Yin & Yang - Bangkok

Bangkok’s Belle Époque:
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel and The Sukhothai Hotel
by Shane Boocock

A week in Bangkok is still one of the great pleasures and adventures in life and occasionally I get the chance to experience a way of life that once was, a ‘belle époque’ (a beautiful era) where the essence of old-world charm blends with high end luxury on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. On the other hand, encountering a way of life that is today thoroughly modern and stylised in the heart of the city is also a desirable pleasure. As chance would have it, I experienced first-hand, what two of the finest hotels in the City of Angels offer.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Believe it or not life began here in 1876, the first truly swanky hotel in Siam and at the time, the tallest building in Bangkok, all two stories of it! For more than 130 years distinguished travellers have followed the legendary Chao Phraya River, through the heart of Bangkok, to the doors of one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.

A paragon of contemporary luxury and rich in history, the hotel is filled with stories of the celebrated guests who have considered the Oriental home during their world travels. ??From royalty, nobility and state visits the hotel over the years has opened its doors to a plethora of well-known names and famous faces that have graced their luxurious lobby, restaurants and bedrooms.

The Oriental has been an inspiration to a host of world-renowned writers from Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham to James A. Michener and Paul Theroux as well as actors and pop stars such as Peter Ustinov, Helen Mirren, Brian Ferry, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Twiggy, Noel Coward, Elizabeth Taylor and our very own Sam Neill.

The hotel has long been famous for its service, style and grace. With 393 luxuriously appointed rooms including 35 suites, the hotel boasts two wings: the 16-storey River Wing housing the biggest Oriental Suite as well as the Selandia and Siam Suites and two-bedroom suites; the Old Wing or Authors’ Wing/Garden Wing are where the four famous Authors’ Suites and unique Garden Wing split level deluxe rooms are located.

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has eight restaurants – Le Normandie, Bangkok’s finest French dining venue; The China House with its avant-garde 1930s Shanghai Art Deco interior; Lord Jim’s, featuring daily talk-of-the-town seafood buffet lunch galore and á la carte menu for dinner; BBQ Riverside Terrace; Sala Rim Naam Thai Restaurant, revived into a mini palace serving a lavish Thai Buffet Lunch spread daily and set dinner with Thai Classical dance show nightly; the outdoor Terrace Rim Naam featuring á la carte Thai menu; menu; *Ciao, an outdoor Italian bisto, the historical Author’s Lounge serving superb afternoon tea and The Bamboo Bar, touted to be the best jazz venue in town completes the picture.

The Oriental Spa which opened as the first city spa in Bangkok in 1993, and has since garnered numerous awards from the most esteemed travel and beauty publications worldwide, is a temple of well-being offering a unique Thai-style health and beauty centre, featuring the latest spa techniques in a traditional Thai setting.

Other facilities include a Day Care Centre, the latest touch button, state-of-the-art technology Business Centre, the Oriental Corner and the Oriental Boutique; two outdoor swimming pools, shopping arcades including a flagship Louis Vuitton store, a fully equipped Health Centre and The Thai Cooking School and Thai Culture Programme.

The Sukhothai Bangkok

In contrast, the Sukhothai Hotel is all of 17 years old but in the modern sense it’s a masterpiece of architecture that evokes the history and grandeur of the country’s past. Set within six acres of tranquil landscaped gardens in the heart of Bangkok with immaculate pedicured lawns and lily ponds.

This year they recently unveiled the first phase of renovations to 40 of the hotel’s superior rooms, with all 100 rooms of this type to be completely refurbished by July 2010.

The Sukhothai combines traditional refinement with immaculate contemporary style and has long been a favourite with design-savvy visitors to Thailand’s bustling capital. The 210 room Sukhothai Bangkok is today an award winning member of the exclusive ‘Leading Hotels of the World’ network. As one of Thailand’s most luxurious hotels, its ancillary facilities include the Spa Botanica, limousine fleet, extensive gym facilities and large swimming pool. All this along with superb culinary encounters combine to produce an outstanding hospitality product.

A great emphasis is placed on providing personalised service, especially wining and dining in some of their world-class restaurants and bars. There is the Celadon, a restaurant that serves an extensive menu of authentic Thai dishes in elegant, classically designed Thai pavilions overlooking lotus ponds. The Colonnade is an all-day restaurant featuring live cooking stations, carving trolley and a wide selection of Western and Asian flavours. La Scala offers fine dining in contemporary splendour where traditional Italian recipes are creatively reinvented. For light snacks and drinks try the Salon or the Pool Terrace Café & Bar. For those wanting a place to relax, spend some time in the ultra-sophisticated ZUK Bar where the underlit outdoors area, flanked by giant oriental jars, has couches made of raw silk beneath overhead fans that dispense a fine cooling mist.

No matter which hotel you stay at on your next visit Bangkok, you will always be greeted with a smiling welcome accompanied by Sa-wat-dee, followed by stylish decoration, tasteful architecture, and pure luxury and refinement from a ‘belle époque.’ ??FACTS

When to go:
Bangkok is a tropical city so expect it to be warm or hot most of the year. avoid April and May when the weather is especially hot and sticky with temperatures hovering around 34 degrees. The best time to visit is from October to February where temperatures linger between 24c – 28c. The monsoon rainy season is June through September.

What to wear:
Forget tight and clingy clothing and go for light, loose cotton clothing that is sensible. When visiting temples, certain museums and the Grand Palace remember to dress appropriately. Shorts, singlets, spaghetti straps and open backed sandals are not acceptable. Remember a jacket is needed for formal meetings and at some top restaurants.

What to see:
Temples dot the Bangkok landscape so if you have limited time try these suggestions to whet your appetite. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew is the granddaddy of all Thai sites to visit, but beware of many touts and street scammers who mill outside this 218,400 m²complex chasing your hard earned dollars. Wat Arun is another important and beguiling religious site across the river, and known as the Temple of Dawn. Wat Po is the temple of the reclining Buddha and is the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok, originating in the 16th century.

Skytrain Day Pass
Unlimited rides for 1 day price 120 Baht (NZ$5.50), non-refundable and valid for date of purchase only. The BTS skytrain is the safest, most comfortable and convenient way to get around Bangkok. In service since December 5, 1999, it has transformed the face of public transportation in the Thai capital, for the first time offering both residents and visitors a comfortable ride through central Bangkok – lifting commuters above the chronic congestion, noise and pollution of the streets below.

Tours around Bangkok and further afield:

World Travel Service, 1053 charoen Krung road, Bangkok 10500, t: 66 (2) 233 5900-9, w: www.wts-thailand.com

Manderin Oriental Bangkok – www.mandarinoriental.com
Package rates with Royal Orchid Holidays for two people are NZ$1,234 for two nights on a share twin basis including transfers and breakfasts, i.e. NZ $308.50 per person per night. Oriental Spa Rates: this is a 60 minute massage that has a firm base in traditional Thai holistic philosophy with roots in ancient teachings. 2,900 baht (NZ$125)

Sukhothai Hotel – www.sukhothai.com
Package rates with Royal Orchid Holidays for two people are NZ$782 for two nights on a share twin basis including transfers and breakfasts, i.e. $195.50 per person per night. Spa Botanica massage: a 60 minute therapeutic Thai back massage is 3,000 baht or (NZ$140)