Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok

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  • Bodyguards outside the Reading Room
    Bodyguards outside the Reading Room
    by Bangkokjoe
  • Nagas in the temple rooflines
    Nagas in the temple rooflines
    by Bangkokjoe
  • Bridge of Sighs - Assumption Cathedral
    Bridge of Sighs - Assumption Cathedral
    by Bangkokjoe
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    Eyes Up Eyes Down When Taking a Walk

    by Bangkokjoe Updated Oct 14, 2005

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Okay, I'm a walker in Bangkok at the right opportunity. WaLker! Can't beat it to notice the local life and some of the smaller urban details.

    BUT... Walking Bangkok can be a bit difficult if you don't keep your eyes peeled. It's a case of peripheral vertical vision.

    Down on pavement level (wonderful Brit word there, I'll say it again.... pavement) the surface is none too even, so please be careful of tripping or a nasty toe stub. Above your head you'll often get hanging electrical and telephone cables. Often only six feet high these can sag down a fair way. I've seen a few "flash" in times of storms and rains, so keep your eyes open.

    Generally the wires are fine, though spot the local stall holders tapping into the grid for a bit of free power... (Rumour has it Norman Foster got his ideas for the Pompideau Centre principle of "wear your pipes and wires on the outside" during a Bangkok spring mini-break. Plausible.)

    There is an advantage to an eyes open / up your awareness approach to an urban walk - you'll notice a plethora of nifty details otherwise missed. I've shown you an extreme example of the wires... near the Oriental Hotel. The entry to the Assumption Cathedral grounds. Oxford's Bridge of Sighs, Venice's Bridge of Sighs. Bangkok - Venice of the East: Bridge of Sighs, 4,000 volts and a jolly big aaaaagh.

    ... be prepared for a walk to take longer than you'd have set aside in your home town. And keep your eyes peeled. Twisted ankles bugger your night out. As do a few hundred volts through your missus' recently massaged body.

    This can be seen as part of the Urban Stroll around the area shown in the tip with the map, shown at the beginning of this section

    Bridge of Sighs - Assumption Cathedral
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    • Architecture

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    Old and New - Chofas and Balconies: in Balance

    by Bangkokjoe Updated Oct 14, 2005

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    This one more comes from a brief one hour stroll around the area between the junction of Silom Road / Charoen Krung, the Oriental Hotel and River City - near river taxi pier 4. My loverrrrly was buying black skirts and perfume. No way was I doing another mall on a Saturday. So wandering I went...

    You can find a tranquil temple complex in Soi 3 Charoen Krung... 35 yards set back from the main drag. More than enough for a 20 minute break in an urban oasis. A personal, interesting and tranquil zone. If you are looking for it, stand on Charoen Krung and line up the Christmas Cake tower block with the cotton reel balconies rhythmically bouncing upwards. Behind you and to the left - towards River City is the route to take...

    Chofas in the shape and form of nagas are the golden carvings I often see out and around. I find them incredibly sensual. Always positioned at the end of the eaves and the roof ridge and quite often with a bell in the end tinkling away in the breeze and heat. "Chofas" sort of translates (as close as my mate JoJo can explain as a “bunch of sky” her words not mine – though for here we shall refer to it as a “tassle of sky” because it looks more like a tassle than a bunch. These stylized bird’s head shapes grace most of the Bangkok wat's bots (main halls), and are supposed to have magical protecting qualities. Visual poetry.

    A good many antique shops sell these mounted, unvarnished and weathered. Chofas.

    This can be seen as part of the Urban Stroll around the area shown in the tip with the map, shown at the beginning of this section

    Temples along Thanon Charoen Krung
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    Urban Stroll: Oriental Hotel to River City

    by Bangkokjoe Updated Oct 14, 2005

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    The riverside is one of the most fascinating areas of Bangkok, a constantly changing scene with taxi boats transporting passengers, rice barges and local trading boats, against a backdrop of temples and modern warehouses.

    The upper riverside area also contains some of Bangkok's most prestigious hotels, e.g.The Oriental, and refers back to the trading periods of the late 19th century; French embassies, Chinese godowns, Dutch and Danish warehouses, Catholic cathedral and local wat complexes. Also the largest upmarket art and antique centre in Bangkok, River City. This walk is covered in the next few tips. All can be covered in an hour or so in the late afternoon or early evening.

    It works quite well if you are staying up at one of the larger chain hotels (Shangri La, Peninsular, Oriental, etc) and you'll end up near River City - where you can get a river taxi or wander around the River City Antique Centre. The map here shows how compact it all is. All you need to remember is to keep between the river and Thanon (Main Road) Charoen Krung. Everything is in this small 2 km patch.

