Famously — and fittingly — coined the “Paris Hilton of Bangkok”, Naphaporn “Lek” Bodiratnangkura’s life is one synonymous with success, style, and exclusive soirées. Among the most iconic society faces of modern-day Bangkok, not only is she associated with luxury beau monde, but her various billion-baht ventures surrounding the Park Nai Lert Block are reputed for never failing to impress.
While the hotel heiress may have been born the same year her family established the Hilton back in 1980, the ever-versatile and spunky Lek continues to prove that she’s one to don many names — from retired party girl, to managing director of Nai Lert Group, and, very soon, an association with Aman. We sit down her at the Park of Nai Lert to find out about her views on success, life, and the very first details of what may very well be her most stunning legacy yet — the Aman Nai Lert, which is set to add a dash of super-luxe tranquility to Bangkok when it finally opens its doors in 2022. Here’s what we learned.
Don’t just work hard — work smart.
Although it was never specifically her intention to do so, Lek’s business ventures have always made flashy headlines — from the 10.8 billion baht sale of her family-owned Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel to Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS), to her decision to convert her family’s teakwood home into a heritage museum for public viewing. Even her annual Nai Lert FLower & Garden Art Fair is globally-recognised to feature one of the largest flower carpets in all of Asia.
Exactly how has she managed to achieve such widespread success? “It’s important to be reasonable and not to use emotion in this day and age,” she tells us. “Family businesses that are led by emotions won’t last. If the person does not have a good vision, that brand cannot survive.” She tells us how before Aman Nai Lert had been finalised, the initial plan had been to open her own hotel — the Nai Lert Park Hotel and Residences — but well-intentioned friends and family had warned her that managing a hotel and its operations on her own would be an arduous task. “In this modern day and age, it won’t fare too well to have just one hotel. You’d need at least 10 to build a successful chain,” she explains, “We aren’t ready for that, so we started to look for a chain that suited us. Something too big, like 200-300 rooms, is not for us, and we also wanted to bring something that’s still missing in Thailand.”
To win the price war, you must know your strengths.
Set to comprise both a hotel and 30-year leasehold residences, the Aman Nai Lert is already beginning to catch eyes nation-wide, though not much is known about what the hotel’s concept will be. Lek doesn’t reveal much, only sharing that Aman “wants to be a sanctuary” — yet, despite the limited information, there is no doubt that the hotel will be yet another success. “I asked their marketing team if we had a tagline, and they were like, ‘We don’t need a tagline baby,’” she tells us openly, before breaking into fits of laughter.
On a more serious note, she tells us that “ what Aman will add to Bangkok is how it is product driven and not market-driven,” — saying it with a steadfast conviction we can’t help but wholeheartedly trust. “Everyone knows that in Bangkok room rates are in a price war. Every hotel is nice, but they need to dump their rates in order to compete. I say we are product-driven and there are also enough Aman junkies out there. I’d rather get 10 rooms at 50,000 baht, than get full occupancy at 5,000 baht.”
Nai Lert’s strength? It’s location.
“You can ‘Bangkok’ anywhere, but you cannot ‘Nai Lert’ everywhere.” Lek remarks, and she isn’t the only one to recognise this fact — once it launches in 2022, the Aman Nai Lert will be the first and only Aman hotel in the world to be set in an urban setting, but sport the name of a neighbourhood rather than the city itself. When we mention this, Lek finds it far from surprising. “It’s a no brainer. Why else would you partner up with me if you don’t appreciate the location? I told them that Nai Lert is a place that local people appreciate and know. Using Nai Lert will be more unique.”
… and Bangkok’s second tallest tree.
A magnificent spread of green amidst the surrounding urban jungle, the Park Nai Lert estate prides itself for an impressive selection of century-old Ashoka trees — most of which, get this, are insured. In fact, right in the midst of the current hotel construction site stands Bangkok’s second tallest tree, a somphong. It is very likely that the hotel’s architecture will be implementing this prized object of nature into its design.
“If I cut down any trees my grandmother will get up from her grave to kick me in the ass,” Lek tells us with a laugh, “I would never do anything short-term gain, long-term pain. The word “park” is there for a reason. It’s obviously got to do with how green this area it is and it’s a park, not a garden. Nature is in my blood.” This much is true — long before ideals of female empowerment and environmental conservation managed to penetrate the media and common conscious, Lek’s family had been championing strong female figures, and were going out of their way to preserve Bangkok’s breathing space. It’s in this long standing past, where Lek sees her future. “I see myself as a mother or grandmother just walking around as a head of gardening or head of housekeeping until my last day. I don’t think our household knows how to retire. This is our life, so retiring means literally dying off.”
