Aug 15, 2022
SIRI SALA, ONE OF THE NEWEST and most stylish of the growing fleet of private-villa hotels in Bangkok, is the fruit of serendipity. For wife-and-husband team Irma Go and Kirati “Art” Thepsoparn it was also a disagreement that turned into a passion project.
The pair clearly enjoys telling the story of how they spotted an old wooden house for sale on a canal on the sleepy Thonburi side of Bangkok. It was “a wreck” for Art, who initially was not convinced by the collection of decrepit buildings surrounded by overgrown weeds. “It was my dream house,” counters Irma. Their calls to the number on the sign went unanswered, much to Art’s relief.
Still, the idea of a house on the water haunted Irma and a year later, what looked like it was going to be a wild-goose chase for a different property led her back to the very same building. The owners had initially put the house on the market, changed their minds then a year later decided to sell it after all. Irma was the first caller. Serendipity turned into fate and she and Art bought the house.
Their tale of how the crumbling house became a stand-alone luxury holiday villa is epic. Every detail from raising the flood-prone land to the finish of the walls (initially deemed too smooth to be the work of traditional craftsmen) was costly and time-consuming. But perfectionists Irma and Art were determined not to compromise on their vision.
When early on they realized that they were not going to be able to save the original structure, they undertook the painstaking process of recovering as much of the wood as possible, including floorboards, window frames and even the original house number, so they could incorporate those elements into the new house. The one building that could be salvaged was moved piece by piece to create the heritage bar that doubles as a game room and parlor. The result of all the hard work is a house that is heavy on both contemporary and traditional design but also comfortable and cozy.
The couple share more than a love of design: they also have a love of good food. It soon became clear to them that the house was going to be a stage for sharing that passion with others.
The inspiration for the Traveling Chef Series was actually born 12 years ago when they were visiting the private village resort of Sitio Remedios, an hour north of Vigan City in Irma’s native country, the Philippines.
Dinner was served by moonlight at a communal table, sometimes in the courtyard, sometimes at the beach. They both remember it as “magical.” And a part of the magic was the people. “The idea was to bring new people together,” Irma says. “And meet new people.” She was determined to bring the same down-to-earth formula to Thailand.
Instead of just having a guest chef cook at Siri Sala, they invite the traveling chefs and their teams to Bangkok to move in and have the run of the villa so they can host drinks, chat with guests and of course serve up a meal of food close to their heart. The events are crafted to flow easily from a pre-dinner talk to the dining room then back out for after-dinner drinks and live music.
Irma admits that guests seated together at a communal table may be “a little out of their comfort zone” at first but that if they’ve chosen to join the event, they are already going to have common interests like food and travel. The magic of the moment does the rest.
The first chef to take up residency was Jordy Navarra, of the acclaimed Toyo Eatery in Manila, who is one of the most vocal champions of Filipino food and traditions. “We’re here and we want to learn,” Navarra told me during his three-day event in May. “But we also want to share.” The reception was overwhelmingly positive. “Guests said they want to go to the Philippines, which for us is the best feedback,” he noted, calling the experiment a success.
The next event will be hosted by Num Triyasenawat of Samuay and Sons in Udon Thani who takes seasonal and foraged ingredients of the northeast of Thailand and transforms them under what he calls New Isaan Cuisine. For his residency at Siri Sala in Bangkok, the chef will focus on the roots of the food of his native Isaan. “Each dish comes from indigenous peoples,” he says. “We are so excited to cook these recipes. I hope that guests will enjoy our food and the stories behind it.”
Seats at the Traveling Chef Series with chef Num on August 19, 20 and 21 are Bt4,500 including Thai craft beers from Full Moon Brewwork. Tickets for the October 28-30 event with Chefs Safe and Tao from sought-after Rark Authentic Thai Cuisine will go on sale soon. When chefs are not in residence, individual rooms can be booked at Siri Sala; the entire villa including five bedrooms can be reserved for Bt125,000 per night.
All photos courtesy of Siri Sala.