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T he

Oriental Bangkok

This idyllic 19th century scenery stems from the fantasy of a contemporary artist.

Andreas Augustin

Andrew Williamson


The Wai Not many things are more typical of Thailand than that charming and universal greeting, the ‘wai’. Both hands are raised, palms joined, to a position lightly touching the body somewhere between the chest and forehead. The person who is junior in age or social rank is the first one to give the ‘wai’. The senior person immediately returns the greeting, usually by ‘wai-ing’ with the hands raised no higher than the chest.


The Team Two charming spirits of The Oriental accompany author Andreas Augustin: Ankana Kalantananda (left) and Nuansri Kumbanaruk.

Andreas Augustin studied hotel management at the Castle of KIesheim, Salzburg. He became a journalist and photographer, editor and publisher. In 1986 he has taken up residence for three years at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore to study and to write about the region and the hotels of South East Asia. Ever since he writes and produces books about The Most Famous Hotels in the World. For over ten years now he has been researching the history of The Oriental. To update every single edition of this book, he still visits archives in search of old photographs, travel reports, advertisements, postcards, diaries and other related historic material. Michelle Chaplow is a British freelance photographer based in Southern Spain. Her specialist subjects include hotels. She is a member of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and has studied photography at Seville University. Chancham Bunnag helped compiling an early biography of The Oriental (An Oriental Album) and was also of great help in researching this book. Andrew Williamson read Modern History at St Anne’s College in Oxford. He has written ‘Thomas Cook and the Golden Age of Travel’ and is co-author of this and various other books in the ‘Famous Hotels’ series.


Contents

Author’s Notepad 12 Arrival of the English Governess 15 The Land of the White Elephant 23 Grand Hotels of the 19th century 30—31 The Riddle of The Oriental’s Opening 32 Joseph Conrad 50 The Concept of Travel 54 When Nijinsky Danced 67 Modern Times 75 In Artistic Hands 95 Italthai 111 The Number One in the World 127 Who’s Who? 137 Epilogue 155 Following pages: a Thai dancer at the Oriental garden; next pages: flowers in the small pond, both by Michelle Chaplow


Michelle Chaplow

The Oriental Bangkok

Author’s Notepad Arriving at The Oriental in the early hours of the evening is a wonderful affair. Slowly the doors swing shut behind me. A string quartet is playing Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni – L’Inverno. ‘Winter’! When I entered, the outside temperature was at 31°C. I step right out into the garden and walk to the terrace, to the ‘River of Kings’, the ‘Mother of All Waters’. Nicknames for the mighty Chao Phya. Little tug boats are towing strings of huge barges upriver. Later, in a few days, laden with rice, wood and other goods, they will be gliding past again, this time towards the Gulf of Thailand. The two pools set in the tropical gardens are an oasis. While the busy city of Bangkok rarely comes to a complete standstill in the streets outside, at The Oriental you find an atmosphere of relaxed tranquillity. The duplex rooms of the Garden Wing exude a very special charm. If you are of a romantic nature, however, you may prefer the Authors’ Wing with its spacious writers’ suites or the new rooms of the River Wing. They are simply perfect. The history of the hotel dates back over 125 years, when the East Asiatic company was trading, sea captains were staying at the hotel and travellers were glad to see a mosquito net over their 12


The Oriental Bangkok

The river, the quartet and the gardens with the old wing.

beds after a long journey’s end. Many legends had been spun over the decades, true ones and invented ones. Verifying them was one of the major challenges in this project. When night descends over Bangkok, the smell of charcoal hints at the magnificent buffets being served on the Riverside Terrace. Upstairs Lord Jim’s, a tribute to writer Joseph Conrad, serves the finest seafood in the city. In Le Normandie you may find a visiting chef from one of the world’s finest restaurants demonstrating his culinary skills. The Sala Rim Naam across the river is Bangkok’s most elegant Thai restaurant. And in the Bamboo Bar the jazz legends currently in town jam until the small hours. Twice a day, the river changes its direction, due to the tides of the Gulf of Thailand in the nearby delta. Overlooking these mighty waters, my mind always wanders back to the day when Anna, the famous governess at the court of the King of Siam, arrived. That was when the story of this hotel began, too.

Andreas Augustin

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The Oriental Bangkok

1862

We beg to invite you to our royal palace The letter which King Mongkut sent to Singapore in 1862 to welcome Anna Leonowens as the English teacher of his children. Right page: Anna Leonowens came to Bangkok on 15 March 1862 and became a controversial legend. Here she wears a huge cross. No wonder the Siamese King had made it very clear from the beginning: she was hired for teaching, “not for conversion to Christianity�.

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The Oriental Bangkok

Arrival of the English Teacher 1862

The red fireball sank majestically behind the huge monsoon clouds which paraded over the horizon like a herd of mighty white elephants. A piece of land no larger than the captain’s table floated gently past the Siamese steamer Chao Phya like a small green island. It must have made a long journey, torn from the bank of the Maenam somewhere up north where the old capital Ayutthaya lies. Anna watched it, as she sat in the shade of the funnel. It had smoked busily ever since they stepped aboard in Singapore. She wore her hair up. Her feet were stuck in tiny, tightly laced boots. She folded her hands into her black skirt. The steamer passed large expanses of betel-nut and coconut palms. On the other side were docks and shipyards. In the distance, the golden peak of a huge temple loomed into the sky. ‘They call these buildings pagodas here in Siam,’ Anna thought. The first houses, plainly built of brick and stucco, came into sight. One was flying the French flag. It was surrounded by plants and flowers. ‘Mother?’ A boy in a navy-blue sailor suit jumped over a pile of ropes and sat down next to Anna. ‘Mother, is that Bangkok?’ ‘Yes, Louis. That is Bangkok.’ 15


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The Land of the White Elephant A Brief History

