Mooning on the 61st floor: the sky bar at Bangkok’s Banyan Tree

Bangkok, Evergreen, Thailand / Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Moon Bar - photo by Luca Boldrini

There is no denying, it’s the views that draw people to the infamous sky bar on the sixty-first floor of the equally renowned (if only for its prices) Banyan Tree Hotel in Sathorn. It is mentioned in just about every city guide worth its salt and as a result has become a must-tick-off-the-list item for many travellers passing through the Thai capital; or at least those with some flash to their pack. Most recently it was lauded by luxury travel magazine Wanderlust as one of the world’s ‘gold class’ hotel bars – and, while their assertion that ‘many a Bangkok night has begun perched on a stool at Moon Bar’ may have indulged a little more creative indulgence than rooting in fact, it is at least true that the spot attracts a well-heeled crowd after their own slice of the Bangkok skyline.

You're best off away from the bar - photo by Jessica Spengler
You’re best off away from the bar – photo by Jessica Spengler

You can’t escape the fact that this is tourist grazing ground – come expecting something more local (even if that’s hi-so local) and you’ll be disappointed, because foreign customers far outnumber Thais. And while it does feel like a bit of a zoo to encounter large groups of tourists on their way down the steps to the very highest floor as you arrive to go exactly where they’ve just been, it is thankfully nonetheless the kind of place where sitting at a low table right by the perimeter railings will afford you a little privacy and the chance for a quiet drink with what is irrefutably a killer view. If that’s your aim, you’re probably better off avoiding the admittedly aesthetically smooth but rather busy central bar island, which is forever surrounded by patrons milling around, checking out the view from a million different angles and trying to snag a seat – they are hard to come by!

No-one could say the viewpoint isn't hard to beat - photo by Luca Boldrini
No-one could say the viewpoint isn’t hard to beat – photo by Luca Boldrini

The view, though impressive without a shadow of a doubt, didn’t blow me away as much as I had anticipated or indeed hoped. It certainly gives you more of a sense of just how far-reaching and built up the city is than you ever get from ground level – it’s just not truly breathtaking (or maybe I’m just becoming difficult to impress). In many ways, Moon Bar reminds me of Café Buza, the tourist-renowned bar perched on the rocks just outside Dubrovnik’s outer city wall, which is touted by every guidebook going as THE spot to catch an Adriatic sunset when in fact it misses it quite substantially, the sun actually going down just around the headland. That bar gets its non-stop traffic of trudging travellers (and the filthy toilets that come as a result) on the sole basis of over-hyped recommendation in travel literature.

Up here, you're practically in the clouds - photo by Eric Pesik
Up here, you’re practically in the clouds – photo by Eric Pesik

A direct comparison between the two would be somewhat unfair since Moon Bar has rather more class and sophistication, its admittedly slightly laxly-enforced smart casual dress code (no trainers or flip flops, no shorts or ripped jeans) the first sign. And the ultra-urban lookout, though Café Buza’s is in an endless-ocean sense just as beautiful with or without the touted sunset, is arguably sleeker here.  Yet both capitalise on a much talked about view and experience to sell starkly overpriced drinks – Moon Bar’s extensive cocktail list admittedly makes a break from NAME’s unimaginative list of beers and a few bags of crisps, but actually the long, long menu is a weakness in my book (though they do score points for innovation for the self-lighting menus, particularly useful what with the general lack of lighting that’s necessary to make the most of the view). They would do much better finding a niche in a shorter selection of expertly-mixed cocktails, giving another offering besides the view. As it was, my ‘vanilla sky’ (list ingredients) was distinctly unmemorable – and certainly didn’t have the slightest hint of vanilla to it. Prices are always the first thing mentioned when you talk about anything to do with the Banyan Tree, and those at Moon Bar seem to have gone up considerably since the blog posts I read in advance had been written: reckon on 500 baht plus for a cocktail, 300-odd for a local beer and more for imports; champagne cocktails will set you back around 1,700 baht a glass (equal to our bill for four people; we only ordered one drink – though hung around for a good couple of hours and impressively weren’t hurried to leave), while the priciest bottle of fizz I spotted was 51,000 baht.

While the view is impressive, the drinks let the bar down - photo by Cameron Adams
While the view is impressive, the drinks let the bar down – photo by Cameron Adams

Doubtless Moon Bar won’t be for everyone, and it’s about as far removed as possible from most of everyday life sixty-one floors down on the ground below. But for most of us, it is still somewhere to say we’ve been once.

5.00pm – 1.00am daily, weather permitting
Banyan Tree Hotel, 21/100 Sathon Tai Road; 
02 679 1200

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