Words by James Lawrence
Is this Bangkok’s finest luxury address? Sat in my expansive suite on the 17th floor of The Peninsula hotel with a glass of Champagne in hand (butler at the ready), the thought did occur. The riverside location has been luring in both old money and younger sybarites for decades; several guests I spoke to during my visit freely admitted that they refuse to stay anywhere else. It is the spectacular views, seasoned oriental charm and unfailingly courteous service that ensures complete loyalty from an eclectic mix of travellers. The Peninsula effortlessly merges neoclassical international elegance with authentic Thai tropes and cultural motifs. A package that is tough to beat.
Yet there is always significant competition in Bangkok. During one pleasant afternoon by the pool, two couples were engaged in the ultimate middle-class debate. One of the pair, visiting from London, opined that the Mandarin Oriental – The Peninsula’s opposite number – had the edge in terms of service. The younger couple huffed and puffed, refuting the statement with an intensity only seen during Brexit arguments.
Ultimately, of course, whether you regard The Peninsula as the definitive luxury hotel in Bangkok is very much a personal and subjective question. But it is unarguable that in terms of food & drink, creature comforts, amenities and hospitality, the Peninsula is in a league of its own.
This is the Peninsula’s biggest draw, certainly from the perspective of western tourists. Even if the standards of accommodation were below par (which they’re most certainly not), the discerning would still flock regardless. Situated on the western side of the Chao Praya, the hotel is surprisingly well connected to the rest of Bangkok. Complimentary shuttle boats take guests to the Saphan Thaksin skytrain station and the city’s riverside shopping complexes, which are well worth a look. If there is a slight drawback – and this is hardly a major problem – it is that downtown Bangkok’s amenities are not on your doorstep. But I’m fairly confident that if the owners decided to move The Peninsula into central Bangkok, then there would be a mass riot. (A bourgeois affray, of course, with bottles of Beaujolais being hurled in disgust).
Sumptuous and spacious in every sense of the word. Even standard deluxe rooms (370 rooms in total) are generously sized, offering unrivalled views of Bangkok’s soaring skyline across the river. Our suite, however, wrote the book in obscene, pampering luxury. Far larger than my apartment, the river-facing drawing room became our second home. It was a difficult proposition to leave when check-out day arrived. The colour scheme and decor is old school elegance rather than cutting-edge hipster – thank god. The bedroom artwork and wall coverings are classy and top-notch. But the ultimate test – how comfortable was the Queen-sized bed? Let’s just say we had to be dragged off it by the concierge.
This is where the hotel has few, if any peers. Every single member of staff, from waiters to room service attendants, receptionists to the spa manager, were courteous, charming, professional and warm. The Peninsula has set the bar too high – how can other hotels compete with this?
Food and drink
A subject very close to my heart. Thailand is not the ideal place to sample imported wines, due to the astronomical taxes and tariffs on imported alcohol. Nevertheless, our meal at the signature Chinese restaurant, The Mei Jiang, was exceptional. We enjoyed the Eight Elements ‘surprise and delight’ tasting menu, a masterclass in refined and exciting Cantonese cooking. It was a judicious mix of food theatre and enticing flavours and textural contrasts. Incidentally, the Peninsula has the best wine offering in Bangkok, with a healthy selection of top-tier wines from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Wine mark-ups were reasonable, considering the location and stifling taxation regime.
Breakfast is served on the riverside terrace, with a surfeit of buffet options and the usual high standards of service. We didn’t partake in the outdoor Thiptara restaurant, which serves Thai cuisine in small wooden pavilions by the river. The River Café and Terrace offers a wide range of international food at lunchtime and in the evening; we enjoyed several cocktails every night before dinner.
Many jet-lagged guests forgo check-in and simply head straight to the delightful three-tiered outside pool, which is 88 metres long and always packed. The river views and pool-side bar serving drinks and snacks keep most visitors settled from 10am to at least 5pm. We guiltily omitted sight-seeing for this glorious indulgence. There is also a well-equipped gym and gorgeous spa, which offers a plethora of massage treatments, including our massage-cum-mind-healing session. This involved incredibly scented oils, expert hands and Tibetan prayer bowls. I’d never experienced anything like it.
Unique selling point
It’s the ultimate cliche but also an established fact: the little touches elevate destinations like The Peninsula above their rivals. There are plenty of hotels in Southeast Asia which can bring five-star service to luxurious accommodation and amenities – and then charge the earth for it. But this venue goes the extra mile. For example: poolside staff always bring you a glass of iced-water after you return to your sun lounger. They close the pool, briefly, to treat the area for mosquitos. All ‘little’ things that sweeten an already luxurious experience. It’s six star service, not ‘simply’ five star.
A few guests shared their thoughts on staying at The Peninsula during the Chinese New Year – needless to say, feedback was not positive. Although the high standards of service and hospitality remained, one couple said that the hotel was very busy. If you dislike crowds, then avoid this annual celebration. The hotel is also family friendly, so don’t expect an adults-only paradise. To the hotel’s credit, it has ramps, special toilets and dedicated rooms for guests with disabilities.
The Peninsula is the finest hotel that I’ve experienced in Southeast Asia. The service is the most sophisticated in the city; attentive, intuitive and always one step ahead. That fact, combined with the tranquil gardens, opulent public spaces and amenities, ensures that you’ll never bother to explore Bangkok. The room rates are also quite reasonable, starting at about £250 in low season. Breakfast is included in addition to complimentary wifi. Finding a similar package in London, Paris or Rome for that price would be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
Address: 333 Charoennakorn Road, Klongsan, Bangkok 10600, Thailand
Phone: 00 66 2 861 2888