With Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud’ playing on the Harman Kardon sound bar, Laveena and I looked out of the 4th floor glass window of our recently refurbished Garden suite at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok at the busy Chao Phraya river. Tastefully designed, the 860 Sq ft suite exudes elegance as it fuses colonial-inspired interiors with chic contemporary touches. The blend of colour shades, fabric hues and wooden polishes work in perfect harmony to highlight luxury. As our private butler poured us a glass of Louis Roederer champagne, we talked about the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, a hotel with a fascinating history, which dates back to the 1860s.
Reading from ‘The Oriental Times’, an in-house news magazine, we discovered that the hotel started off as a seaman’s lodge in ‘The ancient Kingdom of Siam’, in the middle of the 19th century. Foreign seafarers would rest their tired bodies at this rest house. The boarding house was later taken over by Atkins Dyer and William West and Bangkok’s first hotel was born . It was called the ‘Oriental Hotel’ back then. Today, this truly remarkable, award-winning, five-star hotel is a haven of calm as it majestically stands on the banks of the Chao Phraya river.
Many of our friends have stayed at The Mandarin Oriental, in Bangkok. Over the years, we have heard only praise for the property. Despite highlighting the distance of the hotel from the centre of the city as a deterrent for us, our friends insisted that their time at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, was always special and that we were missing out on a magnificent experience. This summer Laveena and I finally relented with much prompting from our dear friend Khun Natt. Having had a taste of the Mandarin Oriental brand in London less than a fortnight ago and having loved the attention showered on us while at the five-star landmark property at Knightsbridge, we confirmed our weekend stay at The Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok.
We spent our first evening at the renowned and often talked about Bamboo Bar. Located on the ground level of the River Wing, the Bamboo bar we were told by Khun Natt, was recently refurbished. As we walked through an outdoor terrace, past rows of tall bamboo plants and through the doors of the famous Jazz bar, in an instant Laveena and I were transported to the mysterious orient. The decor was of dark bamboo timber, rattan armchairs and ceiling fans with tropical leaf blades. We were seated on a sofa flanked by two wooden shuttered doors, the wall behind us decorated with historical memorabilia and photos of famous jazz singers. Our friends, the wonderfully charming Khun Natt and Khun Robert, joined us for a drink. Khun Natt, had earlier worked at The Four Seasons hotel in Bangkok. It was at the Four Seasons that Laveena and I had first met her. A few years ago she shifted to the Mandarin Oriental group. Knowing our taste for luxury hotels, Khun Natt strongly recommended we stay at The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. She said she just knew that we would love it. At the Bamboo bar that evening, fried okhra, cashew nuts and more Louis Roederer started us off on a perfect jazz note with interesting conversation complementing the relaxed ambience. After a couple of more glasses of champagne and a few finger taps to the beat of the fabulous live jazz band, we were ready for dinner. At The Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok, one is spoilt for choice. Would it be seafood at Lord Jim’s or French fine dining at Le Normandie? Or would it be signature Thai at one of our favourite Thai restaurants in Bangkok, Terrace Rim Naam or traditional Thai with cultural dance performances at the Sala Rim Naam? Since Ciao Terrazza is shut during the rains and was due to re-open in October, Italian cuisine was out. And we were booked at China House for lunch on Sunday. So, Khun Natt suggested that we try the International BBQ buffet at the Riverside Terrace. The BBQ spread was impressive. A wide range of freshly barbecued succulent meats and vegetables were on offer, buffet style. While some meats on the live open counters were honey glazed, others were deliberately charred. The duck had it’s skin fired up until crisp. We feasted on the fresh sea-food, the duck and the tender lamb meat on offer and loved our evening meal. Before returning to our heavenly suite, we walked by the river, enjoying the fresh air. That night we sat out on our private verandah, overlooking the river and we talked. The usual river traffic had quietened down, with only the occasional, brightly lit up tourist yacht cruising by with the chatter of happy party people on it and the sound of indecipherable dance music wafting gently over the water waves made by the passing boat. The lovely location of the hotel makes you forget that you are in a city as busy as Bangkok. While at The Mandarin Oriental, you feel like you are at a resort, far away from the stresses of everyday city life, at a haven where at every corner you are greeted with enchanting history.