Siam – as Thailand was known before – was nicknamed the ‘Land of the White Elephant’. The vignette above shows a white elephant. These rare creatures were sporting a patchy light grey skin, red eyes and sometimes even five rather than four toes on each of their feet. They still are sacred animals and it was always considered highly auspicious if one was discovered during the reign of a monarch. The more that were found the better the portents for a successful reign. The elephants were taken in great ceremony to Bangkok where they were placed in the royal stables and pampered for the rest of their lives. The Thai people came originally from southeastern China. In the 10th century AD, they began to migrate southwards and westwards and settled in the region of Indochina. During the 13th century Sukothai became the first capital of an independent Thai kingdom. It was superseded in the 14th century by a new Thai state with its capital further south at Ayutthaya. For the The Oriental’s Butler Service is one of the outstanding specialities of this celebrated temple of hospitality. 23


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A porter (left) stands next to one of the graceful statues of the original hotel. This part is today the Author’s wing. the statues are still there.

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The Opening Puzzle 1862–1868

The Riddle of The Oriental’s Opening 1862 —1893 The correlation between the development of new means of transport and the evolution of the hotel industry is obvious. The advent of tourism gave the world ‘grand’ hotels. The term grand hotel was not only a synonym for grandeur. It was a technical expression, too. It was an invention of both innkeepers and architects, the second fulfilling the new requirements of the first. A grand hotel was – and is – a self-contained world which, for the first time, combined all the aspects of hospitality: accommodation, catering, laundry, foreign exchange, operated telephones, sports and social facilities like clubs. Hotel limousines catered for local transport, garages provided shelter for the Rolls. First trade and politics, and later leisure and tourism were the driving forces behind the provision of accommodation for foreigners. Usually it required a type of accommodation both outstanding and glittering compared to the immediate environs, thus creating luxury embedded in poverty. In the second half of the 19th century the grand hotels along the shipping routes of Asia became famous oases of luxury in a desert of poverty. The Galle Face in Colombo, the E&O Hotel in Penang, the Hotel de l’Europe, the Adelphi and the Raffles in Singapore, Hotel des Indes in Jakarta (then Batavia), the Bela Vista in Macao and the Hong Kong Hotel in the British Crown colony opened their doors. Thailand, with its cautious approach to diplomatic relations with the rest of the world, developed more slowly. Bangkok was not an automatic port of call when travelling from, say, Singapore to Hong Kong. When trade relations started to grow and the country opened up to the rest of the world, Bangkok became an increasingly important destination. It was at this point that The Oriental came into being.

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1870–1893

King Chulalongkorn was crowned in 1868. He continued the course of reform and became an especially good king. He led the way for modernization, improved relations with the west, and instituted many important cultural and social reforms in Thailand. He carried the myth and legends of Siam around the world while travelling the globe. His spectacular visits were always most colourful, be it to France, Austria-Hungary or Italy. His first visit to The Oriental was on 17 December 1890, founding a long lasting relationship between the legendary hotel and the country's Royal Palace. He had a great sense for posing, as the picture above with his eleven sons shows. Photography, by the way, is one of the preferred hobbies of the Royal Family who take up this art at a very early age (left). King Chulalongkorn’s children shared the love of technical innovations with their father.

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In May 1887 Hans Niels Andersen, Peter Andersen and Frederick Kinch, the new owners of the Oriental Hotel, posed proudly in front of the new building. The Oriental was the first luxury hotel in Siam. Never had such opulence been seen in Bangkok outside the palace: carpets covered the hallways, there was artistic wallpaper with the latest designs from Paris and the bedrooms on the second floor were furnished with mahogany rattan. A second floor! What a sensation for a country of floating houses and one-storey bungalows.

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1881 Messrs Andersen & Co became the new owners of the Oriental Hotel, the nearby Oriental store and ship chandlery, the Oriental ice factory, the Oriental bakery, an aerated water manufacturing plant and the Koh-Si-Chang Hotel and store.

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Joseph Conrad One man did not stay at the hotel although he was a frequent visitor to the bar. On 24 January 1888, Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, born in December 1857 in Poland and better known as Joseph Conrad, arrived in Bangkok to take over command of a ship, the Otago. The previous captain had died at sea. While in Bangkok, overseeing the reloading of the ship and waiting for the crew to recover from illness, he spent many evenings swapping stories in the bar of The Oriental. ‘We talked of wrecks, of short rations and of heroism . . . and now and then falling silent all together, we gazed at the sights of the river.’ Early in the morning of 8 February 1888, the Otago weighed anchor and glided quietly past the foreign consulates and the still-slumbering occupants of The Oriental, on her way to Singapore. This was to be Conrad’s only visit to Bangkok and in fact his first and only sea-going command. A few years later he traded the helm for a pen and, settling in England, took up writing full time. Conrad’s experiences with the Otago provided material for a number of his stories including Lord Jim, The Shadow Line, Falk and The Secret Sharer. Here fact and fiction merge so that it is almost impossible to tell the two apart. Bangkok continued to have a strong hold on his mind and he utilised every moment of his experience in the East in his writing, embellishing here, enhancing there, until even the old timers at the Oriental bar would have been proud of him. Top: Joseph Conrad in 1888. The sign advertises the seafood restaurant at The Oriental, commemorating Conrad's novel Lord Jim.

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1870–1893

Everybody realized the growing strategic potential of Siam. In 1893, the peak of the crisis was reached when the French battleships Lutin, Inconstant and the Comète anchored in front of the French Legation. The roof and upper storey of the Oriental Hotel can be seen in the background. See the next double page for a ‘close-up’.

