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I stayed at the Centara Grand at CentralWorld for a quick weekend in October 2008. At the time, the hotel had just opened and was offering very good rates. Like the Pullman King Power Hotel which I have previously reviewed (and will draw an occasional comparison) the Centara is part of a new shopping mall located in the eastern part
I booked the hotel online and took advantage of a special weekend rate. As of this writing there is considerable political instability in Thailand and the hotel rates are very cheap. I pre-paid in advance, basically getting 50% off of the Deluxe Room class. There were no issues booking online and I used the hotel's own website, bypassing other websites.
I like to include this section in all of my hotel reviews. It is important to time your arrival at Don Muang or Suvarnabhumi airport, accordingly as Bangkok traffic is possibly the worst on the planet. If you fly into Thailand internationally, you will arrive at Suvarnabhumi which is about 30 to 40 minutes from the hotel with minimal traffic. I fly United Airlines which arrives at midnight and departs at 6am which means there is no traffic to factor in. Most likely, you will be taking a taxi as the SkyTrain to the airport is not yet connected at this date. Go to the front of the terminal and look for an official taxi stand. You will be harangued by non-registered taxi drivers. Ignore their rates. They are 600-800 THB and a pre-paid official taxi will be about 450 THB. If there is a huge queue at one taxi stand, just take a walk in either direction to the next one. Passengers exit the terminal en masse and generally just queue at the first stand they see when there are several to choose from. I bypass the lines every time by walking 50 meters in either direction.
At any rate, the taxi will take you directly to the front door of the Centara. Like the Pullman, the entryway is down a long driveway and the taxi drivers may miss it or not know where it is. This will improve as knowledge of the hotel spreads among the drivers, but my driver got confused and went to the service entry first.
There was a bit of confusion here as the hotel's lobby and check-in area is actually on the 23rd floor. This is patterned somewhat like the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. You leave your bags with the porters on the ground floor, then take an elevator ride up to the check-in
area. I had no issues, otherwise. All of the rooms are on high floors and there really aren't any good views or landmarks to be seen from any Bangkok Hotel, including the Centara, so room location isn't a huge issue.
I stayed in a Deluxe Room with a poolside view. As with all Asian hotels, everything was in order, but there were a few noticeable quirks and construction flaws that I saw. One of the things to remember is that this hotel recently underwent a re-model and when one is modifying an existing structure, nothing turns out quite right. The layout was fairly standard, although there was a sliding glass window and curtained partition that opened the bathroom up into the sleeping area. I didn't understand the logic behind this at all. The shower tall was a cylindrical walk-in that abutted directly into the sleeping area creating an odd contour to the wall.
Cleanliness was quite good, but some stains and dust were overlooked during my stay. There were no major lapses in general upkeep, however. Linens were clean and crisp and the beds, like most in SE Asia were very firm. The hotel was a bit stingy with the towel supply, allotting only two sets per room where other properties will offer up to four. The quality was average. The bathroom had most standard amenities. I found it odd that the shaving mirror was not mounted at face-level, but was just sitting on a short stand by the sink. When I looked under the sink, I saw some signs of rushed construction in the form of untrimmed caulk and exposed mortar.
The room had a mini-bar, mini-safe, flat screen television, tea set, iron, hair-dryer, a chaiselounge, and a desk with exorbitantly priced broadband and electrical sockets for every voltage which meant I could charge my iPhone.
As callous as this may sound, I don't have any lasting impressions about the room other than window between the bathroom and sleeping area. Usually, this is a good sign as I am a finicky traveler and focus on the shortcomings of a property. The fact that I have no complaints means that it was a good room, overall.
The hotel has a well-equipped and underused gym. The trainer that was on staff seemed a bit bored most of the time. I did see him working with guests one-on-one on a few occasions. The pool area was not heavily populated during my stay and was well-kempt by the staff and gardeners. The pool is quite nice and done in an infinity-style. It sits above an extensive green park and tennis court and had more than ample seating. I did have a complaint about the price of beer and food around the area. I think that a 10 dollar Heineken is a bit steep, even for Bangkok.
I usually make it a point to try out the spa while I am evaluating a property and the Centara's was still a bit rusty. This is not to say that the staff and services were lacking. On the contrary, they were on par with most other hotel spas. The problem is that the construction quirks began to get in the way with my experience. Much like the constant hammering and drilling that I experienced at the Pullman, the noise intrusion from a passing thunderstorm pounding on the window of my treatment room affected my treatment. The services are at least half the price of the US, but can be gotten for even cheaper at any walk-in spa in the area. The doors to the changing room open up directly into the main hallway and you are totally exposed if someone opens it—not a good design. If I could sum the spa experience up, I would say that it's good but in need of improvement. Still, it's a bit more of a controlled environment than some of the street-level establishments, albeit pricier.
Breakfast was included in my hotel room and it was fairly good. I have had better and I have had worse, but they did a good job of accommodating the swarm of mainland Chinese tourists, dirty slackpackers, and budget tourists gorging themselves. If you're looking for a civilized experience, this is not the area of the hotel to look for it. Basically, the earlier you arrive and leave, the better. Part of the food preparation area is open to the buffet area which has all the obvious advantages and disadvantages.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the hotel is its rooftop bar called Red Sky. It has a plush outdoor seating area with excellent view of Bangkok's sprawling lights. During my visit, it was raining and so I was not able to have the full experience but I was advised to get a reservation as it is a popular destination. There is a dress-code. I opted to have drinks at the indoor portion of the bar. They had the requisite resident jazz pianist which made the city views and great design elements that much more enjoyable. There was a very impressive two-story glass-walled wine cellar towards the middle of the bar with some impressive Premier-cru bottles. If there is any part of the Centara that is a must-see, it is Red Sky. Again, make a reservation and be ready for some sticker-shock.
As with all Asian hotels, the abundance of cheap manpower, no-tipping culture, and overall pride in one's work make the frontline staff really stand out. They were courteous, helpful, and always smiling. I was greeted by every member of the staff when in public areas. The staff have excellent language skills and I saw them dealing with guests from multiple countries with ease.
Check-out went smoothly but you must allow some time to get down from the lobby to the street. I left my earphones in my room and the staff found them and held them for me. I had no problems getting a taxi at 4:30am for my 6:30am flight on a Monday morning.
The Centara is located in the massive CentralWorld mall and is adjacent to the Siam Square mall (an older and similarly massive mall). The two are connected by a walkway which you will take if you want to get to the nearest SkyTrain stop (Central). The hotel's broadband is very expensive, but there is a Starbucks in the food court that has free access with purchase. The hotel is a brief tuk-tuk ride from the nightlife areas although the long driveway and somewhat hidden entrance may confuse your driver. The hotel is walking distance from the Erawan Shrine and Grand Hyatt which is where I recommend you have Sunday brunch. Make sure you experience the in-mall luxury car dealerships at Siam Square. As with most of the high-end hotels in this part of town, it is not easy to access the historical sites to the west. They are not connected by the SkyTrain and you have to take a cab (have them use the meter or negotiate a fare BEFORE you get in) or take a circuitous route to the Chao Praya and then catch a boat.
The Centara is a good hotel in a good location that offers near 5-star quality at 3-star prices. There are plenty of options in this price range, however.