An Oriental visit, and you don’t have to stay
If you only ever do it once, it should, unless you are a true curmudgeon, be well worth the effort. That is, take tea at the grand old lady of Bangkok rest stops, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Of course, if you have a spare 16,000 baht or so, you might like to spend the night in the hotel, but if you just want to get a feel for the elegance and glamour of this icon of Asia and soak up the ambience, perhaps more sub-conscious than conscious, of the celebrated Authors’ Wing, then an afternoon tea is highly recommended.
The Mandarin Oriental, or simply the Oriental as it is pretty much always referred to, was built in 1876. Of course it has undergone a multitude of changes since then, but if you plan a trip in advance and organise yourself you should be able to take afternoon tea on the ground floor of the Authors’ Wing which is part of the original building.
The Oriental Hotel was one of a series of grand hotels stretching across Southeast Asia from the late nineteenth century and attracting the well-heeled, politicians, artists, movie stars, and writers. The Oriental was mentioned in the same breath as the Strand in Rangoon (now Yangon), Eastern and Oriental in Georgetown, Penang, Raffles in Singapore, Le Royal in Phnom Penh, and the Majestic in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).
From its white-washed rattan furniture to the bamboo and the palm trees, taking traditional English afternoon tea at the Oriental, complete with scones and finger sandwiches, is something of a ‘must do’.
As the name suggests, the Authors’ Wing or Lounge is so called because of the many literary luminaries who have stayed at the Oriental Hotel down through the decades.
From Joseph Conrad (whose 1900-published novel Lord Jim is considered by some to be among the best of the last century) to W. Somerset Maugham to Noel Coward (he of the ‘only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ fame) to Graham Greene to the American James A. Michener, the Oriental Hotel has hosted them all.
In 1923 Maugham noted, “I was almost evicted from The Oriental because the manager did not want me to ruin her business by dying in one of her rooms.” He was suffering a bout of malaria at the time.
Due to the popularity of the afternoon teas it is suggested you contact the Oriental beforehand to ascertain availability (send an email to [email protected]). Teas start at 2:00pm and, apart from the scones and sandwiches, there are such waist-expanding delights as Tiramisu and Peach Melba. A perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.