Trade in Siam The delta of the Maenam river was the ‘bread basket’ of the kingdom. It flooded annually between June and November, the waters attaining their greatest heights in August. The floodwaters covered several thousand square miles and provided ideal conditions for growing rice, a crop which furnished two-thirds of Siam’s total exports. During the floods vast quantities of fish swam into the rice-fields and were left behind when the water receded, thus providing another valuable and abundant food supply. In 1884, for example, 419 vessels and 143 junks arrived in Bangkok with cargoes valued at £27,170. Of these, 240 were British with a total tonnage of 151,984 t. The total value of exports reached £2,262,240 in 1884, rice being the principal earner. Imports were valued at over £1m, the chief items being grey and white shirting and over 700 chests of opium. The surplus revenue earned from exports was paid in Mexican silver dollars, which were melted down and recoined. This silver coinage also became Siam’s standard of weight. There were also gold coins, but not in general circulation.

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1870–1893

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During the days of two storey hotel buildings, lifts were no subject. But today, reaching the 16th floor of the River Wing building is either a matter of personal fitness or in the hands of Anusorn. He is the famous Oriental lift-boy who – without looking – presses the button of your floor from the outside of the lift. He always miraculously knows on which floor you stay. 60


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The Sommerville Memoirs (1897) Professor Maxwell Sommerville of the University of Pennsylvania arrived in 1897, together with his wife, during manager Palmer’s time. The Oriental launch went out to meet them. His visit led him to conclude: ‘To leave Siam in a parenthesis, to fail to see and to study that interesting people and their country, is like visiting Italy, as many do, without seeing Bologna.’ The professor of glyptology noted: ‘We were impressed with the courtesy of the Siamese from the moment we stepped on shore, which was on a beautiful terrace, shaded by a grove of luxuriant trees, through which sanded paths led to the Oriental Hotel. The manager, an Englishman, proceeded to give us some ideas of the arrangement of the house. The first entrance was into a one-storey garden portal, with six arches built of stuccoed brick, the interior with floor of sand, furnished with hot-weather armchairs and round tables, plentifully supplied with English journals of Bangkok and from the Straits Settlements. ‘We passed into the principal hall, about seventy feet broad by thirty feet deep, serving at the same time as reception-room, library, office, general thoroughfare, billiard-room, and buffet, known in many countries as a bar. It is attended by several Siamese, under supervision of two moonshees. These moonshees can work so rapidly and with such precision by the aid of their wire and ball calculator, the abacus, that every English bank throughout the East is compelled to employ them. ‘Once you have chosen your room, you are simply known by its number. We were known as Number One. It was the last apartment at the manager’s disposal. It consisted of three pieces: a double-bedded sleeping room, a parlour, and beyond that a commodious verandah, well defended from the sunlight by large split bamboo screens. There were two sheets on our bed, which was a luxury we often were denied in India and Burma. Besides the welcome sheets there was a “peace-maker” – a long, narrow bolster covered with white linen and filled with horse-hair: it is placed on the centre of 62


1892–1910

the mattress, from head to foot, and is an important feature on a double bed on a Bangkok night. ‘The mosquitoes were so vigorous that at any moment of the night, by quickly closing the hands over the forehead, on an average, eight or ten of these musical creatures would remain helpless on the palms of the hands. We thought it not prudent to speak of these executions to the Siamese room-boys, as they, being Buddhists, would not only lose respect for us, but would regard us as guilty sinners. ‘The furniture in our verandah room was all of rattan and cane – deep reclining-chairs and lounges with tables attached. No matter how much we would try to barricade the flimsy, short jalousies at the points of ingress and egress to our apartment, one or other of our native servant boys would find his way into our presence. He felt he must begin our day by serving the inevitable chota hazri, – the early bite, – a cup of tea, toast, and two plantains. These people are so accustomed to see thousands around them without any costume that they have not the slightest curiosity to see how travellers are made up; nor are they indiscreet. ‘In almost all other matters this Siamese hotel is not very unlike what one generally finds in the East. Turn your Kodak on the dining-room three times a day, and you will see an efficient corps of Mongolian servants, who in the morning at breakfast, or at noon at tiffin, or in the evening at dinner, are serving mangosteens, bread-fruit, oranges, custard-apples, the health-giving papaya, pineapples, mangoes, and bananas. In the hottest of the hot times of the year, when the griffins are not there, the durian is cut out of doors, and after its unpleasant odour has in a measure passed off, it is served on the table; then it is delicious.’

‘Turn your Kodak on the dining-room three times a day . . . ’ The two cameras shown are the ‘Large Kodak’ and – right – its smaller brother, the ‘Kodak’. The coloured insets come from a P&O Steamer brochure, illustrating a sea journey from Europe to Asia.

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The Opening Puzzle 1862–1868

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Michelle Chaplow

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1911–1923

When Nijinsky Danced

1911—1923 World War I, the ‘Great War’, started in 1914. The news affected the life of the small foreign ‘expat’-community at The Oriental. Being British one no longer socialised with a German subject, and an Austrian diplomat was no longer invited to a French garden party, for example. The hotel hosted Bangkok’s first performance of Molière’s play Le Medecin Malgré Lui. The occasion was the inauguration of the Alliance Francaise. Then, in 1916, Maria Maire presented Vaslav Nijinsky. Kiev-born Nijinsky, possibly the greatest dancer of the 20th century, gave the first display of classic western ballet in Bangkok. On 22 July 1917, Siam’s declaration of war against Germany burst upon smiling, optimistic Bangkok like a bolt out of the blue. Now dinners and concerts at The Oriental were held in aid of ambulance funds, the Red Cross and other charities. After the war, in 1919, neither the hotel nor the world of exotic travel were prospering. While local social activities flourished modestly – a monthly dance held at the Oriental Hotel was frequently attended by members of the Thai Royal Family – The Oriental was affected by the global economic crisis. The Hanoi journal L‘Eveil Economique de l‘Indochine sent its correspondent, a certain M Henri Cucherousset, to Bangkok in 1920. The journalist took a dim view of the hotel. In an article he called it ‘a small place with forty bad, comfortless rooms in an old building on the bank of the river.’ While admitting that it had ‘two characteristics of a first-class hotel: an entrance hall and a fine dining-room’, he deplored its lack of ‘a drawing room for ladies’ and of ‘proper bathing accommodations’, and, worst of all, its generally run-down appearance, his impression being ‘that it must be ten years since the place had a coat of paint.’ Previous pages: The lounge at the Author’s Wing is the heart of the oldest part of the hotel. 67


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The concert hall at The Oriental was the centre of Western arts in Bangkok. Just before the war the hotel’s concert hall had been successfully transformed into a theatre.

