By the river

Prachi Bhuchar | Print Edition: March 4, 2012

It's a muggy December morning in Bangkok and the spires of smoke clogging the dull sky do not look promising. We wind our way down a maze of narrow lanes that are packed with an assortment of stores; some sell glittering gold, others antique cameras, even buckets of paint.

In the midst of the clutter and chaos, the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok's gleaming white facade rises from the grey like a whitewashed dream. The service is exemplary and the standards exact at this institution where the doorman flicks open the elevator door and has your floor number pressed before you can even glide into it.

The heat and dust of Bangkok's streets dissipates and one enters a world where everything is gentle and ultra-luxurious.

Refurbished in part in 2011, the Mandarin Oriental has, over the last 135 years hosted everyone on the who's who list-- from Henry Kissinger and Audrey Hepburn, to footballer Pele and other legends.

Its identity as a writer's abode though, made it most recognisable, after Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene spent extended time here and penned their bestsellers. The classic, understated Authors' Wing at Mandarin Oriental pays tribute to them.

The grand lobby of the hotel
The grand lobby of the hotel, refurbished with ornate Chinese lanterns and thick carpeting
The legendary lobby of the hotel has, in recent times, been upgraded to match the changing tastes of sophisticated travellers who demand the best money can buy. While the heart of the hotel has been preserved through this refurbishment, elements have been introduced that give it a contemporary touch.

The floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the lobby look out to the somewhat shabby but iconic Chao Phraya river and temple bell lookalike chandeliers sweep across the plush, rich expanse, keeping the accent on all that's Oriental. The lighting at play further enhances the rich shades of plum, burnt sienna and burgundy of the tapestry and carpets.

The hotel has 393 rooms and suites, many with sweeping views of the river. The most coveted are the suites in the Authors' Wing which has a Joseph Conrad, Noel Thompson and Wilbur Smith suite among others.

The Sala Rim Naam or Thai pavilion
The Sala Rim Naam or Thai pavilion across the river serves authentic Thai cuisine
This affection for a grand literary past combined with a love for the finest contemporary newsmakers makes the MO an exciting destination. You can enjoy a lavish buffet breakfast on the Riverside Terrace which by night also transforms into a romantic barbeque spot with live music and glittering lights on the river to keep you company.

The food across the board is fresh, locally sourced and the clean flavours shine through in the cooking in all ten restaurants located in the main wing and the river wing on the other bank. Le Normandie, a formal French dining space, is the most sought after restaurant in Bangkok and is frequented by the Royal family and high-ranking Thai bureaucrats.

Some of the world's best chefs have worked in its kitchen and the exceptional range of wines and fresh seafood makes dining here, a real treat.

If you want a brush with the real Bangkok though, the hotel has a regular boat service that escorts you to the closest sky train line. You can also hop on board to go across to the river wing of the hotel where you can play a game of tennis, take Thai cooking lessons or eat an authentic Thai meal at Sala Rim Naam. This is a richly decorated Thai pavilion where classic Thai dancers entertain diners looking to embrace the Bangkok dream.

The fresh seafood in traditional bowls
The fresh seafood in traditional bowls is cooked using authentic Thai techniques
At Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, the hawkish attention to detail is unrivalled. You see it in the exact way your bed is turned down every night; in how your Thai silk robe is laid out beside a comfortable pair of hotel slippers; and also in the effortless hospitality displayed by the endearing and ever-so-polite staff who first guess your every need. It's a well-orchestrated symphony and it is this dedication to perfection that elevates the property from being merely great to fantastic and puts it in the league of the finest in the world.

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