It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and I have just arrived at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok following a short flight from Macau. While the temperature in this city is warmer, the humidity is lower than my hometown. With the bright sun shining above my head, I am looking forward to my exciting adventure in the fashionable capital of Thailand.
Upon arrival, the Front Desk Manager at the hotel immediately escorts me to my room after a quick check-in. At the door of my room, the Floor Butler greets me warmly and introduces himself.
“My name is Amnat Prajit. My team and I will be taking care of you during your stay. Should you need any help, don’t hesitate to press the ‘butler’ button in the room. We will be at your service immediately,” he explains.
After being settled in my room at the Garden Wing of the hotel, I finally begin to sit back and relax on the sofa. With a glass of iced lemongrass tea on my hand, I look out the floor-to-ceiling window. The view of the magnificent Chao Phraya River is stunning. The water gleams as light hits the surface of the river. Wooden boats move steadily as they travel on to their destination. The horizon boasts a sense of serenity, and the lush green garden beside the swimming pool adds vivacity to the scene.
Built in 1876, The Oriental, as it was then known, was the first luxury hotel in the Kingdom of Siam. Beginning with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia during the nineteenth century, the legendary hotel has welcomed numerous heads of state, captains of industry and a host of world-
renowned writers and celebrities over the years. It has long been famous for its service, style and elegance.
The establishment has recently completed a comprehensive renovation of the historic Authors’ and Garden Wings. The newly renovated Garden Room’s contemporary interior design combines the hotel’s unique colonial inspired heritage and Thai culture, designed to significantly enhance the facilities and services of this award-
winning hotel. Eager to find out more about its history, I decide to leave the comfort of my room and meet Etienne de Villiers, Director of Public Relations to have a tour of the Royal Suite.
“The six-bedroom, 600 square metre suite occupies the entire first floor of the renowned Authors’ Wing, which was the original Oriental Hotel,” says Etienne as we step into the private elevator to access the one-bedroom, 315 square metre Royal Suite and the adjoining 165 square metre Ambassador Suite with two bedrooms, as well as three further separate guest rooms to accommodate family and entourage.
“The comprehensive renovation of the Authors’ Wing and the construction of the Grand Royal Suite have been designed to restore the celebrated heart of the hotel to its classic late-nineteenth-century design. For our Thai designers, the story of The Oriental Hotel, which is also in part the story of Thailand and the flourishing of Bangkok in the late 1800s, inspired the opulent suite’s interiors,” he adds.
The overall interior design is lavish yet elegant and encompasses many traditional fretwork details and ceiling mouldings inspired by the hotel’s iconic heritage. The finest Thai silk has been used extensively throughout with golden silk in the master living spaces, while the master bedroom spaces take on a rich purple tone against a backdrop of white walls and traditional mouldings.
“I heard that the Thai royal family visits the hotel often. Is it true?” I ask.
“I can’t tell you exactly when, but when you see the Authors’ Wing closed down with members of security and police moving around our property, most probably that’s the time they are here, but as a matter of fact, back in January of this year, the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok kicked off its 140th anniversary celebration with a gala event presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana of Thailand,” he answers.
In addition to hosting the Thai royal family, the famed hotel also has a longstanding affinity with the literary world. Inside the renowned Authors’ Lounge – a favorite destination for afternoon tea, society weddings and elegant events, there are four salons named after famous authors who were guests of the hotel: Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and James Michener. On the walls, quotations from their books, and in some cases, signed books are on display.
Another outstanding characteristic of the hotel is its unique urban resort environment, which allows guests to enjoy the extensive river frontage to its fullest. The hotel’s private teakwood shuttle boats provide daily access to the world famous Thai Cooking School, the hotel’s Thai restaurant, the award-winning Oriental Spa and Health Centre located across the River; as well as the nearest skytrain station and River City Shopping Centre.
“The river is back in fashion these days. Back in the nineteenth century, people only traveled through with boats. There were no roads back then, and the road that is just in front of the hotel, the Oriental Avenue, is actually built for our property, as there were guests who complained that they could not get to the hotel without a boat,” he comments.
Taking the hotel river shuttle is a great way to avoid traffic in Bangkok. The spectacular golden hue of the sun is more beautiful than ever at dawn and there is no better way to appreciate the marvelous scenery than to be in a luxurious wooden boat.
As night falls, the Bamboo Bar is the perfect place to be for a sophisticated night of fun with live jazz. Originally opened in a tiny room in the hotel back in 1953, the Bamboo Bar has grown into an institution frequented by world high society. The essence of the old bar inspired the new design created. Bamboo is used for the bar, chairs, and wall and ceiling finishes. Original black rattan armchairs have been restored and replicas of rattan seating shown in early twentieth century photos are created. Tiger skin print patterns are retained on bar stools and some armchairs. The famous Thaijito and other Bamboo Bar originals created by the bar’s legendary barkeeper for three decades, Sompong Boonsri, remain on the cocktail menu, along with the classics that are still mixed according to their original recipes.
Hanging on the wall are historical images of the hotel and bar, and pictures of former patrons, including Louis Armstrong, Mick Jagger and Audrey Hepburn. Other artifacts include jazz instruments and explorer memorabilia, like binoculars. “The overall mood creates a nostalgic explorer’s den, like before,” Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s General Manager, Amanda Hyndman explains, “It is a marriage between the colonial era and contemporary design, thereby creating a sense of place that signifies the Orient of old.”
While walking back to my room located in the Garden Wing, I stop several times, marveling at the lobby with violet flowers and exotic lanterns hung from the ceiling. The light by the river gives me the illusion that I am in a nineteenth-century novel. Staying at this remarkable hotel is not only a precious adventure, but it also gives me a glimpse of the past. The old, quaint elevator finally arrives on the third floor. The musky smell of Citronella from the lobby lingers on as I head back into my room. Although in a dreamy state of mind and ready to hit the sack, I firmly admit that I have become a fan of the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.