Hotel Review: Lazing Languidly Thai in the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

08/13/2016
Melvyn Teillol-Foo
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Mandarin Oriental Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River

We were hot in Bangkok…and then someone told us it was actually the cool season?!?  Hurrah for Singha beer!

Singha Beer photo by kallerna

Singha Beer photo by kallerna

The local brew is quite palatable when served ice cold; especially after hiking through the infamous Bangkok traffic fumes and dust that rendered my throat as dry as a “Welsh chapel on Mothering Sunday“.

AlphaLuxe Tip:

Use the Bangkok waterways for a cooler mode of transport as reported in a previous AlphaLuxe Lazing Report.

The hotel has its own Pier Station on most of the boat routes: Oriental (N1)

Oriental Pier

Oriental Pier

This was our first introduction to the legendary The Oriental, Bangkok, now renamed Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.  “Perhaps, Khun Teillol-Foo would like a light repast at ‘The Verandah’ restaurant by the river?”

I later discovered the honorific “Khun” is a Thai courteous form of address.

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Restaurant Review – The Verandah

A couple of light dishes to welcome us to the ‘Land of Smiles’ on the river Menam Chao Phraya:

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Pad Thai: Fried Thai Noodles with Blue River Prawns, Beansprouts and Banana Blossom.

Yam

Yam Som-O

Yam Som-O: Pomelo Salad with Chicken & Prawns accompanied with fragrant steamed rice.

Pomelo is the world’s largest citrus fruit with sweet or sour varieties. The cool sweet juice is a perfect counterpoint for the chilli and fish-sauce dressing.

Sunset on the Menam Chao Phraya

Sunset on the Menam Chao Phraya

A crisp Californian sauvignon blanc wine helped the sun go down over the river. I am sure that Sol would have gone down all the same but every bit helps with the Chaos Theory.

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok Pool

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok Pool

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is a five-star hotel in Bangkok partly owned and managed by Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The original building was the first hotel in Thailand built on the banks of the Chao Phraya River as The Oriental. Today, the hotel is one of two flagship properties of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and is known for legendary service as one of the world’s best hotels. The Group began by opening flagship hotel, The Mandarin in Hong Kong in 1963. In 1974, the company acquired 49% interest in The Oriental, Bangkok. Managing two ‘flagship’ hotels was unusual so in 1985, both were combined under a common name: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

History

[Source: THE ORIENTAL BANGKOK by Andreas Augustin and Andrew Williamson; ISBN 978-9810012878]

When Siam opened to foreign trade in the early 19th century, foreign sailors on shore leave needed accomodation. An American, Captain Dyers and his partner J.E. Barnes opened a hotel called the Oriental Hotel. This burnt down in 1865. A cadre of Danish captains started a replacement hotel several years later. In 1876, a new River Wing was opened whereupon the management chose that year to be the “official establishment date” of the Oriental Hotel.

In 1881, a Danish businessman, Hans Niels Andersen, bought the business and decided that a better hotel was needed with good accommodation, a bar and a western menu to meet the needs of travellers and businessmen visiting Siam. He formed a partnership with Peter Andersen and Frederick Kinch to build the first luxury hotel in Siam. The new Oriental luxury hotel opened in 1887 with 40 rooms and features that had never been seen before in Siam, outside of a royal palace. There was a 2nd floor (a novelty when all around were single-storey bungalows), carpeted hallways, smoking and ladies rooms, a billiards room and a bar capable of seating 50 patrons.

Louis Thomas Leonowens, son of Anna Leonowens (Anna and the King of Siam) was once the hotel’s proprietor.

A succession of owners followed until it was bought by Marie Maire in 1910. After the 2nd World War, owners included Germaine Krull, Prince Bhanu, General Chai Prateepasen, Pote Sarasin, John Webster and Jim Thompson (two former American spies). In 1967, Krull sold her share to Italthai becuase she feared Thailand would fall to communists.

Italthai, a mercantile conglomerate with interests in almost all aspects of the Thai economy, was founded by an Italian and a Thai. Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group became involved with a share of ownership in 1974. The hotel opened its renowned Oriental Spa in 1993 and finished a complete renovation of its rooms and suites in 2003. In September 2008, the hotel formally changed its name from The Oriental, Bangkok to Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.

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Celebrities

The hotel is a favorite of celebrity visitors to Bangkok. Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Graham Greene, John le Carré, Barbara Cartland, Tennessee Williams, and James A. Michener are among the famous authors who have stayed at the Oriental.

Other famous guests have included Neil Armstrong, Lauren Bacall, George H. W. Bush, Jacques Chirac, Sean Connery, Mel Gibson, Václav Havel, Audrey Hepburn, Mick Jagger, Henry Kissinger, Helmut Kohl, David Beckham, Niki Lauda, Sophia Loren, Yehudi Menuhin, Richard Nixon, Pelé, HM Queen Sofia of Spain, Diana, Princess of Wales and HRH Prince Charles, Omar Sharif, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Michael de la Force.

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Hotel Facilities

[Source: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group]

The hotel contains 358 rooms and 35 unique suites.

It was voted “Best Hotel in the World” by Institutional Investor for a record-breaking ten consecutive years (1981–90).