In 1916, Oriental owner and manageress Maria Maire had the pleasure of hosting Russian born Vaslav Nijinsky at the Oriental Theatre. Arguably the greatest dancer of the 20 century, Nijinsky was a refugee from the great war, travelling the world with his family in search for a new home. The picture shows him in New York with his wife Romola and their daughter Kyra.

A postcard sent to a guest at the hotel in 1908, and an envelope of a letter sent from The Oriental to a recipient in Budapest.

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1911–1923

Henri Cucherousset had dared to attack a national institution. A lengthy, indignant and dignified answer appeared in the Bangkok Times. For M Cucherousset’s edification and for the benefit of future travellers it contained an account of the hotel’s history, including the grand reopening in 1887, a detailed description of the present establishment – ‘one of the best in the East’ – and a terse rejoinder at the end: ‘We think M Cucherousset owes us an apology for his harsh remarks.’ Nevertheless, the past decade had left its mark on the world and the hotel in Bangkok was no exception. A fresh coat of paint was long overdue, the water pipes leaked and the roof had not been repaired for years. The problem was raising the money necessary for such renovations. In 1924 Maria Maire came up with the answer. She founded The Oriental Hotel Company. The new firm raised capital of 60,000 baht, a huge sum for the 1920s. Maire became one of the shareholders and was appointed managing director. Now she was ready to embark upon important renovations. A year later, the necessary work had been completed. A 1927 guidebook stated: the Oriental Hotel is ‘the oldest hotel in Bangkok and has long since established and still maintains a reputation as a firm favourite with visitors. It can boast electric light throughout, sample rooms for commercial travellers and a bathroom attached to every bedroom. Tariff (per person per day): single 14 ticals; double 13 ticals; breakfast 2 ticals; lunch 2.50 ticals; dinner 3 ticals.’ While the railways helped fuel Bangkok’s growing popularity as a destination for travellers in the interwar years, they also ushered in the first serious challenge to the Oriental Hotel’s previously unquestioned position as the city’s leading hotel. Plush new hotels such as the Hotel Trocadero, the Hotel Royal, where the chef had previously worked at Claridges, opened and began to compete with The Oriental for business. Most guests remained unmoved by these changes. Realising that The Oriental offered far more than just first-class accommodation, they stayed put and Maire continued to welcome travellers from all over the world. People carried the name Oriental Hotel all over the globe. 69


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1911–1923

After the 1920s renovations Daniel C. Sweeney arrived. A seasoned illustrator, Sweeney worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and World Traveler Magazine. He drew posters for leading Asian hotels, among them the the Grand Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, the Astor House and the Palace in Shanghai and the Manila Hotel and the Continental Palace in Saigon. His work for the Oriental (top) is considered one of his finest pieces of art. Large picture: The 'Lounge' in today’s Authors Wing. The insets show a verandah adjoining a bedroom, the modern facilities of the bathrooms and a bedroom with electric light. A mosquito net covers the bed to the right. 71


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I can’t have him die here On ����������������������������������� 6 January 1923 Somerset �������������������� Maugham arrived in Bangkok by train from Chiang Mai and booked a room at The Oriental: ‘I was in Bangkok. It is impossible to consider these populous modern cities of the East without a certain malaise. They are all alike, with their straight streets, their arcades, their tramways, their dust, their blinding sun, their teeming Chinese, their dense traffic, their ceaseless din. They have no history and no traditions. Painters have not painted them. No poets, transfiguring dead bricks and mortar with their divine nostalgia, have given them a tremulous melancholy not their own. . . . But when you leave them it is with a feeling that you have missed something and you cannot help thinking that they have some secret that they have kept from you.’ And about The Oriental (The Gentleman in the Parlour): ‘The hotel faced the river. My room was dark, one of a long line, with a verandah on each side of it, the breeze blew through, but it was stifling. The dining-room was large and dim, and for coolness’ sake the windows were shuttered. One was waited on by silent Chinese boys. I did not know why, the insipid Eastern food sickened me. The heat of Bangkok was overwhelming. The wats oppressed me by their garish magnificence, making my headache.’ Maugham fell ill: ‘I took my temperature. I was startled to see that it was a hundred and five. I could not believe it, so I took it again; it was still a hundred and five.’ Maugham had contracted malaria while travelling. ‘Towards the end of my journey down Siam the officer in command of the post had insisted that I should stay in his own house. He gave me his best bedroom. I had not the heart to say that I preferred my own little camp-bed, which had a mosquito-net, to his, which had not. The anopheles snatched at the golden opportunity.’ It was a bad attack. For some days the quinine had no effect on him. One morning he overheard a conversation between Mme Maria Maire,

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1911–1923

The superbly appointed Somerset Maugham Suite is located where the writer’s suite of rooms used to be (see previous pages).

and the doctor. ‘I can’t have him die here, you know. You must take him to the hospital.’ The doctor replied: ‘All right. But we’ll wait a day or two yet.’ ‘Well, don’t leave it too long,’ she replied. A few days later Maugham recovered. ‘And because I had nothing to do except look at the river and enjoy the weakness that held me blissfully to my chair I invented a fairy story.’ * In 1925 Maugham was back in Bangkok, stopping again at The Oriental, and he stayed for two weeks in perfect health, much to Mme Maire’s relief. On his last visit to Bangkok in 1960 to celebrate his 85th birthday he reminisced: ‘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.’

