant greenery, plus an outdoor patio that draws crowds for riverfront concerts en plein air. Busaba Craft & Design Café doubles as a coffee shop and a space for up-and-coming artisans to sell their wares. As Premthada says, “Staying in Ayutthaya is the experience of living in two different times: the ancient and the modern.” You just have to make the trek to Thailand to see it.