Through all of my years of travel, I’ve always been driven to do what most travelers do: capture the essence and beauty of the scenery and culture of the place I’m visiting. Compelled to record the beautiful images and write about my experiences so I will never forget the trip. I take photos of popular tourist attractions, obscure places, and odd things. Trust me when I say my wife finds some very obscure things to photograph. Things only photographers in the secret cool-things-to-photograph-club know how to get to.
Through it all, I’ve never spent much time writing about the logistics of travel. Unless I’m complaining about airline delays or cancellations. And I’ve never cared to write anything about hotels—unless I’m writing a complaint on a piece of paper to leave at an empty reception desk.
But there’s this one hotel we stayed at on a recent trip to Bangkok Thailand that I just can’t get out of my mind: The Mustang Blu Hotel. Since the minute I left it, I’ve lived every day with a beckoning urge to go back to it. If not go back to it, do everything I can to share the profoundly unique grandeur of Bangkok’s Mustang Blu with as many people as possible.
Bangkok’s Mustang Blu: Arrival
Like many I take snapshots of odd and different elements of human culture playing out in real time. Descendants of the Aztec doing sacred dances in the streets of Mexico. A wise old street vendor trying to make an honest dollar. A family of five all loaded on a tiny motor scooter with bags of groceries.
Bangkok’s Mustang Blu is a small boutique hotel located in Bangkok near Chinatown. It’s a hotel for sure, albeit just a ten-room hotel. But much more than a hotel, this place is a mind-bending design masterpiece. Typical of my always low and sometimes fatalistic expectations about the quality of whatever our next hotel will be, when we drove up to it in the cab, I had already given Audra the look: are-we-really-going-to-stay-in-this-dump? look. I’ve given it more times than I can remember. And a few times, I’ve been right. But in this case, I was so terribly wrong.
If you are flying into Bangkok, read about how to get from Suvarnabhumi airport to Bangkok.
As we lugged our bags out of the trunk of the cab, I stared at the place with disdain. Expecting it to be more horrible looking on the inside than I’d ascribed it to be on the outside. I was glaring at its old and weathered cement walls seemingly in disrepair with sheets of stucco falling away and off-colored old paint blotches here and there.
But there’s more. Dark molded drainage stains running down the sides of the exterior walls from slow leaking roof gutters. Chipped and pitted cement at the base of its foundation; damaged cement corners; low power lines surrounding it. You know, the typical slum-looking old run-down building.
But as I approached the solid wood stile-and-rail doors embossed with a single M on the top left side and a B on the right, I started to get a feeling this was a different kind of place. I looked up at the smaller-than-expected black letters individually mounted to the top of the concrete door frame in the humble elegance of all-caps times new roman with the E intentionally missing from the name. THE MUSTANG BLU it read. This place was starting to get my attention.
Step Inside Bangkok’s Mustang Blu
Then I walked in. In what felt like a brief moment of halted synapsis in my brain, I stood there aghast at what I saw. I felt like I’d just emerged from a time machine. One that dumped me off somewhere in some mysterious place in late eighteenth or early nineteenth century Europe. It wasn’t just one area or one thing, not just a single element of décor or a particular picture on the wall. It was the overwhelming aggregate impact of a masterful design striking my senses all at once.
Stairway To Heaven
Everywhere I looked was a piece of its theme that if taken away, would ruin the entire aesthetic of the place. In the cozy banquet hall sits a huge rusty metal spiral staircase in the center of the room. The stairs at Bangkok’s Mustang Blu spiraled up to nowhere except breathtaking, blue, gray, and white toned messily spread plaster ceilings held up by huge ridge-flared concrete and plaster columns that matched the colors and textures of the ceilings and walls. Each step littered with volumes of vintage hard-bound books and antique bronze banker lamps, light cascading downward over the steps and piles of books.
Bangkok’s Mustang Blu: Design Masterpiece
Across the room was the front half of a taxidermized giraffe peering out of the wall. Mounted at just the right height to be standing halfway in and halfway out of the wall. On another wall a high stack of early eighteenth-century leather trunks bound with strings of antique decoration lights. Every wall of the old building looked to be in some unkempt stage of cosmetic decay.
Filler bricks and messy mortar showing in some places, broken off plaster in other places. A mix of both in many places.
