The legendary, 137-year-old Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has been voted the ‘2013 Best Hotel in the World’ by readers of The Times, UK. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok clinched the top spot for its “first-class service, elegant suites and sumptuous food” which is available at the hotel’s nine restaurants. “We are delighted to receive this accolade. It serves to motivate and encourage our entire team to continue to strive for the service excellence for which we are renowned”, said General Manager Amanda Hyndman.
When Siam opened to foreign trade after the signing of the Bowring Treaty the sailors that manned the ships which conveyed this trade though Bangkok required accommodation on shore. To meet this demand, Captain Dyers, an American and his partner J.E. Barnes opened a hotel called the Oriental Hotel. This burnt down in 1865. Several years later a partnership of Danish captains opened a replacement hotel. In the 1970s the board of the Oriental Hotel decided with the opening of the new River Wing, upon 1876 as the official establishment date of the Oriental Hotel.
In 1881 29-year-old Hans Niels Andersen, a Danish businessman, bought the premises. His various business ventures led to him becoming a much respected member of the Western community in Siam. Andersen identified a need for a respectable hotel with good accommodation, a bar and a western menu to meet the needs of travellers and businessmen visiting to Siam.
Encouraged by Prince Prisdang Jumsai, Hans Niels Andersen formed a partnership with Peter Andersen and Frederick Kinch to build a luxury hotel. Designed by Cardu & Rossi, a team of local Italian architects, the Oriental was the first luxury hotel in Siam. The hotel opened on 19 May 1887 with 40 rooms and features which at the time had never been seen in Siam outside of a royal palace: a second floor (during a time of single-storey bungalows), carpeted hallways, smoking and ladies rooms, a billiards room and a bar capable of seating 50 patrons. To ensure the success of the restaurant and a satisfactory level of service the owners lured the chef and butler away from the French Consulate to work at the hotel.
The first major event that the hotel hosted was a grand banquet on 24 May 1888 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. After personally inspecting the hotel’s facilities in December 1890, King Chulalongkorn decided the hotel was up to the standard necessary to host visiting royalty. The hotel’s first royal guests were the entourage of Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia, (later Tsar Nicholas) in April 1891.
A succession of owners followed until Marie Maire took over the ownership in 1910. She immediately went to work revamping the hotel. She sold it in 1932. During the Second World War the hotel was leased to the Japanese Army who used it as an officers club (who under the management of the Imperial Hotel of Tokyo). At the end of the war it was used to house liberated Allied prisoners of war, who in the belief that it was a Japanese property ransacked the building.
At the end of the war a six-person partnership each contributed US$250 to buy the hotel, badly run down from its wartime service. The partnership consisted of Germaine Krull (1897–1985), Prince Bhanu, General Chai Prateepasen, Pote Sarasin (a Thai lawyer) and John Webster and Jim Thompson, two Americans who had served in the Organization for Strategic Security (OSS) and who had stayed on in Thailand. Krull took the position of manager in 1947, despite no prior experience in the hotel field. Born in Poland, she had been best known as a photographer during the 1920s before service in the Pacific as a war correspondent for Agence France Presse. The hotel’s restoration and restocking offered Thompson an opportunity to put to use his architectural and artistic abilities.
The hotel reopened for business on 12 June 1947. Krull turned out to be a natural hotelier and during her reign restored the hotel to it position as the premier hotel in Thailand. Thompson soon left the partnership over a plan to build a new wing, though he stayed on in residence at the hotel for some time. To compete with popular clubs and a new local bar called Chez Eve, Krull established the Bamboo Bar, which soon became one of the leading bars in Bangkok.
In 1958 the ten-storey Garden Wing was built. It featured the city’s first elevator and was home to the Le Normandie Restaurant. In 1967, fearful that Thailand would fall to the communists, Krull sold her share to Italthai which at the time was well on its way to becoming one of the country’s most significant mercantile groups eventually totally some 60 companies involved in almost all aspects of the Thai economy.
- UK’s The Times reader voted Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental “2013 Best Hotel in the World” (thaishortnews.wordpress.com)
- Visit to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok (richardbarrow.com)
- Bangkok day two – Bangkok, Thailand (travelpod.com)