As Time Goes By

?????????????Bangkok may be a fast-changing city, but the Mandarin Oriental exudes a timeless quality that improves with age. Words by Mark Bibby Jackson.

The first time I came to the Mandarin Oriental I was wearing a pair of flip flops and a pair of shorts that had more rip than cotton to it. Not that I really came to the hotel, as a man at the entrance very politely informed us we were not wearing the appropriate attire for guests of Thailand’s oldest and most venerated hotel. This mortified my stepfather accustomed as he was to residing at the Oriental when in Bangkok. Fortunately as he was similarly attired to myself – only without the rips – the buck stopped with him.

Fast forward twenty years and I find myself walking through the marble interior to take breakfast on the Terrace wearing sandals and shorts, having discovered that dress code is restricted purely to evening hours. In the intervening period my attitude towards such norms has, liked myself, matured. The Oriental is not the place to sip a cocktail on the terrace watching the sun set over the river sat next to a large western tourist wearing a singlet and a pair of thongs knocking back a cold beer. It is the place to do all of the above before the western tourist so rudely intervened.

There is something about having your own butler. The first time I was so indulged was at a luxury resort in Vietnam. There I had to share her with a couple from Holland. At the Mandarin Oriental, the butler serves a whole floor. In reality all the butler does is bring the concierge closer to guests than the hotel lobby, but at places like the Oriental he also serves to remind guests of the timelessness of the place.

Though now engulfed by the 393-room hotel that superseded it, the original 137-year-old hotel remains with its wonderful conservatory, ideal for afternoon tea and four very exclusive suites. You can just imagine Joseph Conrad crafting Heart of Darkness in the suite that now bares his name, before popping down to the Reading Room. The seafood restaurant on the first floor of the main building also has a Conradian reference. Although I doubt Lord Jim would approve of the Japanese slant to the menu.

Food, as you might expect is a major selling point. In addition to Lord Jim’s, Le Normandie is a fine dining French restaurant with even finer views of the Phraya river below and China House has décor inspired by 1930s Shanghai Art Deco. Across the river the Sala Rim Naam serves Thai food alongside classic Thai dance in the evenings. Both the Riverside Terrace and adjoining Ciao Restaurant with its contemporary Italian cuisine offer great dining alongside the bustling river.

We chose the Riverside Terrace, where the cacophony of party boats speeding their way up and down the river competed with the in-house duo playing jazz for our entertainment. The boats narrowly won.

My greatest surprise derived not from the Mandarin Oriental’s grandeur but from its modern facilities. Across the river is a spacious sports facility, replete with squash court, tennis courts and running track as well as a most opulent spa. Within the main complex, the main swimming pool is far larger than you might expect, and positioned beside a kid’s pool designed for toddlers who want to put in some serious laps. Even our room had a desk ideal for working and a flat-screen TV situated above the mini-bar with the hotel’s own fragrance teas.

Despite this, the Mandarin Oriental retains a grandeur in conflict with the city’s ever-expanding skyline, proving that though the city may never sleep, at least in this oasis, it can make time stand still.

Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok 48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok Tel: +66 (0) 2659 900