Bill Bensley’s railway-themed Intercontinental Khao Yai National Park Resort will be built from repurposed heritage train carriages. Rose Dykins reports
By the end of 2021, Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts will expand its Thailand presence with the arrival of Intercontinental Khao Yai National Park Resort – featuring a luxury hotel built inside upcycled vintage train carriages.
The landmark resort will be set within the Khao Yai National Park, 2.5 hours from Bangkok. A mountainous UNESCO World Heritage Site, the national park is revered by nature lovers for its lush wildlife and scenic lakes, while its surrounding world-class golf courses attract luxury travellers.
Designed by Bill Bensley – known for creating one-of-a-kind sustainable hotels (see our write up of the Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia) – the design concept of Intercontinental Khao Yai National Park Resort is inspired by the Khao Yai’s history as a rail transport gateway to north-east Thailand.
The fictional story of a local train conductor named Somsak, his connection with Khao Yai’s hillside train station, and his love of travel throughout Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Singapore, informed the design concept for Bensley and his team.
“We loved coming up with the tale of Somsak the train conductor and developing his story through every part of the hotel,” says Bensley. “It is the DNA of our project and guides all of our design choices, so that guests are truly and completely transported to a world of our own creation – while still being rooted in reality.”
He adds: “As for sustainability and conservation, we always build using the sustainable principles outlined in my white paper and also considered how best to build so that we wouldn’t do harm to this natural, beautifully wooded site.
“The Intercontinental Khao Yai National Park is our biggest feat of upcycling yet, and I am just thrilled such a big operator is on board. Our 100-acre site is home to 50,000 trees, seven lakes, 61 keys, and most wonderful of all: 16, 80 sqm suites repurposed from heritage train cars.”
Each carriage is 2.5 metres wide (the largest suite is 30 metres long) and represents a different destination Somsak experienced on his travels, with their design harking back to the golden age of rail travel to recreate the feeling of travelling on a vintage train.
Bensley describes the rest of the resort’s infrastructure and how it continues telling the story of Somsak – including the train station, which houses the lobby.
“The Lobby [will] welcome guests and immerse them in this unique tale,” he says. “Our Khao Yai station is a testament to a quiet yet passionate spirit that had the iron rumble of the railway tracks and the whistle of its locomotives, running through his blood.
“This follows in the food and beverage concepts as well: Somsri’s Kitchen is the main restaurant, named after Somsak’s mother – her and her husband’s portrait are part of the interiors. There is also a bar called Caboose, the Spa and pool and lake-side Tea House will be housed in upcycled train carriages, too.”
Speaking further about the upcycling process for Intercontinental Khao Yai National Park Resort, Bensley says: “I hope that with this new opening – expected in October – more and more operators will be inspired to go the route of major upcycling and recycling, as it brings buckets of character, soul and appeal to any project.
“Who knows what will be next? I would certainly not say no to an upcycled plane hotel, a grounded ship, or – dream of all dreams – a 100 per cent recycled hotel.”