Family is important — sometimes it’s everything you have.
Her love for the environment wasn’t the only thing Lek’s grandmother imparted on her. Even today, her fabled family’s influence and stories play a large role in where she gets her drive, and most of her time is spent revolving around setting up a smooth running system so that her family’s legacy continues to live on. “My goal is clear. I want this place to be sustainable so that if I’m not here one day, it can walk forward by itself,” she explains, and already she has done an incredible job of keeping her family name alive, with an array of exciting projects in the pipeline.
Set to complement the Park of Nai Lert’s Western restaurant, Lady L Garden Bistro — named in honour of Lek’s maternal grandmother Thanpuying Lurksakdi Sampatsiri — is Caviar Cafe, a new eatery set to open in December. A little further past is another project called Samantao, set to open next month, and will serve old-fashioned coffee on an open-air floating raft.
The name Samantao comes from Lek’s great-grandfather — the revered businessman and founding father of the clan, Lert Sreshthaputra, who was also known as “Nai lert” and “Lert Samantao”. What few know is that the widely-used Thai slang lert samantan, which means “absolutely fabulous” actually originated from this very same man.
Part of being successful is having guts.
“My grandmother was very clear-sighted, ruthless, and had guts,” Lek tells us, when we ask her about the kind of woman she aspires to be. “If you want to be successful, it’s not enough to just be smart or to have money. You need to have guts. Then, you need to be brave and ready to take responsibility for the decisions you make.”
What’s quite interesting to see is that despite her repute as retired party girl, Lek was actually the closest out of all her siblings to Thanpuying Lurksakdi. After her fashion degree stint in New York — which she hilariously brushes off as “a blank slate, ‘cause I was drunk and forgot.” — she was the one who eventually returned home to help with shifting the family business. She credits this close-knit relationship to shared lunches during her youth. “She was quite involved in my life. If I didn’t decide to come back, I would regret it all my life that I didn’t get to spend any time with my grandmother.”
On regrets — live in a way that you won’t have them.
Known to have spent much of her life dancing the nights away and being too glam to really give a damn, one would think Lek might have had second thoughts about her choices, but she confidently tells us she has no regrets. “If you ask, do I regret anything in life, I’d say not at all. When I was partying that hard, I didn’t regret doing all that because if I didn’t do it as much then, maybe I would still want to now, and I wouldn’t be this hardworking. My family probably knew what my true character was, and found themselves a way to go reverse psychology on me.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Lek has completely turned her back on her penchant for dancing — except instead of going all out on the tables, she now channels her energy in sports after work. If anything, her five branches of Kriyoga — a yoga studio — are proof of her turning over a new leaf. While they do not necessarily bring in huge amounts of profit, she tells us she can’t bear to close them after a 70-year-old woman once came up to her to thank her for helping her regain her ability to walk.
The taste of life comes from every level
Aside from exercising, enjoying good food, getting her nails done and an occasional appearance at society events, there aren’t that many crazy happenings in her life these days. She likens her journey to a full circle, where she is now content with spending time with her loving beau James, with whom she’s been together for the past five years. From the way she puts it, you can feel that these views are due to the arrival of a mindset that is settled and at ease — and that partying at Bed Supperclub for 15 years does get old. “I’ve lived a very thorough life,” she muses, “I didn’t choose to live glam only. I think not eating on the streets and not talking to people without big last names is a total waste of your time alive. The taste of life comes from every level, and all walks of life.”
The key to happiness, is to believe in who you are.
We touch briefly on her various ups and downs, including her divorce — which she recounts without so much as a flinch. “When I got divorced, I got lots of direct messages on my Instagram from women saying I was their idol because they were stuck in marriages and couldn’t get divorced. Maybe it was too straightforward of me, but I asked back: Do you work? Get a job so you don’t need to depend on him.”
This philosophy is in many ways a reflection of how Lek chooses to live her life. “Stand on your own two legs. No matter what, you need to find something that makes you proud of yourself. You need to be proud of what you sell and what you do. Believe in what you are. You need to know yourself — what your good points and bad points are.”
Find out more about Naphaporn “Lek” Bodiratnangkura in our November issue, available in all leading bookstores in Thailand.
Photographer: Vatcharasith Wichyanrat
Stylist: Pisit Jirathadaphan
Makeup: Nontalee Wongpeng
Hair: Narongsak Yimlaengamkool
Editorial Coordinator: Hattapon Chuaykrajang
Location: Park of Nai Lert