Our champagne breakfast the next morning was a treat. The sweetest Thai coconut water, fresh tropical fruits including papaya, mango, rose apples, musk melons and watermelon. As a habit we always start our day with fruit. This was followed by a bowl of cereal without milk, with a dash of honey, sparkled with chia seeds and flax seeds and dusted with cinnamon powder. Temptation was round the corner, on the bakers pastry table where chocolate covered croissants, apple strudel, cinnamon rolls and donuts in every flavour, beckoned me sinfully. But I bravely resisted, having cheated on my diet shamelessly while on a recent cruise to the Baltics. My bowl of dry homemade granola and crocant muesli worked well with my morning glass of mimosa. The buffet breakfast at The Mandarin Oriental is served by the river. Guests can order a la carte at the restaurant, but we preferred to site by the river and feast on the buffet which also offered freshly cooked eggs. Laveena that morning was in an adventurous mood and wanted to experiment with her taste buds. She asked the Thai chef to surprise her with an omelette cooked in a style, local to Thailand. He smiled and recommended the Kai Jeow (Thai Omelette), a local speciality and a favourite on the breakfast menu. When it was served, Laveena insisted I share it with her as it looked delicious. What an amazing discovery. Endless visits to Thailand and this was the first time we were trying the Kai Jeow. Browned and crisp, it was different from a French omelette. There was a punch of umami from the fish sauce, which we were told was the main ingredient. Rather than salt, fish sauce is added to the beaten eggs, along with green onions, shallots, some herbs, soy sauce, sliced scallions and ground chicken. For those of you who plan a visit to Thailand , do try the Kai Jeow. You can thank me later for the recommendation.
We spent the rest of the morning in our suite, reading, relaxing, watching the passing ferry boats and the slow-moving barges bearing cargo, coast lazily up and downstream, pulled along by tug boats. I couldn’t help but look at all the activity on the river and think of the charming juxtaposition of the chaotic and the calm, the traditional and the modern and the local and foreign, which all appealed to my senses and seemed to make this river so evocative, alive and interesting. Our butler informed us that five public boat lines, all operated by the Chao Phraya Express Boat company daily plied the 21km route. The route, he said, had 34 pier stops.
We were invited to tea later that afternoon at The Author’s lounge. Eminent Western authors like Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad and Noel Coward, singled out the Chao Phraya as one of their favourite spots in the Far East. All were guests of the hotel through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their literary heritage has been well restored in The Author’s Lounge. Known to be one of the most photographed locations in Bangkok, the Lounge makes you feel like English Aristocracy the moment you step in. The white wicker-style furniture with plush cushions with leafy motifs, actual green plants, white shuttered windows, fine cutlery and a grand white piano, all work well to give the lounge that feeling of warmth and luxury. While Laveena ordered the Oriental Afternoon Tea Set, I was drawn to the Western Afternoon Tea Set. Laveena started off with a refreshing lime and ginger sorbet. Mine was a classic lemon sorbet. Laveena’s was nicer. The finger sandwiches on offer in the Western set were delectable. Cucumber, cream cheese and dill on oat bread, roulade of honey glazed ham and cheese, open faced smoked salmon, sour cream and chive, green asparagus tips in clear tomato aspic on white sourdough, boiled egg and mayonnaise tea sandwich on parsley brioche. These delightful sandwiches were followed by the raisin and plain scones with a selection of homemade jams, Devonshire clotted cream and mascarpone. The pastry selection was also impressive with pineapple fennel macaron, chocolate sable’, caramel and raspberry eclair, thyme and strawberry cream and green apple cream and lime biscuit. Laveena’s Oriental set had an interesting selection of savouries on offer. She enjoyed the prawn with spicy Thai crab salad, the minced chicken chilli and black olive sandwich, the lemongrass, chilli, lime marinated crabmeat sandwich and the pineapple and guava salad. The Thai mango scones were not gluten free but I was offered a taste by the lounge hostess and I loved it. The Thai pastries were interesting too with the homemade green tea praline and the Kanom tarn with fresh coconut, particularly fun to eat. Our company that afternoon was the effervescent and vivacious young Khun Karn who heads PR at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. We met for the first time at the lobby of the hotel the previous day and I told her that in my spare time I wrote a travel blog. She was delighted to hear that and offered to host us at tea the next afternoon at The Author’s Lounge. What helped make our experience at the lounge all the more special was the skill of the visually handicapped piano player. Khun Nanthaphop Pinthong, fondly called Aod, has been a familiar face at the hotel, where he has been delighting guests with his magnificent ear for music for a decade. In the afternoons, Khun Aod plays at The Author’s Lounge while at night, he plays the piano at Le Normandie.
