Dusit International is off to a solid debut in Kyoto, Japan with two hotel openings almost back-to-back.
An hour's drive from Kansai International Airport or a short walk from Kyoto station after transit from the airport, Dusit Thani Kyoto opened its doors in September after the opening of Asai Kyoto Shijo in June. Each offers different appeals with the former being about understated elegance and luxury while the latter being about no-frills comfort.
Dusit Thani Kyoto definitely knows how to make a memorable first impression in a rather unexpected way, besides the Thai and Japanese flags outside. Standing where a primary school used to be in a quiet neighbourhood, the low-rise property plays with arriving guests' expectations as lattices cover most of its facade to create a sense of mystery. Instead of a showy appearance, it reveals plenty of beauty the moment you pass through the sliding doors.
The double-volume lobby is a sight for sore eyes, engulfing you with sheer beauty while serving several purposes. You can admire the courtyard garden, which is on a lower level, through the glass wall.
The Japanophile in me can't help but notice the white lattice in the auspicious asahona (hemp-leaf) pattern, hanging above the garden while symbolising protection against harm or evil spirits. Creating even more serenity in the space is a zen garden encased in glass walls on the ground level.
The lobby also features a shop corner whose poles are inspired by Thai pedestal trays, the Gallery where you can enjoy international flavours with cocktails or afternoon tea and the Tea Salon where tea ceremonies and maiko performances take place. The latter is a beautiful way for Dusit to pay homage to the cultural and former capital of Japan and let the guests into the local culture without extra charge.
More nuanced Japanese and Thai touches are there if you look closely enough, from an installation with a pointy top as a reference to Ayutthayan chedis and imprints of Ratchapruek (Thailand's national flower) blossoms found on wood installations in the elevator hall. The thoughtfulness in design extends down to small details within the accommodation, awaiting your discovery.
The 147 guest rooms are divided into seven categories, starting rather large with 40m² of Deluxe Room and peaking at 173m² Imperial Suite, of which there's only one. All rooms ooze serenity through wooden and neutral tones while reminding guests of the local culture through small details such as a coat hanger/umbrella stand in the shape of a torii gate, double layers of shoji windows for optimum privacy and a hinoki wooden bathtub inside the Imperial Suite.
While you can't realistically expect much in terms of view, given that the fourth floor is the highest. You can ensure a view of a beautiful garden all to yourself (with the added bonus of a ryokan feel) by booking a Premier Garden View or, better yet, a Premier Suite. The latter has a raised floor covered in tatami where you in yukata can sit on a legless zaisu chair, while nursing tea and admiring a garden that you don't have to share with anyone.
If you can afford to splash out, opt for the one and only Imperial Suite. It has a view of a red brick building, an example of Western-style architecture from Japan's Meiji period, on one side of the room, and you can spot the Kyoto Tower on the other side.
There, you'll also have plenty of living space, a separate bedroom and a hinoki (cypress) tub to luxuriate and rejuvenate in as the wood's scent and oil are said to have healing properties.
This low-rise property has a beautiful way of immersing guests in the local culture through its aesthetics. I'm thoroughly impressed by the effort and thought that Thai and Japanese design firms put behind it.
For a property that has nearly 150 rooms, you may be surprised to learn that Dusit Thani Kyoto boasts four restaurants on the lower ground besides the Gallery and Tea Salon. These four are distinct in their own appeal and adjacent to the beautiful courtyard, which serves as an obvious backdrop for your photo ops.
At the risk of sounding biased, the highlight is definitely the Thai restaurant Ayatana, which was conceived by acclaimed chefs Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones of Bo.lan. Known for their commitment to Thai flavours created with seasonal and sustainable ingredients, the chef couple envisions Ayatana as a multi-sensory fine dining experience where authentic Thai cuisine meets the finest Japanese traditions. When you read Ayatana's dinner menu, you'll notice Thai phraseology that also appears in a Bo.lan menu e.g. Ruem reak rareung rod, a fancier way of saying amuse-bounche in Thai. Ayatana dinner is definitely an experience, breaking into three main acts namely five amuse-bouche, six dishes to enjoy with organic rice and two palate cleansers/desserts.
