THE ORIENTAL - TRULY IN A CLASS BY ITSELF
by Scott Murray
"The hotel is operated by people. These people matter more than all the machines, limousines and river launches. Machines do not talk, the secret lies in a a friendly word and a smile."
Staying at the Oriental is a bit like climbing Everest, paddling down the Amazon or visiting the great pyramids of Egypt. You go there to say you've stayed there, a sort of "Well, of course, darling, don't be silly - when I go to Bangkok, I always stay at the Oriental" type thing. It's a great name-dropper at any gathering, and many guests register simply to add it to their "Been there, done that" list.
If you do go to the Oriental, and just stay in your room, you won't get it. For the hotel's secret is its staff and how they interact with their guests. The Oriental has such a huge return clientele because the staff are trained to remember the little things: what time you like to get up, how you like your eggs cooked, how many children you have, what publications you read, what type of massage you prefer etc. The Oriental has mastered the little things, and that's what sets it apart. The staff remember, they care about you, and they treat you like family. Staying at the Oriental is like going back into the womb - you have succumbed to a cocoon of comfort that only be disturbed by the harsh reality of your check-out time.
You obviously need to be well-off to stay at the Oriental, but if you can afford it, the hotel will provide you with a level of service and pampering that is second to none. If it is not the world's best hotel, it is certainly one of the best, and if you have any doubt about that just chat with one of the Oriental's long-term guests, and see how passionately they speak about the hotel.
Probably the most pivotal point in modern Oriental history was in 1967 when the men behind Ital-Thai, Giorgio Berlingieri and Dr. Chaijudh Karnasuta, assumed ownership of the hotel and named Kurt Wachtveitl as the hotel's General Manager. The Swiss born Wachtveitl preceded on a course that would make the Oriental a benchmark in the luxury hotel business.
The hotel has some of the finest dining establishments in the region. Indeed, the magnificence of the Oriental didn't really hit me until I sat down to eat at Lord Jim's. I was treated as if I was one of the VIPs that so oft makes the Oriental their home: the service was exceptional, I really felt as if I was somebody and it should truly be experienced first-hand.
A number of years ago a Bangkok Post columnist wrote about the Oriental's French restaurant Normandie: "Probably the best location for tourists of any restaurant in the whole of Bangkok, and combined with good food and service this roof-top establishment is deservedly the first place that residents take their visitorsfrom overseas for a meal."
Another event which confirmed the Oriental's reputation for me was a trip to the hotel's spa. From papaya body polishes to herbal wraps, Swedish massages, aroma facials and marine balneotherm treatments, by the time you are finished you will feel totally rejuvenated and like a new person. I had my own private suite which included a whirlpool, sauna, steamroom and massage area. Talk about pampering yourself.
The Oriental is above all a literary haven - It celebrates well-known authors more than any other five-star hotel, and ever year it hosts the SEA Write awards. Barbara Cartland, John le Carre, Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward, Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Norman Mailer, James Michener, Kukrit Pramoj, Wilbur Smith and Gore Vidal have all either stayed or visited the Oriental and they all have special suites named after them.
The hotel is steeped in history. Historian Andreas Augustin says, "Jim Thompson owned it, Queen Elizabeth II loved it, Peter Ustinov performed there, Michael Jackson hid from the press there, Jose Carreras performed for Queen Sirikit on the hotel's balcony, Somerset Maugham almost died there, and Nijinsky danced in the ballroom."
SIGN IN PLEASE - no one can name-drop better than the Oriental. Let's take a look at some of the celebs that have stayed there: Julie Andrews, Neil Armstrong, Sir Richard Attenborough, Lauren Bacall, Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg, David Bowie, George Burns, George Bush, Michael Caine, Jackie Chan, Jacques Chirac, James Coburn, Sean Connery, Jacques Yves-Cousteau, Walter Cronkite, Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Matt Dillon, the Duke of Edinburgh, Gloria Estefan, Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali, Ian Fleming, Sally Field, Malcolm Forbes, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Mel Gibson, Gene Hackman, Vaclav Havel, Goldie Hawn, Charleton Heston, Audrey Hepburn, Sir Edmund Hillary, King Hussein, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Grace Kelly, Don King, Henry Kissinger, Helmut Kohl, Niki Lauda, Sophia Loren, Yehudi Menuhin, Roger Moore, Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicholson, Richard Nixon, Brian de Palma, Pele, Sean Penn, Sydney Poitier, Roman Polanski, the Prince & Princess of Wales, Fidel Ramos, Michael Schumacher, Omar Sharif, King Sihanouk, Yves St. Laurent, the Sultan of Brunei, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Mike Wallace, Diane Warwick.
It's amazing to think that some people travel to Thailand just to stay at the Oriental, but if you stay there, you will learn why they do so.
If you want more information on the hotel please read The Oriental, which is part of the Most Famous Hotels in the World Series by Andreas Augustin and Andrew Williamson
The Oriental Bangkok is part of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group which also has properties in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Surabaya, London, Singapore, San Francisco, Macau, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and soon Miami.
The Oriental, 48 Oriental Ave.
Bangkok, Thailand, 10500
Tel: (662) 236-0400/20
Fax: (662) 236-1937-9