Thursday 24 November 2016
Arriving late yesterday afternoon I made some enquiries about what to do in Bangkok. One suggestion was to take the public boat up the river. I went for a stroll around the local streets; as always I was intrigued by the jumble of power and telephone lines.
Returning to the Mandarin Oriental hotel there were a couple of dudes right outside the hotel entrance selling boat rides. After some negotiations I agreed to go thinking the rides were from the jetty at the end of the street. Not the case, I was bundled in a taxi and driven a couple of kms up river. The 1800 locals deal meant I had this long boat to myself for two hours. Powered by a big diesel motor with a straight drive prop off we went.
The Chao Phraya River runs right through Bangkok. For many years it was the city’s only access with all cargo coming in by boat. The river today is still busy with passenger boats and cargo barges.
Progress was slow going up the river. It was quite choppy from other boats and a strong breeze. Some 30 minutes up river opposite the Grand palace, we turned left into a canal. The water is very dirty with rubbish often floating in it. The canal is quite a contrast with mostly run down houses and the odd business intermingled with temples all in good condition with bright colours and lots of gold paint.
Lots of other boats cruised the canal. At one point we stopped alongside a very small boat full of drinks and souvenirs; a lady tried in vain to sell some of it to me. Alongside the bank fish swarmed like bees in a feeding frenzy.
Next was a lock where a dozen or so boats huddled together, big motors idling away as the water rose. Surprisingly when the lock opened there was little smoke as the engines revved and the boats moved off.
Back on the river we stopped at Wat Arun Rajwararam, a Buddhist temple, consisting of a main stupa, which is at present under repair. I had thirty minutes to look around. From a distance this looks quite spectacular but up close the detail is a little rough. It is surrounded by a number of smaller buildings, including a worship hall and a number of buildings containing gold Buddhas with the names of deceased underneath.
We headed back down river with the boat dropping me back at the hotel.
A trip to the hotel’s well-equipped gym, a massage, and later a visit to the hotel’s cigar bar made for a relaxing evening.
Later I got chatting to a chap called Eric, his wife and daughter from Denmark. Eric had hunted a lot in Africa so we had a good yarn.
Friday 25 November 2016 – The Mandarin Oriental Hotel
I was somewhat intrigued by this place, especially after chatting to a few of the very attentive staff. A number I spoke to had worked here over twenty years. I set out to find out a little more and was taken on a guided tour by Benjamin, the Public Relations Executive.
We started in the original part of the hotel.
This was first established as a boarding house for seamen on a site nearby around 1860 by Captain James White. In 1863 he drowned crossing the river, which in those days was the only access to the city.
Two Americans took over turning it into the first real hotel in Bangkok, calling it the Oriental hotel. In 1865 it was destroyed by fire along with 68 other buildings.
A couple of Danish captains then opened a replacement Oriental Hotel for a few years I think on another site. Some of the history is a little vague.
The oldest part of the existing hotel now is known as the Author’s room and was opened in 1876. This part of the hotel is stunning with rooms dedicated to a number of authors including Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward who both spent a fair bit of time here.
A group of expats one from NZ, two from Australia and one from the US, were enjoying a high tea in one of the lounges.
The next room we visited is dedicated to Ankana Kalantananda. She joined the hotel in 1947 retiring over sixty years later in her eighties. This is her office, which now well into her nineties she still visits on a weekly basis. In her early days hot water was bucketed to the rooms.
The Oriental employs around twelve hundred people to service its guests occupying the 368 rooms. The average length of service is fourteen years.
Next we headed into the Garden Wing. Situated at the back of the original hotel this 10-storey wing built in 1958 has split level suites overlooking the river. Recently refurbished these are rather nice. Many guests come here year after year, book the same suite and just hang out around the hotel.
The main part of the hotel, the River Wing, with over three hundred rooms, was built in 1972. Each floor has a manager who sits at a desk near the lift greeting each guest. It offers great views over the river.
The huge lobby always has staff standing around to great people as they walk past.
There is a cigar bar, a lap pool and restaurants on the river bank serving varying cuisines.
At night all the boats on the river are well decorated.
Across the river is Spa, gym, conference rooms (which is where Sylvia has been spending her time) and a Thai restaurant. Two boats shuttle guests back and forth across the river. The gym is one of the best equipped hotel gyms I have visited with really helpful and attentive staff. They also run a cooking school at the restaurant.
We can highly recommend the Oriental Bangkok as a great place to stay.