Bangkok is home to some of the world's most famous and highly-rated hotels—including the Mandarin Oriental, the Shangri-La, the Peninsula Bangkok, the Erawan, the Hilton International, the Grand Hyatt and the Sukhothai. Other major hotels include the Royal Orchid Sheraton, the Royal Garden River Resort, the Inter-Continental. The Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Shangri-La and Hilton are all near the Chao Phraya River, which used to at the heart of Bangkok but now is more on the tourist fringe. There are also nice standard and tourist hotels, including a Best Western and a Holiday Inn, which are generally much better than their American counterparts.

The main backpacker area, Khao San Road, is filled with partying college-age travelers and aging hippies. Guesthouses have rooms with paper thin walls that go for as little as $5 a night. Banglamphu, another budget traveler area, is quieter, and slightly more expensive. Ten minutes away from Khao San Road by foot, it attracts an older crowd. Here on Phra Athit Road you can find pleasant guest houses that go for $20 a night and have marble floors, terraces with flowers, cable television and strong air conditioners Other popular budget hotel areas include Soi Ngam Duphil (off Rama IV Road), Sukhumvit Road, Chinatown-Hualamphong Station and Siam Square.

The tourist office in Bangkok and the hotel information desk at the airport can help you book a room in a top-end or tourist hotel. The tourist information desk at the airport can provide you with some leads of cheap hotels. The Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books have lists and descriptions of cheap guesthouses.

Famous Hotels in Bangkok

The Peninsula hotel as been voted the No. 1 Hotel in Asia and second best in the world in Travel and Leisure’s reader survey. Editors at Travel and Leisure like the Sukhothai, with its 13th-century style bas reliefs and restaurant comprised of two pavilion set in a lotus pond. The Mandarin Oriental was a favorite of celebrities like Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson. The Royal Orchid Sheraton and Shangri-La Hotel have also ranked high in Travel and Leisure surveys.

Travel and Leisure’s top hotels in Thailand in 2013: 1) The Peninsula Bangkok in Bangkok (95.72,No. 11 in the world ); 2) Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok in Bangkok (95.04, No. 18 in the world); 5) Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers in Bangkok (90.78); 6) Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok (90.46); 7) Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok (90.42); 8) Sukhothai in Bangkok (90.35); 9) Lebua at State Tower in Bangkok (89.41); 11) JW Marriott, Bangkok (88.00);

Bangkok’s famous hotels have also ranked high in the Condé Nast Traveler reader poll on the world's best hotels. And what’s really great about them is relative to other famous hotels they are not all that expensive. Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, on the Condé Nast Asia list, “eight of the highest-rated hotels were in Bangkok, second only to Hong Kong, which had nine places that rated five stars. On a lark, I priced rooms in both places. At the time, the least expensive double at the fabled Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong cost $552 a night; in Bangkok, the Peninsula was $275. The Four Seasons in Hong Kong, $514. But in Bangkok $281. In every case, the rates for five-star hotels in Bangkok were substantially lower than in Hong Kong and sometimes on par with those at three- and four-star hotels in New York and London. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

Peninsula Hotel

The Peninsula Hotel (on the banks of the Chao Phraya river opposite the Mandarin Oriental) has been voted the No. 1 Hotel in Asia and second best in the world in Travel and Leisure’s reader survey (in the 2012 poll it ranked 11th in the world.Susan Span wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Part of an elite hotel chain with headquarters in Hong Kong, it is housed in a skyscraper that looks unimpressive when you approach by car. That's because the automobile entrance is at the back door; the hotel actually fronts on the Chao Phraya River, with two low wings on either side of the main building. An alfresco cafe and orchid-festooned Thai restaurant face the waterfront, along with a pier. From there, guests who want to sightsee are carried to the busier east side of the river by a fleet of elegant hotel barges. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

When I arrived, the Peninsula's liveried doormen pressed their palms together, bowed, then took my luggage. A front-desk clerk gave me a little loop of jasmine and walked me to my room on the eighth floor, where my bags soon magically reappeared. The room had a sitting area, desk and plush bed with a console of switches like something at Cape Canaveral for operating the lights, TV, air conditioning and draperies. At the far end of the room were a sliding glass door opening onto a balcony above the river and the entrance to the changing room and bathroom. The décor was tasteful but muted, with a few Thai accents including celadon vases, but nothing flashy. It reminded me of a family friend's Upper East Side apartment, the same building where Jackie Kennedy Onassis lived.

I had an aromatherapy massage at the ESPA Spa, the Peninsula's only false note. It shares congested locker rooms with the health club. And although the massage was good, I must have slipped between the cracks because the masseuse was 30 minutes late. Afterward, I dined at the riverfront Thiptara restaurant, beginning with a delectable shrimp and grapefruit salad, followed by barbecued chicken in coconut sweet-and-sour sauce. When I woke up the next day, I had only to reach for the console by the bed to open the drapes, revealing the morning show on the Chao Phraya, plied by long, low cargo barges, high-speed motorboats, lumbering water taxis and hotel ferries. The room-service waiter who brought me breakfast didn't just roll in the trolley, he also volunteered to bring me hot water and lemon when I told him I had a cold.

At the three-tiered swimming pool — my favorite in Bangkok, with peak-roofed, wooden lounging cabanas that have ceiling fans and Thai murals — an attendant asked whether I wanted the sun or shade and how long I planned to stay. Then he chose a chaise positioned according to my preferences, factoring in the changing angle of the sun. In the end, the Peninsula reminded me of why I dream about staying at luxury hotels. It's the craving for a place where everything is in perfect working order — sort of the way I envision heaven.