But that and the missing chunks of concrete here and there all looked very intentional. It’s as though Ananda Chalardcharen, a local Thai Stylist and the designer of the place, hired workers to literally chip out and damage those certain places during renovation to fit her concept. But they were obviously perfect elements of the building’s age to build her masterpiece around. An approach demanding even more design genius.
Bangkok’s Mustang Blu: The Restaurant
On one side of the banquet space sat a long solid wood antique dining table, its surface a a few inches thick. Surrounding the table were high back wooden chairs, upholstered in years-old tattered and worn leather, all of it pinned in place by large bronze upholstery tacks. The waiter even served our cocktails on a wooden dish with an actual torn out and aged book page. Never the same page twice according to the staff. Even they were part of the design. Dressed in long, black, split side aprons looking as if they were born to work there in this time-warped place.
Included with your reservation at the hotel is breakfast. A nice large breakfast of eggs, toast, juice, coffee, tea, fruit, and roasted chicken with vegatables.
Scattered about the entire space were strategically placed and hastily grouped tall white candles. Years of dried wax streams flowing down their sides and out onto whatever surface they sat on, of course all burning real flames. In the background at just the right pitch, classical music featuring slow longing cello notes flowed throughout the place. Yet, no speakers to be found anywhere.
As I moved through Bangkok’s Mustang Blu, more of Chalardcharen’s design concept was revealed. We checked in at the front desk, a solid fifteen-foot-long dark oak counter. I was taken aback by the sheer size of the antique card catalog drawers consuming the entire back wall standing at least fourteen feet high.
Behind me loomed a reconstructed authentic skeleton of an ostrich encased in one glass observation container. In another, the taxidermized body of a mustang horse. Countless animal skulls were mounted and placed everywhere. One wall displayed a single black and white print of Salvador Dali. The Mustang Blu hotel was almost like a living piece of Dali’s art.
Bangkok’s Mustang Blu: The Rooms
Considering the massive amount of brainpower spent on the design of the common areas, one would think Chalardcharen would skimp on the rooms at Bangkok’s Mustang Blu. But no. Both rooms we stayed in (at different times) echoed the same theme. The floors of the rooms were original old plank wood. The floors and walls of the bathroom were finished with huge one-inch-thick squares of marble halfway up. The rest of the walls and ceilings echoing the same aesthetic banquet room and lobby.
The bathrooms also featured a solid porcelain clawfoot tub garnished with antique brass plumbing. The Mustang Blu rooms were outfitted with old style metal rotary phones that actually worked. It’s what you had to use to call down to the staff—that is unless you wanted to break the fantastic charm and pull out a cellphone, something that may have even disappeared in
your pocket, lost to the future the second you walked into this place.
The Design Theme
A mysteriously stunning trip deep into the rustic French/Italian design dreams of Ananda Chalardcharen, Bangkok’s Mustang Blu is breathtaking! I’ve struggled with the right words to use even in my own mind trying to describe it to others. I can’t seem to get an accurate string of words formed up in my brain to capture its elusive essence.
Early nineteenth and midcentury maybe? No. A timeless image of melting gothic renaissance, classic anthology, and old-world craft taxidermy? No, that’s some of it but not all of it. It’s truly difficult to pinpoint a real-world name for the design brand. I’ve searched the Internet far and wide for write ups on this place and I find folks saying the same thing. It’s a description nearly impossible to capture even writing an entire article.
No Words To Describe
I will leave this piece of writing feeling like I missed the mark on describing the beauty of this place. But I hope I’ve at least given you some images to use to try and construct the look and feel of it in your own mind. It’s the most complicated and purposeful piece of art I’ve ever seen with a design style that should have a name.
But there simply isn’t one. In order to get to some singular idea of it in your head, you have to just take in its aggregate theme in person. Then fumble yourself for the right few words to capture its personality. It’s a place just waiting for the ghost of Anthony Bourdain to join all the other immortal ghosts of antiquity that seem to loom around every corner within the eerie mystique of The Mustang Blu.
Bangkok’s Mustang Blu: Summary
With just ten rooms, The Mustang Blu Hotel is continuously fully booked. But if you ever visit Bangkok, you should fight as hard as you can to stay there. You should probably even consider visiting Bangkok just to stand inside of the place. It’s certainly bound to become a Bangkok legend. If you can’t book a stay, forget the room and come for the breathtaking design. Every single view, from every single place and every single angle, is a classic photo waiting for someone to snap. The imprint of Bangkok’s Mustang Blu will live in your mind forever.
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