Only mad dogs and Englishmen negotiate the tuk-tuk-choked streets and the suffocating heat of Bangkok in the midday sun.
Only mad dogs and Englishmen negotiate the tuk-tuk-choked streets and the suffocating heat of Bangkok in the midday sun. For the past century, those with an ounce of sanity and deep pockets - including Noël Coward in his day - have sought refuge in The Oriental. It's situated on the banks of the Chao Phya, and from the moment you roll up at the entrance, where you're welcomed with fragrant garlands of jasmine, you are enveloped in calm.
The Oriental is Bangkok's grand dame dating back to the end of the 19th century. Once a lodge for European traders, the original building burned to the ground in 1865. The two-storey, neo-Classical-style Author's Wing was rebuilt in 1876 by two naval captains. Over the years the Garden Wing and the River Wing have been added.
In the ornate lobby, with its cool, marble floors scattered with plush oriental rugs, the soothing tinkling of water in a water-lily-strewn fountain is the only sound. From the elegant Regency Rooms, where walls are draped in damask silk, and ceilings are hung with Austrian hand-cut crystal chandeliers, to the airy Authors' Lounge, where afternoon tea is served among white wicker furniture and potted palms, the atmosphere is of sheer nostalgia. Sepia photographs of Thai royalty along the corridors add to the sense of a bygone era.
The hotel is a cocoon of luxurious ease. At the pool, attendants circulate with glasses of water clinking with ice, chilled lemon-scented face cloths and complimentary bowls of refreshing sorbet. If you prefer to stay out of the sun, you can relax with a book in the reading room (many penned by past guests) or wander around the verdant gardens, stocked with orchids, palms and ferns and chat to the resident mynah bird. Across the river from The Oriental's pier are the Thai Cooking School and the Oriental Spa. The latter, in an old teak-wood house, can sort out any residual heat fatigue.
But whatever you do, end the day on the terrace as the sun goes down, watching life on the river. Huge barges plying up and down, express boats churning up the tea-coloured water, and the little hotel shuttle bobbing in between as it ferries guests back and forth are part of a complicated but beautifully choreographed dance.
The Oriental, 48 Oriental Avenue, Bangkok 10500 Thailand (00 66 2659 9000, www.mandarinoriental.com.
Time to international airport: a 30-minute taxi ride to the airport costs around 400 Baht (£5.70). Or you could treat yourself to a hotel limousine - one of the smart white fleet of Mercedes which costs 1,500 Baht (£21) one way - or a helicopter transfer, which costs 14,000 Baht (£200) for up to six people.
There are 393 rooms and suites split between the Authors' Wing, Garden Wing and River Wing. Ten of the suites are named after authors who have stayed at the hotel including Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Joseph Conrad, James Michener and Graham Greene. We were in the Garden Wing, where 48 deluxe rooms have recently been refurbished with lavish Thai silks, marble, polished teak, and floor-to-ceiling picture windows with panoramic views of the river.
Freebies: delicious lemon-scented Mandarin Oriental toiletries.
Keeping in touch: direct-dial phones, high-speed broadband internet access.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms currently start US$ 246 (£154) including breakfast. Garden Wing rooms cost from $352 (£220).
I'm not paying that: in that other Bangkok institution, the Khao San Road, Buddy Lodge (00 66 2629 4477) rooms cost from 1,800 Baht (£25.50) including breakfast.Reuse content