Thailand’s train hotel: Introducing Bill Bensley’s railway-themed InterContinental Khao Yai National Park resort

By John O’Ceallaigh

Prolific Bangkok-based hotel designer Bill Bensley is renowned for his brilliantly unconventional properties. That’s a reputation he looks set to consolidate further as word of the forthcoming InterContinental Khao Yai National Park hotel spreads. 

Just under three hours from Bangkok and formerly referred to as InterContinental Khao Yai Swan Lake Resort, the 61-key property will occupy a 100-acre site enveloped by 50,000 trees and with views over seven lakes. The setting promises to be beautiful, but it’s the architecture that will likely be the resort’s most distinctive feature. Its inventory will include 16 80sqm suites repurposed from heritage train cars. 

For Bensley, the idea of incorporating the old-fashioned romance of long-ago train travel into the hotel’s structure stemmed from the surrounding area’s history as a gateway for rail transportation to northeast Thailand during the reign of King Rama V. Woven into the design will be threads telling the story of a train conductor who loved to explore his surrounding world at leisure, travelling languidly by rail not just through Thailand but to Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore and beyond.

Expected to open in October – though nobody can quite say for sure given all the chaos still being wrought by Covid – the InterContinental Khao Yai National Park will feature Somsri’s Kitchen as its primary restaurant, with the setting named after the mother of the train conductor. Set by the pool and the main lake, the hotel’s Tea House will occupy another converted train carriage. On site will also be a train-inspired spa, a kids’ club and wedding chapel. Multiple golf courses can be found in the surrounding area. 

Welcome though they are, it’s probable that a lot of those amenities will be seen as ‘nice to haves’ when considered alongside the train suites, which initial drawings suggest will provide some of the most distinctive hotel accommodation to be found in Thailand. With that chapel so close to hand, expect to see the resort on various ‘world’s best honeymoon hotels’ lists in years to come. Elevated standalone presidential suites will have private pools, others will be stationed directly beside a lake. Private gardens and decks are common, and some suite categories include private outdoor bathtubs, which is something of a Bensley signature. Different categories of suites will be named after different destinations, so guests might find themselves sleeping in Cambodia, Khon Kaen or Chanthaburi. 

InterContinental Khao Yai National Park’s launch comes at a busy time for Bill Bensley. Earlier this year he launched the opera-inspired Capella Hanoi and he is currently preparing for the 2022 launch of The Samurai Camp Okinawa, a camp that can be reached by zipline and which will be inspired by Japanese samurai culture, and Shinta Mani Loong Bay in Hainan, the latest installment of Bensley’s own Shinta Mani brand. That latter property will be surf-inspired and is set to feature Bensley’s take on American beach houses, all scattered along this corner of China. (I’m a big fan of Bensley’s Shinta Mani brand, whose affiliated Shinta Mani Foundation does so much to support surrounding communities and the local economy – I wrote about my encounter with the initiative in Siem Reap here.)

The InterContinental’s launch also follows the recent debut of Kruger Shalati, a hotel built from renovated rail carriages that stands above South Africa’s Kruger National Park’s Sabie River. In Thailand, holidaymakers who have traditionally wanted to experience high-end train accommodation have often booked a cabin aboard Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express. The train offers multi-day itineraries through Southeast Asia, with various departures from Bangkok running to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. 

P.S. Bill Bensley will soon be speaking about his work on a forthcoming LUTE Lounge webinar. Keep an eye on the LUTE website and Instagram feed for more details. 

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