* This story can be found in the book The Gentleman in the Parlour.

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1924–1945

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Breakfast on The Oriental terrace: set against the backdrop of one of the most famous and certainly varied locations in the world.

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1946–1967 The Germaine Krull Memoirs

In Artistic Hands Jim Thompson and Germaine Krull 1946 —1967 In December 1945 King Ananda Mahidol returned from his studies in Switzerland. Forty-nine year old war correspondent Germaine Krull was among the photographers to report his arrival. She was considered one of the most important exponents of modern photography. Her portraits of Jean Cocteau, André Malraux and Eisenstein during the 1920s and 30s had granted her eternal fame. In 1944 she took a legendary photograph of de Gaulle and Churchill during the liberation of Paris. In June 1946, when the young Thai monarch met with sudden violent death, she was still in Bangkok. She produced a famous picture story of the monarch’s funeral and the subsequent coronation of his brother Bhumibol Adulyadej as King Rama IX, the ninth monarch of the Chakkri dynasty. Now, after the war, the grand old lady Oriental, with calm resignation, carried on her role as hostess, giving a little sigh now and then about her forsaken garden, her threadbare carpets, her dusty floors and broken furniture. After the Japanese occupants had left, the American armed forces had requisitioned the hotel. Journalists and correspondents would sit on the terrace, sipping cool beers and swapping stories. A young American colonel used to sit with them, telling his tales. Colonel Jim Thompson, the future founder of the Thai Silk Co, was about to become one of the great entrepreneurs of Southeast Asia. In the following decades he would single-handedly develop Thailand’s silk industry and make it the number one in the world. The interim manageress of The Oriental was Maria Robins from England. There were seven suites, 24 regular rooms with bath and 10 small rooms left. What little remained did overtime duty when it accom95


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1946–1967 The Germaine Krull Memoirs

modated women and children evacuated from Japanese prison camps in Java. The Oriental housed liberated Dutch, British and Australian prisoners of war. ‘We could make this a great hotel,’ Jim Thompson once mentioned to Germaine Krull. ‘But we need the right partners. This is crown property and it needs clever negotiations to get the land.’ Around that time Germaine Krull’s employer Agence des Presses decided to close down its photo agency. Krull decided to team up with the interesting young American to revive the old hotel. Their partners were General Chai Prateepasen, HRH Prince Bhanu, Mr Pote Sarasin and Mr John Wester. Legal and practical arrangements took months, but on 9 May 1947 the Bangkok newspaper Liberty reported ‘War Correspondent Now Hotel Manager – Madam Germaine Krull, former French war correspondent, is now managing the Oriental Hotel. One of the first improvements to be installed by her will be a much-needed bar.’ Germaine Krull was busy restoring life to this remarkable institution, organising a complete spring clean of the building, repainting and rewiring, finding out how the water system worked and dealing with a lot of other prosaic yet essential tasks. Despite temperamental electricity and an erratic water supply, the hotel was filled to the very last room, with guests of every kind, from fortune hunters to diplomats.

ssdDSS Every night the Bamboo Bar becomes the ‘Jazz Club‘ of the city. Barkeeper Sompong Boonsri (left page) shakes it up. In 1946 Germain Krull (left) had founded this watering hole: ‘It became the great sanuk (fun) place, where ‘people often stood six and seven deep at the bar and where sometimes on Saturday night guests had sanuk until four in the morning, dancing and singing in the manner and style of many different nationalities.’ (Germaine Krull) 97


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The Noël Coward Suite in the Authors’ Wing – together with the Somerset Maugham Suite – is one of the most famous haunts for the discerning traveller in Asia. Although Conrad never actually slept at the hotel, Maugham was a regular visitor to The Oriental.

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1967–1981

The Siam Suite on the 16th floor of the River Wing

You want a mosquito net, garlands all over your bed, red roses in your bathtub? Why not call housekeeping? Lanee Nueng Tawee, ‘Khun Kanee’, is the lady of the house (of course her official title is Executive Housekeeper). She and her 156 staff oversee 395 rooms. On good days they take care of up to 700 guests. ‘The word NO is not in our vocabulary. We try to make every room look like a palace,’ she explains with a smile. ‘Nobody is perfect, but the team can be!’ is her clever leitmotif, while she carefully arranges for a monogram to be embroidered into the bathrobe of an expected guest. Later she will go upstairs again to check if the set up in a special suite is all right. A regular guest is returning: ‘We store everything for her. When she comes back, her clothes hang in the closet exactly the way they were when she checked out, even her sun cream would be in the same place she left it.’

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Three page boys This picture from the ‘A moment of personal delight’ advertising campaign, was one of the most successful images, transporting a sympathetic flair of the famous hotel. At that time the fan was introduced as the company’s logo, a profoundly meaningful symbol of the oriental culture. A unique fan was chosen to reflect the individuality of each Mandarin Oriental hotel. 126


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The Number One in the World 1981—Today

Hotel rankings in fashionable magazines were not yet as common as they are today when in 1981, the American banking magazine Institutional Investor voted the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok the best hotel in the world. The world press joined in the praise. The effect was tremendous. Journalists from all over the globe flocked to this highly praised temple of hospitality. Travellers would rather give up their ticket home than miss out on experiencing a cup of tea on The Oriental’s terrace. Berlingieri, the far-sighted entrepreneur, had seen his dream come true. His Oriental was the number one hotel in the world. Business boomed. The 1980s were to be a golden age. He would not live to see it. On the morning of 1 December 1981 he died in his office. Wachtveitl’s respect for the historic background of the hotel led to the conclusion ‘Our history is our future’. He continued to strive for excellence and built a great team, with strong department heads and perfect training grounds. In 1987 he was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for 20 years of outstanding work for the renowned hotel. Kurt Wachtveitl became Boss of the Year 1981, as nominated by the Women Secretaries’ Association of Thailand. In Thailand he was given the Royal Decoration of Fourth Class (Companion) of The Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant in appreciation of his work in the travel industry. A hotelier and philosopher, he knew that happy customers are the best job security. If he did not take care of his guests, somebody else in this vibrant and fast-developing city would. He introduced the simplest but most powerful rule of the hospitality trade: always give people more than they expect to get. 127


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Kurt Wachtveitl welcomes Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at The Oriental’s landing pier. Right, top; First page of The Oriental’s first golden guestbook.