After tea we returned to our rooms and relaxed for a while before heading to the gym early evening to burn up all the calories we packed in through the afternoon. An hour and a half long workout helped battle the guilt we felt for feasting the way we had. When we got back to our room we showered with the luxurious Molton Brown amenities on offer. The Ylang Ylang body wash is our favourite. Its fragrance is intoxicating and leaves you with that heady feeling of exhilaration.
One thing at the Mandarin Orient Hotel Bangkok, which stands out well beyond the experience of staying at other super luxury hotel properties across the world, is the commitment to serve well beyond the guest’s expectations. Each time we left our suite, even it was for a short 30 minute stroll around the hotel property, our room would be serviced. The bed would be made, empty mineral water bottles would be replaced, bathroom amenities would be added and the room in general would be neatened. In the three days we spent at the hotel, not once did I open the door to our suite. Every time we walked toward it, our butler would magically appear, like a genie from a brass lamp and with the traditional ‘wai’, with both hands raised and palms joined, he would welcome us back to our suite.
Over the years, the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has had the opportunity of hosting many famous personalities. Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, David Rockefeller, film actors Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews, Roger Moore, Sylvester Stallone, Sean Penn, Mel Gibson, film director Roman Polanski, singers Tina Turner, Annie Lennox, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Ray Charles, tennis legend Bjorn Borg and many others are said to have chosen this jewel of a hotel as their home while in Bangkok. Like us, they may have marvelled as to how this fine hotel stands resplendently on both banks of the river. The Sala Rim Naam and the Terrace Rim Naam Thai Restaurants, the Oriental Spa and the gymnasium are on the opposite side of the river to where the main hotel building stands. The hotel has a shuttle boat service which ferries guests to and fro, from one bank to the other in a few precious minutes. Even though the ride is over in a jiffy, it is fun, especially after sunset, when the cool river wind blows through your hair and you watch the reflections of the lights from the buildings dotting the riverside, dance majestically on the water surface.
We had arranged a late check out on Sunday and lunch on our last day at this magnificent hotel was at The China House, a restaurant very well known for its high-end Cantonese cuisine. We were welcomed at the restaurant by the manager, Khun Watana, who directed us to a table by the window. The Sunday buffet lunch was on offer and he recommended a few dishes which he said we must try. The Peking duck, wrapped in a pancake with plum sauce and the stir fried crab with homemade honey chilli sauce were delicious. From the menu we ordered the wok fried Garoupa fillet with lotus root and black bean sauce which was sublime. The seared beef tenderloin with black peppercorn and seasonal soy sauce was equally glorious. as was the Yang Zhou fried rice and the spicy chicken dumplings in Szechuan hot bean sauce. We loved the China House black truffle Xia Long Bao and the crispy waffle rolls filled with pacific clams and leeks. For those of you who love Chinese cuisine, this is one of those restaurants worth taking a flight to get to. The meal far surpassed our expectations.
Post lunch we returned to our suite. As expected our butler held the door for us and welcomed us back. We started to prepare for our evening flight home. There were no rude intrusions reminding us that our check out was at 6 pm. We rested for a bit and then started to pack. We were sad to be leaving Bangkok, but even sadder to be bidding adieu to The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, a hotel, which successfully seduced us with its grand commitment to give us a taste of never before experienced standards of luxury and hospitality.