Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

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“Bangkok is pure paradise when you are a guest at the Mandarin Oriental.”

Hotel Essence Photography

Hotel photography

Michelle Chaplow and her team at Hotel Essence Photography were commissioned to complete an editorial photoshoot for The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. This was one of many shoots Michelle has undertaken there – having visited the hotel on multiple occasions and enjoyed every one of her stays there, she describes it as her favourite hotel in the world. She has photographed several general managers over the years, including its longest-serving manager, Kurt Wachtveitl, who managed The Oriental for 42 years from 1967 to 2009.

The hotel experience

The five-star luxury hotel is situated in the heart of the city on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, which is known in English as “the River of Kings”. Guests are greeted by garlands of flowers and friendly staff who are true ambassadors for Thailand’s recognition as “ the land of smiles”.

Some of the floral arrangements in the hotel’s lobby reach three metres high and are simply breathtaking. They are composed, in part, of orchids and lotus flowers – which happen to symbolise enlightenment in the Buddhist journey. The service immediately matches the elegant setting – for any traveller, having a butler unpack your suitcase is the ultimate luxury. The butlers at The Oriental kindly unpack and organise guests’ luggage in the most methodical of ways.

The hotel boasts one of Thailand’s first Michelin star restaurants, Le Normandie, where guests can enjoy French fine dining. There is also the famous Authors’ Lounge, which serves traditional Asian and British high tea featuring exquisite patisserie by the hotel’s talented chefs, enjoyed with classical guitar music.

Other dining experiences include The China House, The Verandah, Lord Jim’s (serving seafood), kaiseki dining at Kinu by Takagi or Italian cuisine at Ciao Terrazza. The hotel’s Bamboo Bar is a great place for cocktail and jazz fans, while The Mandarin Oriental Shop offers freshly baked cakes and pastries. The Riverside Terrace has an international BBQ buffet, which guests can feast on while looking out over the incredible views of the river, or they can take in the views at Terrace Rim Naam and enjoy signature Thai cuisine. For traditional Thai food, there is also Sala Rim Naam.

In 2016, the hotel underwent a comprehensive $18m (USD) renovation of the Authors’ and Garden Wings, during which it opened its first ever ‘spa concept’ where visitors are transported to the spa via a teak boat which takes them across the scenic river.

The outdoor pool in the hotel gardens is lined with plush beds or sun loungers to relax on. There is also a large seating area with a central water feature covered in a beautiful floating lotus flower arrangement.

The Mandarin Oriental’s accommodation is adorned daily with fresh orchids and beautiful fresh exotic fruits in every room, as well as personal mini-bar fridges. The hotel has a selection of rooms dedicated to famous writers who have stayed at the hotel.

The hotel aims to exceed expectations and has its own Hotel School on the property, which trains its staff to an impeccable standard and allows them to provide the great quality of service expected by guests. It is the fine details that make time at the Mandarin Oriental exceptional, including personalised letters with wax seals, and an invitation for guests every Tuesday to their cocktail evening.

Amanda Hyndman, who managed the hotel between 2012 and 2017, said: “What truly differentiates Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is our people, affectionately known as ‘The Oriental Family’. They understand legacy and preservation because they live and breathe it every day as our colleagues before us have for the past 140 years.”

Michelle states in her blog post: “Once you’ve stayed at The Oriental, it will become your worldwide benchmark for superb service and all-around excellence. It does not matter how far I travel, the superb cuisine and the almost intuitive service at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is my measure for the luxury hotel industry, worldwide.”

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok hotel history

The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has a colonial history dating back to the middle of the 19th century, before Siam became Thailand. Founded in 1863 by two Americans, Atkins Dyer and William West, the hotel opened its doors in 1876, becoming the first ever luxury hotel in the country. Just two years later, the original building was sadly destroyed in a fire. Since being rebuilt, the hotel has grown over time and attracted immeasurable global history and illustrious guests. Notably, in 1950, Eleanor Roosevelt arrived as a guest of the Thai government to speak to over 1,000 people at the American Association luncheon which was held at The Oriental.

In 1972, the owners of the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong established Mandarin International Hotels Ltd and decided to expand into Southeast Asia. The Oriental was brought into this association and the partnership continues to this day.

The hotel is a member of The Most Famous Hotels in the World, which in 1996, on the 120th anniversary of the hotel, produced a fascinating book on the history of the The Oriental, written by Andreas Augustin and Andrew Williamson. A selection of contemporary photographs taken by Michelle Chaplow are featured in the book.

The Loy Krathong Festival is Thailand’s centuries-old floating tribute to the moon, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s privileged situation on the bank of the Chao Phraya River is recognized as one of the best places from which to witness the million floating baskets which illuminate the river. Locals believe that their lunar tributes will give them good fortune in the future. Staff members at the hotel make the event as enjoyable as possible for guests and prepare spectacular floaters for each guest staying there. Celebrations begin while the sun goes down and guests enjoy cocktails and delightful music whilst watching Thai classical dancing, traditional fingernail dancing, and beauty contests. Read about Michelle’s experience at the festival as well as the historical background of the Loy Krathong Festival.

The Authors’ Lounge features framed photographs of several famous writers who have resided at the hotel. Since the late 19th century, these notable guests have included Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh and George Bernard Shaw, to name a few.

The hotel has accommodated hundreds of notable guests, including the Royal Family of Thailand who have regularly visited since its opening, as well as many other royals from across the world, prime ministers and presidents, from the Duke of Edinburgh to President George Bush. It has also played host to a vast range of actors, musicians and other famous icons, including David Bowie, Christian Dior, Tom Cruise, Alfred Hitchcock, Bryan Ferry and Elton John.