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1981–Today

Who’s Who Meeting place of the world: UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, India’s Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi

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Right: icons of The Oriental’s impressive guest list: Kurt Wachtveitl chats with Mr and Mrs Yehudi Menuhin, the violin virtuoso; ‘Duke’ Ellington kisses a friendly Thai lady and Penny Wachtveitl enjoys a chat with Lord Lichfield during the hotel’s 125th anniversary celebrations.

Pop Artist Robert Rauschenberg left this piece of art (right) in the hotel’s guestbook during his visit to The Oriental in 1983. Above: ‘Untitled’ by Rauschenberg, 1963. Oil, silkscreened ink, metal, and plastic on canvas, 82 x 48 x 6 1/4 inches (Solomon R Guggenheim Museum)

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Who’s Who

Jeffrey Archer signing in, observed by former PR Director Supatana Atorn-Phtai and Khun Ankana; Andrew Lloyd Webber having a party with his wife. Left: Sophia Loren, Gavin Young, Roger Moore, Julie Andrews, Lauren Bacall and son Robards, Kurt Wachtveitl welcomes Rajiv and Sonja Gandhi, Mick Jagger, Audrey Hepburn with husband and David Rockefeller with his wife in the Somerset Maugham Suite.

A–Z Adjani Eric Alexandre de Paris Ambler John Andrews Julie Archer Jeffrey Armstrong Neil Arpels Mr&Mrs Philippe Atkinson Kim Attenborough, Sir Richard & L. Aubert Jean-Claude Aznavour Charles Bacall Lauren & Robards Baez Joan Balestra Renato Balmain Pierre Barichello Rubens Barnard Christian Prof Barnes Nick Bartlett Hall Baxter Anne Beattie Anne Becker Boris Beckham David Belmondo Jean Paul Bhicharnchitr Worachai Bisset Jaqueline Bjornsdotter Cecilia Blamey W S

Bocuse Paul Bolshoi Theatre Dancers Borg Björn Boriboon Burin Bouwer Sandra Bowie David Bradley Ed Brannon Robert L Brillantes G Brosnan Pierce Brogen Pierre Bronfman E M Mr &Mrs Brotherhood of Man Buffet Bernard Burns George Caine Michael & Shakira Cardin Pierre Carey Peter Carr Allan Carreras José Maria Carroll Diahann Cartland Barbara Chan Jackie Chand Meira Charles Ray Cimino Michael Clement Richard Coburn James

Colen D J Conrad Joseph Connery Sean Cooper Edward jr Corbett Ronnie Cornwell David (John Le Carré) Cousteau Jaques-Yves Coward, Sir Noël, Crawford Michael Cronkite Walter, C B S Cruise Tom Dahl Arlene Dajani A De Bono Edward De Niro Robert De Voss David Dench Dame Judi De Palma Brian Desavesa Chavane Choen Devakul Tri M L Dhammachoti Ussiri Di Caprio, Leonardo Dillon Matt Dior Christian Diskul Galavanardis M C Douglas Eric Eastham Richard & Mrs Eastwood Alison & Kyle

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A connoisseur of the fairer sex, Sylvester Stallone seems to have had a good time at The Oriental, while PR legend Khun Pornsri successfully persuades David Bowie to autograph the guest book. Left: Mel Gibson, HRH Prince Charles and his late wife, Princess Diana on the deck of The Oriental Queen before setting out on a day trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, Bette Middler, Goldie Hawn, Pierce Brosnan, Sam Neil, Gore Vidal, Pele, Arndt Krupp, Frederick Forsyth, Pierre Cardin.

A–Z Eden Barbara Estefan Gloria & family Fairbanks Douglas Sr Federer Roger Feibleman Peter Ferry Bryan Field Sally Finkbeiner-Zellmann Peter Fisher Carrie Fleming Alexander Fleming Ian Flick F K Dr Flierbach H Rolf Fluor Robert J & wife Forbes Malcolm, Christopher Ford Harrison Forsyth Frederick Fox Michael J Gabor Eva Gainsbourg Serge Gangler Julie Garavani Valentino Garret Leif Gemma Giuliano Gibson Mel Giraudet Pierre

Glas Uschi Godunov Alexander Golding William & Anne Grant Huge Gray Linda Greene Graham Guerlain Philippe Guyer David Hackman Gene Hagman Larry Hancock Herbie Harrison George Hawke Bob Hawn Goldie Hayden Bill Heath B W Henkel Gabriele Henkel Konrad Dr Hennessy Gilles Hepburn Audrey Heston Charlton Hillary Edmund Sir Hitchcock Alfred Holmer E C Horowitz Anthony Hudson Ernie

Humperdinck Engelbert Humphries Barry (Dame Edna) Hutasing Toum Jackson Michael Jagger Mick Jarre Jean-Michel John Elton Johnson Don Kane Brian Dr Kelly Grace Kennedy D Mr & Mrs Khoman Thanat Dr King Alan King Don Kingston Maxine Hong Kitt Eartha Kostelanetz André Kruger Hardy Lacoste Bernard Lamsam Bancha Laube William T Lauda NikiLaurent Yves St Law David Jude Leach Robin Lee Christopher Lemper Ute

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Legendary supermodel ‘Twiggy’ Lawson with husband Leigh; David Rockefeller in the charming company of a friend, Mrs Gaetana Enders and former head concierge Chaturong Siewsutha with a regular guest: Australian broadcaster and traveller Rex Morgan (the Rex Morgan Foundation is a sponsor of the S.E.A. Write Award, the hotel’s South East Asia literary contest.)

