Bangkok’s first luxury hotel has been welcoming travelers for more than 143 years, making it one of the oldest five-star stays in the world. But even the grandest of dames need face-lifts, and the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is unveiling one that comes with a US$90 million (A$134 million) price tag.
The hotel’s renovation, which was partially unveiled in November 2019 and is expected to be complete by spring, comes at a key time. Bangkok itself is going through a major transformation, with high-end malls, restaurants, and bars emerging around historic monuments.
Battery-powered ferries will soon enter service alongside traditional longboats, and more green and public spaces are planned throughout the city. Direct competition is swooping in, too, as Four Seasons and Capella prepare to up the ante for luxury in buildings that are a two-minute boat ride from Mandarin’s property line.
To that end, the Mandarin Oriental isn’t just polishing up her good looks. The hotel is also embracing sustainability policies such as eliminating single-use plastic, switching to aluminum containers for toiletries, and offering biodegradable water bottles.
It’s also started working with street vendors around the property to phase out to phase out plastic bags and straws, which are popular among stalls that line Bangkok’s roads.
Here’s an exclusive first look at all that’s new at Bangkok’s glamorous old charmer.
A waterfront welcome
Jeffrey Wilkes, the interior designer behind the renovation, has taken on some of the most opulent resorts in Asia, including Mandapa, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Bali, and the W Goa.
For this project, he took inspiration from the Chao Phraya River – which serves as the hotel entrance for guests that come and go on the water – and the textile trade that once plied its waters. Boats fashioned out of brass appear as a motif throughout public spaces and rooms, and more than 10,000 meters of new silk were procured to redo the rooms and suites within the hotel’s River Wing.
The suite to book
Among Wilkes’s priorities was honoring the legacy of Jim Thompson, an American tycoon who revitalized Thailand’s silk industry and jointly owned the property from 1946 to 1967.
“We wanted to create something that we believe he would have loved, a place that would allow him to know he’s in the heart of Bangkok,” he said.
This suite, named for Thompson, is among the last spaces to be finished; it features a large, temple-style mural, a vintage chair, and an antique cabinet filled with old collectibles that Wilkes imagined Thompson would have collected from his travels around Southeast Asia.
The lobby, reborn
In every space he reimagined, Wilkes wanted to embrace history with modern twists. The lobby, one of Bangkok’s most photogenic rooms, still has its signature coffered ceiling and monumental wood-framed windows.
But the epic bells that hang from above are remakes of the old icons, each with 2,460 pieces of Bohemian crystal. Similarly, the previous floral carpets have been swapped for brighter and less fusty options, and the red-and-gray color palette has gone breezy and tropical.
Urban oasis vibes
“Aesthetically everything has changed,” said Greg Liddell, the hotel’s general manager who oversaw a renovation that required parts of the hotel to close for six months last year.
Some changes are subtle, like lights that were added to existing cornices inside the rooms. Others are more dramatic, like the fact that all of the 331 guest rooms and two swimming pools now open up to a river view.
“A big part of who we are is still our team,” adds Liddell, who explained that the staff of 1,300 stayed on during the renovation in hopes of preserving the existing bonds that connected the hotel to its longtime clients. (At 4 to 1, the Mandarin has one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the city.)
Roughly half of the guests here are regulars, and many request their favorite butlers, rooms, or floors. “We can read their minds,” says guest relations director Mayuree Laolugsanalerd about these travelers. “We listen, observe, take mental notes, and record everything.”
No city limits
No hotel these days can maintain a best-in-class reputation without considering how it connects its guests to the broader destination it inhabits, and that's an area where the Mandarin is investing heavily.
To that end, the property is offering a series of off-the-beaten-path excursions and activities that include learning to fold lotuses into temple offerings, biking to less-visited spice and flower markets, or getting exclusive access to monasteries.
A fine dining movement
Incredibly, there are 11 restaurants on the property. That includes the contemporary French spot Le Normandie, which has been operational since 1958 and has claimed a pair of Michelin stars.
Keeping its menu fresh is critical: In November, the restaurant earned stiff competition from Alain Ducasse in the nearby IconSiam development, and later this year it will gain another rival when French master chef Mauro Colagreco opens a fine dining spot at the Capella.
Only 20 guests can dine at Kinu by Takagi each night; the kaiseki counter has just 10 seats and two turns. The restaurant opened in November during the first phase of the hotel’s renovation.
Added up, the renovation is the most comprehensive one undertaken in the Mandarin Oriental’s history. Now that it approaches its completion, the hotel can look forward to seeing more changes right from its terrace for years to come.
This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here