Can city hotels call themselves resorts? Some try, but they need greenery and/or space and/or water. In Italy, Four Seasons Hotel Firenze satisfies the first two criteria. In Bangkok, any of the luxury properties right on the Chao Phraya river have an advantage. The Peninsula Bangkok, however, is taking the lead; it is already well through the transitioning progress, as GM Joseph Sampermans explained. Already, the spa and wellness division offer complimentary activities, such as boot camp, every day. Soon, the 370-room hotel’s 765 employees will give up ties and be put into more casual gear.
All this puts extra pressure on the GM, who hosts cocktails every Thursday night for the growing number of long-stay guests who prefer to winter here rather than in private villas in Phuket (or certainly back home in Melbourne during a cool change). Sometimes the cocktails are in the 37th-floor helicopter lounge or downstairs in the upper level of Thiptara restaurant. These long-stay guests are cossetted with extra wellness, extra hospitality and extra food offerings. Each night the main River Café restaurant has a specialty buffet, say seafood on Wednesdays.
River Café always fascinates me. It has a gorgeous outdoor terrace, ideal for watching evening processions of gaudy tourist boats, each more luridly lit than the last, serving set dinners as they ply up and down the river.
As part of the resort-ification of this luxury hotel, there will very soon be room packages that come with spa included. Other inducements to stay here, and stay longer, are such temptations as muscle-soothing or energising herbal bath rituals and, I must stress, continual acts of thoughtfulness. In my suite, I found a pair of scissors, wrapped and on a tray, and an extension cord with lots of international sockets. My fruit selection included bowls of blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and whole bananas. I was also privileged to be given a 20-year pin, as proudly worn by every staff member.
The resort experience – as Cheval Blanc Randheli Island in the Maldives and Nihi Sumba, off Bali, have found – requires gourmet cuisine from time to time. Bangkok had its first Michelin ratings in December 2017 and the historic Normandie, atop the original wing of Mandarin Oriental, went straight in with two stars. I crossed the river to have a taste.
Austrian F&B director, Thomas Kinsperger, who learned a lot of his finesse while working at another of the world’s great luxury hotels, Hotel Sacher in Vienna, says that once Michelin was announced, covers instantly soared by 35% and have remained there ever since. Certainly, at lunch with him, and the hotel manager, Franck Droin, every table was taken, mostly by chic young Bangkok fashionistas in the latest styles. Even at lunch, many had at least a glass of champagne or wine (tax in Thailand is a staggering 380% and on beer, too).
Chef Arnaud Dunand-Gauthier is from Normandy, which shows in his menu, specialising in the most perfect products; the butters – which include my beloved seaweed-studded – are Bordier. I had green asparagus, from farmer Sylvain Erhardt, and here served with a divine sabayon. I followed this with another starter, a couple of oysters from Normandy’s Utah Beach, near Pouppeville. Of course, I later researched the name, and it was code for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion during the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944.
History is prevalent everywhere at this iconic 396-room hotel, which traces its roots to what is now the Authors’ Wing, built in 1876 (Normandie tops this block). From Normandie today I can look down over the pool and manicured garden to the Chao Phraya River, at this time of year studded with the weeds that flow downstream every May through July. Looking across the river, to the right is a soaring new block that will house 140 residences-for-sale, to be managed by Mandarin Oriental. Many of them are apparently already sold.
Down on the ground floor of the Authors’ Wing, we walked past the Rimowa store and other boutiques to the main lobby to admire ceiling-hung flower art that surprisingly lasts up to three months. Then we walked through the elegant reception rooms of this block; its walls are hung with historic mirrors and memorabilia of Graham Greene and other notable writers associated with this luxury hotel over the years. We went on out to the landing stage, where a private boat was already waiting to take me back over the water.