The Oriental Hotel — forever known as the Grand Dame of the Chao Phraya — was Thailand’s first hotel.
Now part of the Mandarin Oriental chain and widely regarded as one of the best hotels in Asia, if not the world, the Oriental is a true Bangkok treasure.
It was originally built in the late 18th Century, before being developed into a luxury hotel by Danish businessman Hans Niels Anderson in 1881.
It opened in 1887 with such elegance — unrivalled in Bangkok at the time — that it was compared to a royal palace. It first entertained royalty in 1891 with the future Tsar Nicholas, Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia.
It was used as a officers’ club by the Japanese army during World War II and then to house liberated Allied POWs at the conclusion of the war.
Following the war, the Oriental had a few changes of hands and sought to regain her former glory. The famed Bamboo Bar opened in the 1940s and the Garden Wing was built in 1958, complete with celebrated French restaurant, Le Normandie, and Bangkok’s first lift.
It was bought by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in 1974 and is now widely regarded as the best hotel in the city, and is a favourite amongst visiting celebrities.
Not only is it notable for its age and pedigree, but the many authors who have based themselves out of the Oriental during their time in Siam is legendary.
The Authors’ Wing is the only part of the original building still standing and it holds the richest literary heritage.
Over the years, it has been graced by the following:
- Somerset Maugham, who suffered with malaria during his stay
- John Le Carré, who finished The Honourable Schoolboy here
- Joseph Conrad
- Noel Coward
- Graham Greene
- Victor Hugo
- Henrik Ibsen
- Leo Tolstoy
- Thomas Hardy
- Henry James
- Oscar Wilde
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Ernest Hemingway
- Evelyn Waugh
- James Michener
- Barbara Cartland
- George Orwell
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Rudyard Kipling
- George Bernard Shaw
- Maxim Gorky
It’s continually immortalised in literature — from Maugham writing about his bout of malaria to the plethora of travel blogs written on it today — and will always be an important part of Bangkok’s history.
Coward said in 1929 of the hotel,
It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.
Maugham wrote in A Gentleman in the Parlour in 1930 about his hotel-bound malaria:
I lay there panting and sleepless, and shapes of monstrous pagodas and great gilded Buddhas bore down on me. Those wooden rooms with their verandahs made every sound frightfully audible to my tortured ears …
The Authors’ Wing was revamped recently for the hotel’s 140th birthday celebrations; one of the updates was to create a huge, six-bedroom Grand Royal Suite.
At 6,500 square feet, this suite also contains a dining room to sit 12, private spa and gym and a sunroom.
In the hotel at large, there are a total of eight bars and restaurants, including Le Normandie and the Bamboo Bar, and the beautiful Authors’ Lounge, which offers a scrumptious afternoon tea.
But while the building has been updated and the decor revamped, the spirit of the Oriental, looking out over the twists of the Chao Phraya, has stayed the same — luxury and history steeped in rich literary tradition.