Seek out those Thai hideaways
IN A teeming city of 10 million, where sensory overload is a daily battleground, it helps to take cover in a friendly foxhole.
In frenetic Bangkok, for example, one splendid escape is Happy Jack's frightfully ramshackle, but eminently relaxing pier and bar with the best river views in the city.
In this little-known haven where patrons tread warily over cracks in the floorboards above the fast-flowing Chao Phraya River, space at the six red plastic tables and chairs is always at a premium.
Across town, about 10 minutes by sky train, is a hideaway of a different kind.
The Hansar is an elegant, unobtrusive boutique hotel nestling quietly in a narrow street off leafy Rajadamri Rd, which is arguably one of the most intriguing thoroughfares in downtown Bangkok.
Last year, seven months after opening, Hansar took top spot on TripAdvisor's list of 632 Bangkok hotels, edging out several world-class heavyweights that have dominated the rankings in the Thai capital for many years.
Such momentous marketing achievements don't mean much at Happy Jack's.
The customers are mostly seasoned imbibers - veteran travellers who have stumbled across this gem of a watering hole on previous visits, and a few die-hard expats. Both groups are given to grumbling at the presence of interlopers.
(You'll find this treasure at the river end of the street that runs off New Rd and past the main entry to the Shangri-La Hotel).
For the price of a beer - if you insist on disturbing Jack from his snooze hammock behind the icebox - a tapestry of life unfolds on the mighty river that dissects Bangkok: lumbering rice barges, the ebb and flow of cross-river ferries, and the roar of sleek longtail boats.
But the real bonus is to observe the comings and goings of the rich and sometimes famous from Jack's up-market neighbours - the iconic Oriental, Peninsula, Shangri-La and Royal Orchid Sheraton hotels.
After a busy touring career as a Thai professional golfer, Happy Jack (Jack Jakkapong) these days is content tending bar for his disciples and hiring out a few tourist boats.
Meanwhile, in the street where the Hansar offers the ultimate in peaceful, five-star privacy, high-security luxury residential apartments nearby house some of the most influential expatriates in the kingdom.
In the area's restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and nightspots, you might rub shoulders with spies, diplomats, movie stars, temptresses and tycoons from every corner of the globe.
Within walking distance of the Hansar are the US Embassy compound (CIA operatives galore), the Thai police headquarters and hospital, the elegant Four Seasons and Grand Hyatt Erawan hotels (string quartets with high teas every afternoon), the Peninsula Plaza (some of the finest jewellers and fashion brands in Bangkok), the Paris Spa (54 separate treatments) and international banks and restaurants.
Just across Rajadamri Rd is the exclusive Royal Bangkok Sports Club where they ensure fees are always paid on time with a prominent notice in the foyer: List of Members whose Accounts are Overdue.
It is always blank.
Location is everything in Bangkok with the Hansar scoring high. The nearest sky train station is 100m from the Hansar lobby, and within a 10-minute stroll is the huge Siam Square shopping complex.
Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport is a 30-minute drive on a new expressway.
Architecturally, Hansar has set new horizons with some exterior walls covered in ivy and bronze-coloured mesh screens that glow with reflected light at night and sun by day.
Some suites have a glass-enclosed garden wall of greenery at the entry, while portrait windows and mirrored sliding doors bathe the rooms in natural light.
No luxuries or airs of mystery intrude upon the ambience of Happy Jack's humble premises, but you get the impression that, given a choice, the proprietor (and possibly his regular clientele) would prefer their bolthole.
The writer was a guest of Hansar.
GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT BANGKOK
Getting there: Thai Airways International flies non-stop to Bangkok from Brisbane. www.thai airways.com.au
Eating, drinking: Hansar's Eve restaurant doubles as an East-West buffet breakfast venue and a specialty French-
inspired spot for dinner in the evening.
The hotel's Cafe Boca is the place for casual lunches and quick snacks.
Happy Jack's is open every day for light meals and drinks (plus great river views).
Take the skytrain to Saphan Thaksin station and walk to the Shangri-La Hotel via New Rd (about 10 minutes).
Contact: info@hansar bangkok.com or visit hansarbangkok.com