Do you own a guide book? Lonely Planet? Frommers? Anything? If you do…take it out right now, get some gasoline, some matches, and burn it. Guide books are the lowest common denominator, they advise the ignorant masses to flock to the same boring and overrated hotels, bars and curiosities. It’s mass produced and sanctioned mediocrity.
A great example of the horrible advice given in guide books can be found regarding Bangkok hotels. After checking out of the Mandarin-Oriental Bangkok, someone told me that their Fodor’s guide called it “the best hotel in the world” and asked my opinion. Now the way I see it, there are three ways that this vicious lie could possibly have ended up in print. 1. Fodor’s is in the business of hiring people who have never stayed at a hotel nicer than a Holiday Inn before and sending them to write about five star properties. 2. The “journalist” who wrote this never actually visited Bangkok and took an envelope full of cash and some promotional materials from the hotel before sending in his contribution. 3. Guide books are in the business of lying and calling everything the “best,” “once in a lifetime,” etc…
I have seen great hotels Mandarin, and you Sir/Madame are no great hotel. I’m not sure the Mandarin Bangkok should be included in a list of the Top 100 hotels IN ASIA, let alone be in the discussion for the top hotel anywhere.
Let’s get started. The location on the river is great…however, part of the hotel is on the other side of the river. While they “graciously” provide you with free transport via boat to the gym, restaurant and other facilities across the water, it is a hassle to wait for a boat to chug across to the far shore when you want to go to the gym (nice gym though). The physical plant is ugly. If you’re expecting colonial era grandeur…keep holding your breath. The staff speak shockingly bad English for a property of this stature and the service is awful. They are more inclined to stand there with a smile, listen to your complaints then shrug their shoulders and walk off than they are to attempt to fix any problems. The lobby is jammed with people which makes it feel a bit like a convention hotel. Sorry, I check into nice hotels to AVOID being shoved by Chinese tour groups, not to mix with them in the lobby.
I know that Mandarin apologists and super elitists will point to the allegedly lovely rooms in the Writer’s Wing as evidence that this is a great hotel. Those rooms may well be fantastic, but if you are a hotel of 200+ rooms and only 3-5 of them are nice…you are NOT a great hotel.
While I am no great fan of the Mandarin, it was not wholly without merit. The gym is nice and modern should you choose to wait for the slow boat across the river. The outdoor dining restaurant along the river is a very nice setting and the breakfast buffet is very good. Also, there are some attractive bars.
The rooms that I saw, ranging from rather small to suites on high floors were unimpressive and not particularly well appointed.
Pros: Idiots will be impressed when you tell them you’re staying at the Mandarin, “close” via boat transfer to a BTS station, most taxi drivers will know where it is, nice restaurant on the river, objectively cheap though expensive for Bangkok.
Cons: Crappy service/staff, mediocre rooms, far from most nightlife, part of the hotel is on the opposite side of a large river.
Verdict: I can’t say I would NEVER return to the Mandarin, because nothing in life is certain. However, I can say I have no desire to ever return to this substandard dump. There are about 9,000,000 luxury hotels in Bangkok and due to the glut of rooms and the fact that Thailand is a pretty inexpensive country, you can get into any of them for less than $300 a night. During the course of this trip I stayed at hotels in Bangkok costing 1/4 the price of the Mandarin that delivered a superior experience. Unless you really need the imagined prestige of telling people you’re at the Mandarin or you have an odd fetish for wasting money on substandard goods and services, give this place a miss.