With the military taking charge these days in matters of State, we wondered why revolutions are often wrought with coercion and political wrangling rather than by consent, and the elegance of a King? Thailand is the most recent in a wave of countries trying to adapt to a modern world, and to keep pace with and participate in an increasingly global economy. That its transpiring with such polite affections has not only caught the world’s special attention, but seems to be awakening it as well. Nowhere is the tenor of a nation on better display than at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.
Called the “Land of Freedom,” Thailand has never been colonized, occupied or conquered by a European power, and His Majesty King Rama IX presides not only as the world’s longest serving Head of State since 1948, but upon a ancient throne that welcomed migrants from India and China at the epicenter of Southeast Asia. Bangkok’s 8 million residents receive 16 million visitors annually, and sits comfortably amongst the most cosmopolitan cities of the world. But while the majority of the city’s luxury hotels are clustered together in one commercial shopping district, Mandarin Oriental—voted the Best Hotel in the World by Condé Nast Traveler UK—sits on the very edge of this party.
Perched upon the banks of the Chao Phraya, this legendary hotel complex resides on both sides of the river wherein a shuttle delivers you to the hotel’s signature restaurant, Sala Rim Naam. A sumptuous Thai Pavilion glows across the waters in Thonburi, and a mere 5-minute ride on a teak boat will transport you there. Across the ripples into yesteryear, watch Classical Thai dancers onstage while you dine. But pay close attention to the mock battle scenes. Folk dances like “Ram Muay” (Boxing Dance) were originally performed exclusively at Court, though soon became popular throughout Siam. A precursor to modern-day Thai Boxing, opponents would bow to each other before and after battle demonstrating respect for their teachers, trainers, and one another. But because political battles were always fought in Court, bowing was first and foremost an expression of ‘apology’ for the brutality of war.
Politics are embedded into customs and practices that manifest in a way of life. The Oriental Thai Cooking School for instance offers a glimpse into the techniques and preparation of Thai Food, and hints at how the iconic cuisine has permeated in both east and western households. Here, an instructor will teach you to assemble Thai staples like Northeastern Grilled Pork Salad or Rice Crackers with Peanut Sauce. Moreover, he’ll explain why real curry dishes are made is brass woks, and why cilantro, typically considered Mexican fare, actually originated in Thailand. You’ll even walk away with 12 complimentary spices and an embroidered apron, too. Even the Mandarin Spa’s 10 treatment rooms and vitality pools offer pioneering therapies and ancient techniques which call meditation, health and wellness to the forefront of the mind + body experience.
Having endured many decades of internal instability in the 20th century, Thailand is currently governed by a military junta that took control of its leadership through a coups d’état in 2014. Surprisingly, each and every one of these transitions has been characterized by relatively peaceful demonstrations. King Rama IX, officially the longest serving Monarch in the world, endorsed Prayuth Chan-ocha as Prime Minister who later told the Bangkok Post, “His Majesty’s duty is to look after His people.” Together, an ancient monarchy and very modern government share a vision that manufacturing, commerce, engineering, agriculture, education and the arts will not come at the cost of corruption, but rather flourish in democracy and economic prosperity for Thailand.
The Thai say “Don’t judge a book by its cover” which probably gave literary guests like Conrad, Michener and Coward much to live up to. Indeed, the hotel established in 1876 reigns in Bangkok as the world’s finest: nodding to a succession of governments with the warmth and traditions of her people. Whether you’ve come to meditate at the Grand Palace, barter on the Floating Markets, or just ride an Elephant through the Khao Yai National Park, you cannot experience Thailand without at least tempting nirvana. Peace, after all, is not the absence of conflict, but, as the Thai have demonstrated for thousands of years, the ability to resolve conflict by peaceful means.