All hotel guests are greeted upon arrival with a traditional Thai flower hand garland.

The hotel has one of the highest staff to guest room ratio in the hotel industry (3 staff per guest room).

For the turn down service, the hotel provides a pillow card with inspirational quotes from famous authors. There are 13 different cards in total.

Suites

Suites

All suites at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok are individually decorated. No two suites are alike. Even the flower arrangements, decorative items and Thai silk bath robes are all unique to each suite. During the Christmas season, each suite has its own live Christmas tree, with ornaments that match the décor.

The two-storey Authors’ Wing, the only remaining structure of the original 19th century hotel, houses suites named after Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and James Michener.

The River Wing contains deluxe two bedroom suites named after former guests or personages associated with the hotel including Barbara Cartland, Gore Vidal, Graham Greene, Wilbur Smith, John le Carré, Jim Thompson, Norman Mailer, Thai author Kukrit Pramoj.

Other suites are named after ships associated with early Bangkok trade such as Otago (once captained by Joseph Conrad), HMS Melita, Vesatri and Natuna.

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Restaurants

Le Normandie: French cuisine
Lord Jim’s: Seafood
Sala Rim Naam: Thai cuisine
The China House: Modern Cantonese cuisine
Riverside Terrace: BBQ cuisine
The Verandah: International cuisine
Ciao: Italian cuisine
L’Espace: Cafe fare

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Lounges and Bars

Authors’ Lounge: Colonial-style lounge serving traditional English afternoon tea
The Bamboo Bar: live jazz bar

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Additional services and facilities

Oriental Spa

Oriental Spa

The Oriental Spa
The Oriental Thai Cooking School

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Restaurant Review – Sala Rim Naam

Chao Phraya River

Chao Phraya River

Sala Rim Naam is a restaurant on the opposite river bank built to look like a Thai pavilion. Cultural shows accompany the set menu. As our Thai friends intimated, the food is well executed Royal Thai cuisine but “nothing to rave about”. Royal Thai cuisine only became available to commoners in the 1960s. It is reminiscent of an elaborate Japanese kaiseki meal and can be summed up in three words: ‘presentation’, ‘presentation‘ and ‘presentation’.

Sala Rim Naam

Sala Rim Naam

The convenience and ambience of a combined Dinner and Cultural Show is the main attraction for the traveller short on time in Bangkok.

Cultural Show at Dinner

Cultural Show at Dinner

 

Steamed Thai Dumplings

Steamed Thai Dumplings

Steamed Thai Dumplings filled with crab meat grabbed our interest by daring to be blue

We sat low-down Thai style. At this point, a waiter stepped on my spectacles and my outlook on the evening was hampered….hurrah for digital camera autofocus abilities!

Royal Thai Set Menu

Royal Thai Set Menu

Clockwise from the rice bowl at bottom left:
Khow Hommali: Steamed fragrant jasmine rice.
Panaeng ped gub linchee: Creamy duckling curry with lychees.
Yaam nuea yaang gub a-ngoon: Spiced grilled beef salad with grapes.
Phad phag: Stir-fried vegetables in oyster sauce.
Tom kha ghoong naang: Spicy prawn coconut milk soup.
Moo sannog ob gathiem prig thai: Roast pork loin with garlic pepper sauce.

Carved Fruit

Carved Fruit

Dessert was carved tropical fruits: watermelon, orange, water rose-apple, pineapple, papaya with a coconut crusted green pandan-flavoured rice cake

Rice cakes

Rice cakes

Tea was accompanied by minature “fruits” which were actually detailed food sculptures made with rice and coconut into cakes. We were amazed by the colour and lustre which replicated that of real fruit in the markets.

Look at the pear-shaped sliced fruit (water rose-apple) on the preceding real fruit platter and you can see the similarity.

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CONCLUSION

During our short stay, we could not try all the restaurants and facilities in the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, nor learn Thai cooking skills. The quality of food at The Verandah and Sala Rim Naam was good and convenient for the busy traveller. If you are brave enough to venture into the streets of Bangkok, you will find better local fare at a tenth of the price. Somewhere between street-food and The Mandarin Oriental budgets are local Thai restaurants as reported in a previous AlphaLuxe Homely Grazing Report and AlphaLuxe Northern Thai Grazing Report.

The Thai massage at the Oriental Spa deserves its legendary status. The exquisite masochistic pain and prices were both eye-wateringly steep but “Hey! No pain…No gain”.  I prefer the sanctum sanctorum of the Oriental Spa, whatever the cost rather than a street-massage. Admittedly, no trip to Thailand is complete without at least one street-massage where they charge by the kilo. Yes: there is a rate of xxx Bahts per Kilo of your heaving foreign bodyweight!  Your skill as a negotiator comes into play to get the best rate.  🙂

The keynote of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok truly is its superlative service standard. The Thais are reknown for their service with a smile; after all it is the ‘Land of Smiles’ but the staff had an uncanny ability to anticipate your desires even before you knew you had a yearning for anything.  Good marks, all round!

Declaration:  I paid all my hotel and restaurant bills in Thailand; my personal review opinion is independent.

 

Author’s Biography:  Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)

Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelog ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.

Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications.  He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).