    Click to Enlarge
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    The "Geoffrey Archer" Reading Room at the Oriental

    by Bangkokjoe Updated Jul 29, 2005

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    ...good grief, we'll be having the Margaret Thatcher Thai Massage Parlour at this rate.

    Anyhow, if you are in the Oriental Hotel take a look in the (Lord Geoff) Reading Room. There are two old desks in there - no doubt used by many of the famous authors featured on the wall.

    The framed photo line up is impressive, many of which have been signed. Though I am at odds to work out how Sir Geoff rates up there with Orwell, Huxley, and the heavyweights of the 'thirties and 'forties. (Me being a heavyweight born in the 'sixties that is.)

    A good many first editions are in the locked cabinets, though you can ask for the key from reception if you are a guest, or have a receipt from drinks or food. It's blinking epic (as our Geoff mite wrote) handling some literary history in the general area (like to the nearest two meters) where an author jotted down the original manuscript. Before foremntioned author nipped off to Chatuchak Weekend Market for a couple of silk cushion covers.... ...though I don't think they would have gone in a tuk tuk. Might have. Mustn't judge.

    Gosh, I'm turning into a literary romantic.

    By the way. Bloke in the sunglasses? Bodyguard to the nob inside who was attending the wedding. I sat next to him for a bit, and read the Nation newspaper. Nice man, think he was wearing Aramis. (The bloke inside was wearing Aramis NOT the bodyguard.)

    This can be seen as part of the Urban Stroll around the area shown in the tip with the map, shown at the beginning of this section

    Bodyguards outside the Reading Room
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    Author's Wing at the Oriental Hotel

    by Bangkokjoe Updated Jul 29, 2005

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    Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, James Michener and, and, wait for it, and Joseph Conrad. Wooo hoooo! These blokes all stayed - and jotted down their lines - at the Oriental.

    Jospeh Conrad, Heart of Darkness eh? In this very wing. Marlon Brando did that in Apocalypse Now didn't he? "The horror, the horror". Well Marlon, it ain't one nip of horror in the Author's Wing at the Oriental Hotel. It's blinking paradise in here, pal.

    ...great for an afternoon chill out and a cup of tea. And there are book cases with some first editions in, sepia prints of the old Bangkok. Service is impeccable. Talk about the atmosphere, even Neil Armstrong would find some in here..... he's probably been.

    Often there is a weekend wedding reception in one of the smaller rooms. A great backdrop for the bride, groom and two bridesmaids photographs. In the early evenings a pianist and cellist tinkle and stroke away.

    A place to go to say you've done it. Though beware. Once you're in... ...will you ever want to leave for the Heart of Traffic Darkness and Congestion waiting outside? The horror, the horror!

    (PS. If you look closely in the pic you can see Nataporn having a quiet kiss with her new hubbie on the top of the stairs. Nice one Khun Nat krab!)

    (PPS. Bridesmaid on piano downstairs before cellist arrived. Nalak dee.)

    This can be seen as part of the Urban Stroll around the area shown in the tip with the map, shown at the beginning of this section

    Writer's Room, Author's Wing at the Oriental
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    Nagas in the Temple Rooflines

    by Bangkokjoe Updated Jul 29, 2005

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    Here I am exploring the area between the Oriental Hotel and the River City antique centre. An area of around half a mile sandwiched between the river and the main road past the Communications Authority Building, Charoen Krung...

    If you are in the Oriental and need to stretch your legs for half an hour or so, before you're due in for your tea... it's a good area to wander, even if the main drag doesn't look too inviting. Take a wander up the back sois between the road and the river and you'll discover a few nuggets of Bangkok life and vernacular architecture.

    Nagas in the rooflines... here we go.

    Serpents and snakes – naga – appear a lot in architecture in various forms and disguises. Sometimes a serpent is shown in the act of creation, churning the seas into a milky froth teaming with life. At other times the old serpent pops up crowned and as a pair (nagaraja). Nagas are prominent symbols of royal architecture and many things polite for some considerable part of Siamese history (Siamese sounds soooo romantic huh).

    Here, another thing about nagas. They’re interpreted as gods of fertility, and also pretty instrumental in producing rain. Don’t ask me why. But they are. (I think I get the fertility bit, the rain is what has me scratching).

    However, nagas are also main protectors of wat complexes, and in this context they act as a sort of rainbow – bridging the worlds of the gods with the world of us lot. Which is why in the roof eaves of most Siamese wats, you get the wood work patterns as seen in this pic. And on the steps leading to the main wat entrance you’ll get them on the banisters. No stopping them huh?

    Now you know. Wat snakes? They’re Nagas , and they're up in the roof petal.

    This can be seen as part of the Urban Stroll around the area shown in the tip with the map, shown at the beginning of this section

    Nagas in the temple rooflines
    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Architecture
    • Arts and Culture

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