A–Z Lennox Annie Levin Boris M Linen James A III Link Alma Khunying Link G A Dr Loren Sophia Lowes Tony Luce Clare Boothe Ludwig Christa MacNee Patrick Mailer Norman Marks Mary-Ellen

Elizabeth Taylor

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Marone Cinzano Marriott John Willard III Martin Mary Matteson John R Maugham Somerset Mehta Zubin Menuhin Yehudi Michener James A Midler Bette Mills John Sir Mimieux Yvette Mochtar Kusumaatwadja Prof Dr Moore Roger Moreno Rita Morgan Rex Mori Hanae Moss Kate Moss Stirling Mountbatten Leggy Muldoon Robert Naghaway I Nakamura Nakasone Yashuhiro Nakorn Na Saengdoen Khunying Nandabhiwat Boonying Nandhabhiwat Sarapee Khunying Navaphan Sukhum Navratilova Martina Newhart Bob Nicholson Jack Nijinsky Vaslav

Nilsson Birgit Nureyev Rudolf Oe Kenzaburo Ogilvy David Palma Brian de Papp Joseph Parker Maynard Parrot JeanMarie Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) Penn Sean Philips Captain Mark Piatelli Bruno Poitier Sydney Polanski Roman Pongpaiboon Naowarat Powell Jane Powers Stephanie Pramoj Kukrit Pramoj Usni M L Presley Priscilla Price Vincent Promphen Vilai Prussia Lee Pulitzer Joseph III Puttnam David Rafelson Bob Raffin Deborah Rampal Jean Paul Rampling Charlotte Rauschenberg Robert Reagan Maureen


Who’s Who

Happy moments at The Oriental for Michael and Shakira Caine and Gene Hackman and his family.

A–Z Rees Roger Richard Pierre Rockefeller David Ross Diana Roux Michel Rowntree Richard Sachs Gunter Salikun Bin Mauri Sarasin Pong Sathienthai Surakiat Sayer Leo Schumacher Michael Sedaka Neil Selleck Tom Sharapova Maria Sharif Omar Sheldon Sidney & Jorja Shelton Deborah Shipley Walter Singh Vijay Smith Harold Smith Wilbur Squier Billy Stallone Sylvester Stamp Terence Stanislaw James Steinbeck John Stewart Jackie and family Stone Oliver Straub Peter Strauss Peter Struthers Sally

Sukhanetr Sribhume Sutherland Dame Joan Suyin Han Taittinger Virginia Dard Takase Nagayuki Tamchai Orasa, Dr Tang David Taylor Elizabeth Theroux Paul Turner Tina Ungaro Emanuel Ustinov, Sir Peter Van Cleef & Arpels Van Damme Jean Claude Vanderbilt W C Vidal Gore Vine William Viravardaya Marisa Virawan Amnuay Dr Voon Wong Meng Dr Vuitton Louis Wallace Mike Warwick Dionne Washam Joanne Watanabe Sadao Webber Andrew Lloyd Sir West Morris Williams Tennessee Williams Venus Winter Roger Wise Robert Witt Hajo

Yanni John Christopher Yeoh Michelle Yevtushenko Yevgeniy Yip Francis Yipintsoi Misiem Young Gavin Young Paul Zellweger Renee

Barbara Cartland has a suite named after her.

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Who’s Who

Royal, Noble and State Visits and other memorable moments Since over 100 years The Oriental is the chosen venue for Thailand’s Royal family to attend functions, hold receptions and to invite guests. This page: Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, visited Bangkok and The Oriental with Queen Sofia. Her Majesty the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, arrived in Bangkok in 1996. The Oriental was the logical choice as caterer for all Royal festivities. Her Majesty thanked senior representatives of the staff for the exquisite food and service. Left page: Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand, honoured the concert of José Carreras with her presence. The Oriental’s terrace was converted into a concert hall with 1,700 seats. The evening of 1 December 1996 marked the climax of year-long celebrations honouring the 50th anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne and the hotel’s 120th anniversary. HRH The Crown Prince Naruhito and the Crown Princess Masako of Japan stayed at The Oriental during their visit to Bangkok. In 1980 Her Majesty Queen Sirikit presided over the SEA Write Award. Speaker James A Michener presented her with his latest work.

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Royal, Noble and State Visits A–Z Akishino TIH Prince & Princess Alahmadi Ali Muaaddi Aziz Abdul Bin Ahmed Prince Albert Prince of Belgium Albright Madeleine Alexander Prince of Belgium Alexandra Princess & Sir Angus Ogilvy Alexandra Princess of Denmark Amneh Althani, Princess of Quatar Andreotti Giulio Prime Minister of Italy Annan Kofi Secretary General UN Anne-Marie Queen of the Hellenes Badawi Dato Seri Abdullah Bin Haji Ahmad PM of Malaysia Bedford Duke & Duchess Bernhard Prince of the Netherlands Bertil Prince of Sweden Bhawani Maharaja of Jaipur Bhirom Bhakdi Chamnong Khun Birendra King of Nepal Bismarck Barbara & Maximilian Bongo El Hadj Omar Albert-Bernard of Gabun Boutros Boutros-Ghali Bush George Carl Gustaf XVI King of Sweden & Queen Silvia Lord Carrington Carter Rosalyn Chand Kanidta

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The world of politics met in Bangkok for the Asian–European Meeting in 1996, bringing together Asian and European heads of state, in our pictures at a casual meeting at the hotel. Below: The Czech Republic’s Vaclav Havel arrives at the landing stage.


