To grasp just how romantic and ravishing Shanghai Inn's interiors really are, picture a scene from a classic Chinese Opera or one of those fantasy martial arts films of recent years. Then, close your eyes and imagine you've stumbled onto the set. No chorus of chanting concubines or wall scaling movie stars await your arrival at this friendly boutique hotel, but in terms of d-cor, what unfurls here is a comparable visual extravaganza.
Open since April 2006, it evokes all the drama and opulence of the Orient: palatial passages are hung with red lanterns, rooms are of such intricacy and bold colour they could trigger sensory-overload, and furnishings at every turn evoke Imperial China. In addition, a list of amenities that includes free wireless Internet ensures those craving stylized and stimulating over unparalleled luxury will feel quite the modern Emperor or Empress.
But, when it comes to hotels, interiors only ever tell half the tale. Fortunately, Shanghai Inn's location on Yaowarat Road - in the heart of atmospheric Chinatown - means those with a penchant for things Far Eastern will find it as well placed as it is well ornamented. From the street vendors selling roasted chestnuts or Buddhist charms, to the satisfaction that shines in the faces of those sat hunched over bowls of Bird's Nest Soup, this is an endlessly fascinating enclave. One that with gold shops, shrines, herbalists and a history as old as the city itself, is even more colourful than Shanghai Inn's rooms.
Not being near a BTS Skytrain station is a disadvantage, but a complimentary tuk-tuk regularly departs for Hua Lamphong train station, Silom and Patpong, Erawan Shrine and the main shopping centres. And the Old City or Rattanakosin - where anyone who favours Bangkok's culture over its commerce will spend most of their time - is only a few blocks away.
Ascend the escalator into the lobby, and the hustle of modern day Chinatown is traded for flavours of Old Shanghai. The first thing you see is a balcony overlooking a central atrium teeming with decorative parasols, each one dangling from the ceiling as if magically floating midair. Its theatrical and playful and a hint of what's to come. To one side is the reception area with walnut furniture and statues of laughing Buddhist monk Hotei; to the other is the quaint traditional teahouse where breakfast is served (includes cereal, cooked breakfast, juices, tea, coffee and fruit). There is no restaurant, but who needs one with Chinatown on your doorstep!. Beyond, long lantern-lit corridors are reminiscent of a Qing dynasty palace where royal scandals play out, leading guests in fitting style to the sumptuous rooms.
Each and every one is a wonder to behold and explore, a feast for the senses: mock-antique Chinese furniture and lamps, plush drapes and silk cushions contrast with soft pastel walls and faux-silk wallpaper depicting scenes from court life. Lanterns droop elegantly from ceilings, while exotic plants and flowers rise majestically out of vases. Rather than a uniform colour scheme, each has its own distinctive tone - think vibrant pinks, reds and blues. Reserve one of the four Junior Suites with their own spacious living area, daybed and tea table set (37 square) and you have the privilege of a balcony and windows looking out across Chinatown.
You may go to sleep and wake up to the sound of mercantile commotion, but for many the views will be worth it. The 51 Superior Rooms (25 square metres), in contrast, are intimate - cosy, less bright and with much smaller bathrooms. They are, however, no less ravishing to the eye. Nor are they deprived of the highlight - a mock-antique four-poster wood bed that, despite being ornate and delicate, is very comfortable - or wood framed mirrors, shower, raised sink, antique towel rails, cupboards and a kitschy birdcage that looks like a prop lifted straight out of Fu Manchu. The overall effect is dream-like and likely to inspire flights of fancy.
No kowtowing servants are on hand to answer your every beck and call, but Shanghai Inn's helpful receptionists and modern amenities ensure you never feel shunned. Slip into the Chinese slippers and dressing gown, or enjoy the satellite TV, fridge, mini-bar, and Chinese tea set with kettle. There's an electronic safe and hairdryer but most impressive of all trappings is the complimentary wireless Internet in every room - a feature that still eludes the quarters of most five-star hotels.
There is also a small reading area with library and Internet facilities for those without laptops. And, when feeling hurried or harried by Chinatown's relentless pace, the Yin-Yang Spa - with 22 beds for body massages and 30 seats for foot massages - is the perfect tonic. Nestled on the third floor, its simple, unassuming facade is belied by an extravagant menu of relieving and rejuvenating treatments. Try the 'Yin-Yang Foot Massage', a Chinese treatment in which fresh ginger is smeared liberally over legs, or the abundantly sensuous but modestly priced two-hour traditional body massage with herbal compresses. Ask at the spa reception for special packages and prices for hotel guests.
With all this - an endlessly inspiring location, bags of character and an unrelentingly lavish style - not much can be levelled against Shanghai Inn for the price. Just be prepared, when you put your clothes on in the morning, to feel a little underdressed.