Why the Oriental Hotel is Worth the Long Journey
If a hotel can be something like a second home, that’s what the Mandarin Oriental“ in Bangkok is for me. And what it has been for many years. Time and again, I am drawn back to the house by the Chao Phraya River. I always keep the reports of Anna Leonowens in mind. A witness of her time, who arrived in the city in 1862 to give instructions in English language and Western manners to the 67 children at the court of King Mongkut, better known as King Rama IV. Her diaries later became the model for the romantic novel “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon from 1944, which several times later the film “The King and I” based upon.
The Flair of ancient Times is still alive
In fact Anna never set a foot in the Oriental as her stay lasted only five years. According to the hotel chronicle, the “Oriental” was founded in 1876 as a sailor’s hostel. At the end of the 19th century foreigners were not allowed to spend the night in the secluded royal town, which then already had a population of two hundred thousand people. Today on both sides of the “Mandarin Oriental” there are two dilapidated buildings reminding me of the ancient times. On one of them carrying the name East Asian Company indicates the trading activities. Even the Old Wing of the “Oriental”, where everything started with the sailor’s hostel, still exists. It was renovated and rebuilt in 2016 for its 140th birthday at a cost of 17 million euros. Luckily it did not lose its historical flair. Barely visible from the river, it lies hidden behind some fan palms housing the Author’s Lounge with its all white and colonial style, with white wicker chairs and louvre windows. In addition to the 600 sqm, six-bedroom Grand Royal Oriental Suite, twelve new Garden Suites have been built. Mine extends over two floors with floor-to-ceiling windows and a cosy lounge. From the bedroom on the upper floor, I have a view on the lights of the city to the right and on the sluggishly flowing Chao Phraya River to the left. A perfect setting for my beauty weekend. Moreover, the four new spa studios where pedicures and manicures by Bastien Gonzalez as well as beauty treatments with the German active ingredient cosmetics!QMS are offered for the first time in Bangkok, are also situated in the Garden Wing.
First day: After the long flight I can use a relaxing massage. To get to the main spa, I need to cross the river. Skipper Narong Petcharit is bringing me. Like many other hotel employees, he has been a part of the “Oriental” family for more than 20 years. With his barge he chugs across the river up to two hundred times every working day. He always sails with his wife Rachanee: She throws the lines, moors the boat and helps the guests to disembark. At the spa today it’s Digital Detox Day. Two hours without my cell phone. The concept of reducing any kind of stress factors was developed together with the Mayo Clinic. At the reception, I swap my cell phone for a fragrant oil, inhaling deeply three times. Then in the treatment room, my tense body zones, such as the neck, shoulders and back, are worked on intensively for more than an hour. After that there will be more distraction from the digital stress in the lounge area while reading, writing or painting. I get a relaxing face mask while sitting on a meditation cushion, closing my eyes and forgetting anything around me. Two hours have passed in no time. In the evening I am so tired that dinner is being cancelled. I’ll just have some fruits and some tea in my room, then I plunge exhaustedly in the soft pillows.
Second day: Today I’m going to meet Bastien Gonzalez. I’ve already heard a lot about him. The Frenchman is often dubbed a “foot whisperer”, “foot virtuoso” or “prince of the bare feet”. His unique technology and the innovative care products, which he developed due to a personal experience, are supposed to work wonders. The trained podiatrist and pedicurist has the talent to improve the overall condition of the feet, not just the toenails. He also shares this knowledge with all his employees. Bastien’s Hollywood clientele includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Naomi Campbell and Robert DeNiro. On this day, I am one of them.
Of course, I immediately ask him why he doesn’t run any institutes in Germany and not even one in France amongst his 20 exclusively luxurious locations. “Quite simply,” he says, “because we’re not allowed to do aesthetic and medical pedicures together. But our philosophy is the combination of both aspects. We call ourselves pedicure podiatrists with the aim of not only making nails beautiful. We treat all problems, ingrown nails, people with diabetes etc. A podiatrist also involves the physique of the body. We can analyse people while they are walking. What they are doing wrong, what they can improve.” So I walk first. I’m lucky: no deformations, no hallux. What strikes me about the treatment: There is no footbath. “We do not use water,” Gonzalez explains. “Water dries the skin. The skin produces sebum for moisture and endurance. Soap and water wash out the oils. For 20 minutes everything is fine, then the skin is getting drier.” He also tells me that you can judge the condition of the skin and nails properly only when dry. When wet, for instance, you can’t see the yellow colour you tell hardened spots. Then it happens that too much skin will be abraded.
