Seduced by a higher level of grace
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok honours its history, while cocooning its visitors in the utmost comfort and good taste, writes Brian Berkman
The Chao Phraya snakes through Bangkok like an artery, bringing sustenance to the city. Any doubt that this is the river of kings is squeezed from the mind the way that the searing chilli in the hot and sour tom yum soup opens the nose.
Note the bridges that join the river to the land. The Bhumibol Bridges are named after the recently deceased king and his father, and to honour Kings Rama 3, 4, 7 and 8.
The best hotels in Bangkok are along the river and none is more historic than the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok.
On the opposite bank of the river, the storied Peninsula Hotel towers among many grand and special hotels including The Anantara, Riverside and Shangri-La. The more recently opened Avani, just behind The Anantara, is more affordable and, prices drop at establishments farther from the river.
The Mandarin Oriental was the first hotel to open in Bangkok, 140 years ago. It has deep literary roots, with Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, James Michener and Wilbur Smith, who has a suite named after him.
The excessively high staff to guest ratio — not just any staff, but people who have mastered telepathy and have high levels of empathy — means that the guest experience can’t be explained, it has to be lived.
From arrival in the high-ceilinged foyer to breathing the air scented by myriad flowers in the hotel’s gravity-defying floral displays, the establishment defies the bustle of the city outside its doors.
Lift doors open with your floor button pressed before you enter. How each member of staff you encounter knows your name and which floor your room is on is one of the great hotel mysteries.
The personalisation extends to check-in happening inside your suite, where writing paper with your gold-embossed name waits on your desk.
There is a purpose-designed cubby for shoes, which allows your butler to remove them for buffing without disturbing you and to return them, gleaming and wrapped in tissue paper, before morning.
Most high-end hotels and resorts lavish attention on their guests and provide magnificent surroundings and facilities, but the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is different.
You have to ask your waiter not to bring another coffee. A tissue requested to catch a sneeze one day is proffered at your table the next day. Poolside, staff offer shot glasses of ice cream and platters of decoratively cut fruit. A magazine similar to the one you are reading is offered before you are done with yours. A selection of sun creams is quietly provided.
Rather than being creepy, the intense attention and concern is most seductive.
Join the other sophisticates for Afternoon Tea in the hotel’s white-cane furnished Authors’ Lounge. As with everything at the Mandarin Oriental, the tea is more than you’ve ever had before. The traditional tea of scones and clotted cream is available, but so too is an Oriental version with chicken satay and steamed pork buns along with Thai confectionery.
That the hotel has 324 rooms and is frequently at capacity makes the personalised service even more extraordinary.
The Grand Royal Suite upgrade was completed a year ago. The six-bedroom, 600m² suite now occupies the entire first floor of the Authors’ Wing, which was the original 1876-built Oriental Hotel. The suite has private lift access, a one-bedroom 315m² Royal Suite and an adjoining 165m² Ambassador Suite with two bedrooms, as well as three guest rooms to accommodate family, personal staff and security details.
Designed to be lavish, you could host another head of state or royal in the lounge or grand dining room of the suite, or invite 12 to dinner prepared in your private kitchen.
The biggest television screen you ever did see, gargantuan crystal chandeliers above the bath and myriad other excesses are all elegant — and opulent without being garish.
Lord Jim, the hotel’s fine dining seafood restaurant is named after a Joseph Conrad character, while French restaurant. Le Normandie is known as the Thai queen’s favourite.
Everything about a stay at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok will be memorable, including the price, which is upwards of R4,500 for an entry-level room, while The Oriental Suite (sleeps five) will cost about R55,000.
There are many things to keep you on the property, including the spa, fitness centre, cooking school and traditional Thai restaurant. But the hotel also offers free water shuttles to the skytrain and transport hub. If you must go out, don’t miss The Jim Thompson House, also on the river, or a visit to The Grand Palace, where the river bends.