The restaurant also plays host to the breakfast service, which contains an impressive and extensive spread that you can help yourself to on top of an a la carte menu, including dishes that can cure homesickness such as Kaprao moo, Joke moo and Phad see ew moo.
To complement Ayatana, the chef couple has also created Kati (coconut cream), a unique dessert atelier that offers an innovative take on traditional Thai desserts.
For a sizzling lunch or dinner with a bit of a cooking show, opt for Kōyō (red leaves) where the teppanyaki/chef's table experience takes centrestage. Inspired by the ancient calendar of 24 micro-seasons (24 sekki) in Japan, each dish is crafted before your eyes with seasonal and fresh produce. The mouthwatering delicacies include succulent Wagyu sirloin or tenderloin and Sautéed foie gras with mushrooms, truffle and a red wine sauce with Shine muscat.
Den Kyoto is a place to cap off a night in style with a cocktail or mocktail. Some concoctions bear names that would surely pique your curiosity such as Shijo Silom and Som Tam (vodka with nampla, anyone?).
More facilities await further down on the B2 level where Devarana Wellness Spa, a 24/7 gym and an indoor swimming pool are located.
You may not be able to tell right away but the neighbourhood that Dusit Thani Kyoto is in can also be described as quite spiritual and historical by the fact that it's located between two historic temples namely Higashi Honganji Temple to the east of the hotel and Nishi Hongan-ji Temple to the west. Both Shin Buddhist temple compounds are within walking distance from the hotel, the former being about six minutes away on foot while the latter being 16 minutes away. Visit them both to crank up the pedometer on your smartwatch and be enthralled by their gardens and grand wooden halls with Goeido Hall at Higashi Honganji Temple being one of the largest wooden structures in the world.
For something educational but still Buddhist, walk for five minutes from the hotel to visit the Ryukoku Museum and check out its recreation of wall paintings at Bezeklik Cave Temples. With a short taxi ride towards the south from the hotel or 20+ minutes on foot, you'll arrive at Toji Temple, another historic temple known for its five-storey pagoda that stands tall among autumnal leaves. Fun fact — Nishi Honganji and Toji temples are Unesco World Heritage Sites.
Still on the Buddhist track but of a different sect is the Zen temple Kinkaku-ji, aka Golden Pavillion. It's a must-visit for Kyoto first-timers despite the crowd to get some shots with the pavilion in the background.
Besides the world-famous pavilion, you can get rid of pesky loose changes by trying to toss them into a bowl placed among Buddha stone statues for good luck.
Really want to get a shot with the seemingly endless Torii gates? Then, you'll have to make an effort to check out Fushimi Inari Shrine, a 20-minute ride from the hotel. Mind you, if you choose to rent a kimono and wear it while visiting these temples, chances are fellow tourists may ask if you can take photos with them, even if you're from Thailand.
For something more secular, you have Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district, where you can admire these performers in colourful kimonos and traditional machiya townhouses. It feels like a pocket of a time machine and is about a 15-minute ride from the hotel.
Dusit Thani Kyoto also arranges for a maiko to perform at the Tea Salon and guests can have a front-row seat to her performance without extra charge.
After having your fill of traditional culture, you may want to enjoy some retail and munching therapy. Less than 10 minutes by car from the hotel, you'll arrive at Pokemon Centre Kyoto and from there you can go shop at Daimaru Kyoto and sample food at Nishiki Market.
I made a personal pilgrimage to visit the Kyoto store of Issey Miyake housed inside a traditional building to kind of pay respect to the late Japanese designer and admire all the beautiful things under the Miyake Design Studio umbrella. There's also an A-POC Able store, another Issey Miyake brand, nearby.
Dusit Thani Kyoto is a place to be if you want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture and tradition while its location affords you convenient access to many attractions, modern or traditional and spiritual or secular.
To mark its opening, Dusit Thani Kyoto is offering exclusive room rates for members of Dusit’s guest recognition programme known as Dusit Gold, starting at JPY 56,925 (B13,391.88) per night, inclusive of JPY 5,000 hotel credit per person per stay. You can sign up for Dusit Gold membership for free and this offer is valid until Nov 30 for stay dates until Dec 28. Sign up for Dusit Gold for free at dusit.com/signup. Visit dusit.com/thanikyoto.