For cleaning the nails and removing nail polish there is a special device. It sounds like at the dentist´s. Bastien: “As far as possible I do not use nail polish remover because the chemicals dry out skin and nails. Toe nails are twice as thick as those on the hands, so you can use the machine here. In addition to the nail polish, I also remove a tiny layer from the contaminated surface. Nails, for example, absorb chemicals from nail polish much more than the skin.” To remove hardened skin, a fresh sterile blade, a kind of curved mini-scalpel, is used for each guest. The nail corners deserve special attention, so they do not grow in. Hard skin is never completely removed, up to 50% only, because it also protects the foot. Once a good elasticity of the skin is felt, he stops. “Success comes 20% from the eyes, 20% from the blade. The rest comes from the feeling in your hands”, Bastien says. His colleague points out how important experience is, which should also consider the circumstances of the client’s life. He says: “At the beginning of my career, I treated a soccer player. I gave him some real baby feet. Unfortunately that was the wrong treatment, because his feet became far too sensitive to play soccer afterwards. You always need to keep the balance and know exactly what you are doing. ”
He uses a glass file because it works the gentlest. I also get the advice to do so at home. A paste for the nails with the texture of mother of pearl acts like a scrub. Then my nails get polished with a soft leather buffer. I feel the heat spreading in the nail. “The nail plate gets more blood flow and a better oxygen supply, which strengthens it,” says Bastien. “The buffer was prominently featured by Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI. It’s the real origin of the French manicure.” The nails look really fresh and radiant afterwards. I am released with a cream that is not just applied but massaged intensively for two minutes. My feet look perfect, and I walk on air back to my room.
Next beauty stop: facial treatment
It says “Beauty by Mandarin Oriental” next on my program. I´ll have an appointment in the new spa suite for a QMS! -treatment. It is the first Asian branch of the German cosmetics company. The menu includes an exquisite selection of exclusive and bespoke signature treatments such as the Anti-Aging Treatment with a Collagen Boost as well as the invigorating and firming Skin Lift Facial. I opt for the first option, the “Collagen Vita Skin Facial”. It takes a good hour to control skin aging and regenerate it at the same time. It works mainly with naturally soluble collagen to improve the moisture content of the skin. That’s exactly what I need. Highlight is an algae modelling, a mask that dries on the skin. I already have my experiences, they are no good ones. Therefore I hesitate whether I am comfortable with it, when eyes and mouth are covered. The Thai beautician offers to leave my mouth open and I agree upon that.
The white seaweed paste feels cool on the skin. I breathe deeply the more of my face she covers with it. When she reaches my eyes, I hold my breath for a moment, then I gradually relax. Soon I feel the mass slowly beginning to dry on my face. When the Asian girl gently starts to remove the modelling after 20 minutes, I am astonished that time is already over. Finally, she holds the solid mask, an exact image of my face, in her hands. On the inside, she can read the condition of my skin as if on a map. It tells where the skin is too dry, how deep the wrinkles were. The result is amazing. My skin looks padded, the fine lines are gone and the deeper ones are minimized. All in all, I find the complexion radiant and full of vitality. It was worth it. Regrettably the miracle mask is available only in the cabin and not for use at home. By the way, there are QMS Medicosmetics in over 700 locations worldwide.
I spend the afternoon at the fitness center on the opposite riverbank behind the lotus pond. I train endurance and strength, I treat myself at the steam room in the end – the sauna is too hot for me-, as well as with a trip to the whirlpool. I decide to spend my last evening at a night market. The least touristy one is the “Road Fai” behind the Esplanade Shopping Center. It is open from 6 pm and offers anything from clothes to food and nightlife. Countless street food stalls sell everything Thai cuisine has to offer. Many small bars are housed in shipping containers that have been stacked on top of each other. A real experience away from tourism.
Third day: On the morning of my return flight I am feeling pretty good and full of energy, so I get up for morning yoga and head for the spa across the Chao Phraya River at 6.30 am. There, my trainer Neelam Khatri, a familiar face from previous visits, is expecting me. Prior to joining the “Oriental” the Indian taught yoga at the prestigious hotel “The Oberoi Rajvilas” in Jaipur. She is trained in Ayurveda as well as in meditation and conceives individual wellness programs. After breakfast at the rich buffet overlooking the lazy flowing Chao Praya, I spend the last hours reading by the pool before taking a shuttle to the airport in the late afternoon. I am so fit and well rested that on the long night journey back to Europe time is literally flying by.
My conclusion: Such a beauty weekend you should treat yourself much more often with. It doesn´t always have to be Bangkok and the Mandarin Oriental but I must admit that the hotel is expensive, but it offers truly an Asian-at-its-best experience.
CultureAndCream Author from Munich
To travel during my profession as a beauty journalist was never enough for my. Also my six month on a world trip didn’t do it. It always attracts me to other cities, foreign countries, on roadtrips and places I don’t know yet. But I am not only interested in “culture” and “cream”, I am also fascinated by people who have stories to tell . Such unique experiences I want to share with you.