Who’s Who

Chretien Jean Chirac Jaques Cinzano Count Alberto & daughter Constantine XI Cuellar Perez Dayan Moshe Dini Lamberto Diskul Subhadradis Duke d’Antin Duke of Edinburgh Estrada Joseph Ejercito President Rep. Philippines Fuerstenberg George Prince & Princess Victoria Fuerstenberg Ira von Fujimori Alberto President of Peru Fukuda Takeo Prime Minister Japan Gandhi Rajiv & Mrs Sonja Prime Minister of India Genscher Hans Dietrich George William Prince of Hanover Goh Chok Tong & Mme Prime Minister of Singapore Haakon, Prince of Norway Halonen Tarja President of Finland Hassan al-Bolkiah Mu’izzad-din Waddaulah, Haji, Sultan of Brunei Havel Vaclav President of Czechia Hawke J L Robert Australian PM Heath Edward Great Britain PM Henrik Prince of Denmark Hermannsson Steingrimurs PM of Iceland Hitomi Hiroshi Hohenzollern Johann George Dr, Prinz von Hussein Abdullah Prince Hussein TRH King of Jordan & Queen Noor Ingrid Princess of Denmark Jettou Driss PM of Morocco Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain Juliana Queen of the Netherlands Khalifa Bin Salam Al-Khalifa PM of Bahrain Keating Paul Prime Minister of Australia Kennedy David & wife Ketudat Sippanondha Education Minister Khoman Thanat Dr Deputy PM Kissinger Henry Dr Kittiyabha Bhajara Princess Klestil Thomas President of Austria Kohl Helmut & wife Hannelore PM of Germany Krupp Annelise Baronin von Bohlen und Halbach Krupp Arndt VI Baron von Bohlen und Halbach Ladawan Thawisan M L Lee Hsien Loon PM of Singapore George Bush sr is welcomed by Kurt Wachtveitl in the traditional way with a flower garland; Margaret Thatcher arrives with her husband Dennis.

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HM Queen Sophia of Spain is respectfully greeted by former resident manager Mark Bradford. Dr Mahathir of Malaysia walks on a flower carpet. Lee Kuan Yew PM of Singapore & Mme Lilian Princess of Sweden Lusinan Jaime President of Venezuela Macapagal-Arroyo Gloria President of The Philippines Manmohan Singh Prime Minister of India Margarethe II Queen of Denmark Margarita Queen of Bulgaria Maria Teresa of Luxembourg Masako HIH The Crown Princess of Japan Michael Prince of Kent Mohamad Datuk Seri Mahathir P M of Malaysia Naruhito HIH The Crown Prince of Japan Nixon Richard President USA Paduka Seri Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzuddin Ghafarullahu Lahu Shah King of Malaysia Papandreou Andreas PM of Greece Peres Shimon Person Goran PM of Sweden Pignatelli Luciana Princess Charles Prince of Wales and Princess Diana Quayle Dan & Mrs US Vice President Rainier III de Grimaldi Prince of Monaco Ramos Fidel V President of the Philippines Reagan Nancy Rocard Michel PM of France & Mme Rojanastien Boonchu Deputy PM Rojanastien Boonchu Deputy PM of Thailand Rothschild Philippine de Baroness Saad Al Abdullah Al Salim Al Sabah, Crown Prince & PM of Kuwait Sarasin Pote PM of Thailand Sartzetakis Christos President of Greece

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Schlueter Poul PM of Denmark & wife Schmidt Helmut Shultz George Shah Azlan Sultan Shawcross Lord Hartley Sihanouk Norodom Prince Simeon II King of Bulgaria Sirikit Queen of Thailand Sirindhorn Chakri Maha Princess Soamsawali Princess Soeharto Tojib N J President of Indonesia Sonja Princess of Norway Spencer Earl & Lady Stanislaw Mary-Anne Sukarno Dewi Suzuki Zenko PM of Japan & Mme Talal Bin Mohammed Prince of Jordan Talal M Prince of Jordan Thatcher Margaret Lady PM & Dennis Thyssen-Bornemisza De Kaszon Hans Heinrich Baron Trudeau Pierre Elliott Vadhana Galyani Princess Vranitzky Franz PM of Austria Weinberger Caspar Weizsaecker Richard Dr President of Germany & Marianne Willem Alexander Crown Prince of the Netherlands Withayanand Waree Yevtushenko Yevgeniy


Who’s Who

Her Majesty Queen Margarethe II of Denmark and Prince Henrik held a banquet in honour of Their Majesties King Bhumibhol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit of Thailand. Her Majesty the Queen presided over the Viennese Ball for Charity. Kurt Wachtveitl presented her with a cheque over one million Baht for Her Majesty’s SUPPORT Foundation. Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium joined a Belgian life style gala dinner and fashion show, welcoming guest of honour Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn, the youngest daughter of the King and Queen of Thailand in the Royal Ballroom. The team of The Oriental celebrating 40 years of General Manager Kurt Wachtveitl (2007).

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Sir Peter and Lady Ustinov: ‘When I leave I’ll already be on my way back. . .’

Ankana Kalantananda presents Princess Soraya Esfandiary Bakhtiari, the former Empress of Iran, with the hotel’s golden guest book. Ankana was the first Thai woman to enter the hotel business. She went to Paris for training. Khun Ankana, The Oriental’s Guest Relations Consultant, has worked for six managers. Her Majesty Queen Sirikit graced a fashion show by top designer Hanae Mori in a breathtaking East Meets West event. Her Majesty encourages the production of Thai silk through her SUPPORT foundation – and Mori brought the fine material into the right shape. 152


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Friedrich C. Lang

Epilogue

THE ORIENTAL BANGKOK  

The most famous hotel of Thailand - a book about its history and a look behind the scenes reveals the stunnig history of this legend of hosp...

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