Story and photos by Manos Angelakis

Bangkok Gilded Buddas Panorama

Bangkok

The City of Angels i.e. Bangkok, is a city you might not want to  permanently reside in, but it is certainly a city well worth a visit or  two. Imagine a very large town, halved by a river, without a planned  street grid where even today, after a number of boulevards and elevated  highways have been built since my last visit, the traffic is still so brutal that, when asking for directions, the locals will say “twenty  minutes to two hours, depending on the traffic”. Driving in Bangkok  requires nerves of steel as traffic regulations are more often ignored than observed, and hiring a car with driver or using a taxi or even a  tuk-tuk -- colorful, much cheaper but not particularly safe -- is highly recommended. It is said that Bangkok has three seasons: hot, hotter and hottest and almost always extremely humid; travelers not used to  tropical heat and humidity find the need to shower two or three times a  day.

Having said all that, I love  Bangkok because it was my first exposure to a culture that was  completely different than mine, over 30 years ago.

Bangkok Giant Ferris Wheel

Bangkok, being Thailand’s capital has  everything; from super luxury 5 star hotels (27 as of last count,  representing every international luxury hospitality group plus a number of Thai luxury hotel companies) to open-air floating markets (Khlong Lat Mayom); from high-end fashion malls with international luxury  merchandise to used engine-part shops in Chinatown; from palaces to  earthen-floor houses.

The Thai  people I met are all, without exception, very friendly, patient and  tolerant. They greet you with a “wai” a small bow, pressing the palms  together at chin level in a prayer-like gesture. Everyone smiles,  because it is considered very bad form not to.

Bangkok Carved Melon

Bangkok’s residents are also considerably artistic. In addition to local performances of classic Thai dances that take place during holidays,  you will find that most of the better restaurants employ “fruit carvers” an ephemeral art form that takes large fruit -- melons, watermelons and even smaller like papaya -- and carves them to create images of exotic  flowers or animals. I did not see as much fruit carving further South,  but it was practically ubiquitous in Bangkok!

Bangkok Jasmin Flower arangement

Another lovely art form that is sometimes given to honored guests at  some of the top hotels are the "Phuang Malai" flower garlands with which they welcome you on arrival. They are also presented as  temple-offerings and are kept for good luck. Mine was made from hundreds of jasmine buds plus five red colored buds and the jasmine aroma  permeated my room as I kept it by my bedside.

Bangkok Gate of Wonderful Victory

Images of a very ancient culture are still surviving in and around Bangkok.

The magnificence of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo -- the Temple of the Emerald Buddha -- offers to visitors a panorama of Thailand’s last 300  years of history.

Entering through  the Gate of Wonderful Victory one sees at the end of the street leading  through the outer courtyard, the Great Maha Chakri Palace, the center  point of the Chakri Complex. It is the only structure in the compound  built to a European prototype as an Italian Renaissance building, but  with a typical stepped Siamese roof. The palace was occupied by the king and queens of Siam, as the country was known prior to 1940. The king  occupied the east wing, the queens the west. In this building the  Audience Chamber with the silver throne under a nine-tiered umbrella is  sometimes still used on special occasions, especially when the king  receives ambassadors. Most of the buildings, gables, courtyards and  entrances, are gilded and richly decorated with murals, and brightly  hued carvings, statues of mythical creatures and gilded Buddahs, pillars with lotus capitals and glazed earthenware tiles.

Bangkok River Landing at Peninsula

If you are staying at one of the  river-front hotels, use one of their boats to cross the river or to go  to one of the riverside malls that is close to your destination, then  take a taxi or walk from there. Many, like the Peninsula and the Mandarin Oriental, have boats that will take you to planned stops along the Chao Phraya and also much larger river boats that will take you as  part of an escorted trip as far as Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam  from 1350 to 1757. 

Bangkok’s  latest population explosion started in 1993/1994 with the beginning of  the arrival of affluent Occidental and Chinese businessmen and their  families fleeing Hong Kong, as the transfer of sovereignty over Hong  Kong known internationally as "the Handover" from the United Kingdom to  China was to take place on 1 July 1997.

To accommodate these new arrivals, the international luxury hotel industry started building numerous 5-star properties in the early 1990s  throughout the city, but mostly by the riverside where the Peninsula,  the Shangri-La, the Millennium Hilton, the Chatrium Hotel Riverside  Bangkok, the Royal Orchid Sheraton and others are now located.

Bangkok 137 Pillars Suites & Residences lobby

One of the newest hotel properties is the 137 Pillars Suites and  Residences, a luxury property on a centrally located 30-floor tower that is associated with the 137 Pillars House, a historic building in Chiang Mai that belongs to the same owners. I stayed there on my return from  Phuket (see 137 Pillars article).

Bangkok Night view of Mandarin Oriental 100dpi

Additionally, one of the oldest luxury hotels in Asia is the Oriental (nowadays The Mandarin Oriental); the 2-story original colonial  building was erected in 1876. It is a timeless deluxe property, in the  middle of a lush garden on the bank of the Chao Phraya, where the ratio of staff to guests is still 2 staff for every single guest!

It is famous for the Author’s Suites in the original hotel; these suites  are a tribute to some of the great literary figures that have stayed in the hotel over the years. The modern main building is a multi-story  tower, next to the old hotel, that has rooms and suites and exceptionally beautiful public areas.

Bangkok Peninsula Atrium

The Peninsula Bangkok is the 5-star  hotel I spent 4 days during my recent visit to Bangkok and is located  right across the river from The Oriental. It is part of the Peninsula  Hotels Group; the original Peninsula on Salisbury Road, Kowloon-side,  Hong Kong, opened its doors in 1928 and is a storied grand dame hotel.

The Bangkok Peninsula opened its doors in 1998. It is a 37-floor high rise  that offers 370 rooms and suites. It has magnificent public spaces on  the first floor and an atrium that reminds a bit of the original  Peninsula’s lobby in Tsim Sha Tsui, famous for its afternoon tea and  intricate cocktails. One can have cocktails and afternoon tea at the  Bangkok atrium as well. The restaurants that offer breakfast and  exceptional Oriental and Occidental dishes are located at the  garden-level of the South Wing, overlooking the landing pad of the  Peninsula’s river boats. 

With many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand https://www.tourismthailand.org and to EVA Air http://www.evaair.com

 

 

 

© August 2017 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.

 

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