The Sukhothai has the advantage of being located right in the heart of downtown Bangkok rather than on its fringes. Span wrote: Tourists passing through Bangkok may be happiest in a hotel by the delightful Chao Phraya. But for high rollers who want to be closer to the city's business districts, there is the Sukhothai. The standard room I had reserved wasn't available, the front-desk clerk told me, so I was upgraded to an executive suite that had two bathrooms, a living room and a desk with an Internet port, fax machine, speed dials on the phone for Sprint and MCI and a drawer full of office supplies. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

Sitting there like the chairman of the board, I looked past the sitting area to a 32-inch flat-screen TV that swiveled 360 degrees, meaning I could watch "CSI: Miami" reruns from my workstation or from the regally appointed, achingly comfortable king-size bed beyond. The décor was all cinnamon-colored wood and silk in bronze and olive green, mirrored panels I kept walking into and beautiful Thai terra-cotta reliefs. Everything was cool, masculine and powerful, right down to the bathroom's extra-long tub, tapered at head and foot, with a headrest, golden taps out of which water gushed and a little rubber ducky to unlock the child in the chief executive.

Rooms at the Sukhothai are set around a water garden off the lobby and shopping arcade. When I went exploring along a maze of corridors, I found pacific reflecting pools decorated with Southeast Asian statuary and a lobby bar lined by old Thai temple doors. There's a Sotheby's on the second floor, a swimming pool, a smallish health club and a new spa where a pedicurist used a bamboo fan to dry my freshly polished toenails.

But the Sukhothai's best amenity is its Celadon restaurant, ensconced in a handsome, low building surrounded by lotus pools. I sat by the window studying a menu that was filled with impossible-sounding combinations I wanted to try (deep-fried cotton fish with green mango). I chose blue crab in curry sauce with saffron rice. Businessmen at the next table were enjoying their meals while discussing mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.

Four Seasons Bangkok

Four Seasons Bangkok is not a resort hotel likes its cousin in Chiang Mai but is still quite nice all the same. Span wrote in the Los Angeles Times: I had high expectations because I had visited the Four Seasons Chiang Mai and found it blissful. But the Four Seasons Bangkok is a city hotel without the magic of the northern Thai hill country. Its magisterial entrance, bordered by statues of kneeling elephants, is across from the Royal Bangkok Sports Club on wide Rajadamri Road, canopied by the elevated light railroad, or Skytrain. It's convenient to shopping centers and other international hotels, including the InterContinental and Grand Hyatt. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

The clerks at registration spoke perfect business English, without the shyness and hesitance that characterized the service at the Peninsula. Together with the information desk for people on Princess Cruises, I felt as though I was in a big, impersonal Western chain hotel, albeit a ritzy one. The high-ceilinged white lobby with marble balustrades around the mezzanine and a combo playing old Western standards seemed an irresistible place to lay down my shopping bags and order a Maker's Mark Manhattan on the rocks with a twist of lemon. The waitress said they didn't have Maker's Mark, so I had to make do with a Belvedere martini.

Again I was upgraded — though I did not identify myself as a travel writer — from a standard to a deluxe room off a corridor running around one of the hotel's courtyards. It had a rich wood-lined entryway and an inviting king-size bed with a Thai mural for a headboard and a blood-red silk runner — nice but not distinctive. I caught some late-afternoon sun at the large, rectangular pool in a manicured enclave at the back of the hotel, then had a 60-minute Thai massage in the health club for about $40. The 90-minute version offered at the spa cost about $100. The regimen started with a stint in the club's lemon grass-scented steam room, followed by the kind of massage you can't get anywhere but in Thailand. A petite body worker, poised on the table, did things to my lower back that I could feel in my fingers.

Dinner in the hotel's Spice Market restaurant followed. It was a Thai classic starting with beef, chicken and shrimp satay. Then I dived into the dish of pad Thai I had been craving since I arrived in Bangkok. It was excellent. Afterward, I slept like a baby, although the next morning I was disappointed to have to choose between juice and fresh fruit when ordering the continental room-service breakfast.

Shangri-la Hotel

Shangri-la Hotel has a reputation for being the best value of Bangkok’s regal hotel but skimps a little on the amenities. Span wrote: At places like these you get spoiled, critical and demanding, even when you know you're getting a good deal, as I was at the Shangri-La, where my double cost $195, a little more than half the price at the Oriental. Nevertheless, I glared at the front-desk clerk when she told me the only available nonsmoking room on a high floor had two queen beds instead of a king. The décor was generic, and the bath was just a bath, with no luxurious features. A sign said if I wanted a makeup mirror, I would have to call housekeeping. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

The Shangri-La is in a pair of high-rise buildings on the east side of the river, near the Oriental. A portrait of Thailand's king encased in bright gold greets guests in the lobby, which is huge and busy, with the air of a convention hotel. If you went straight to your room and didn't look around, you wouldn't know that the far building, reached by a long, curving shopping arcade, is much more luxurious than the main one. The Krungthep Wing, as it's called, has its own bucolic swimming pool and Chi Spa, where I had a dreamy facial.

By dinner time, I was feeling less fussy and a meal in the riverside Salathip restaurant further improved my mood. The restaurant is set in a traditional wooden building surrounded by romantic verandas where guests watch breathtakingly costumed Thai dancers perform between courses — in my case, prawn with chili dip to start, followed by peppery sautéed duck. The next morning by the pool, reality sank in, partly because my last five-star day in Bangkok had dawned, and because I started talking to an English couple living in Shanghai. They loved the Shangri-La and always spent Christmas holidays here. You just can't beat it for the price, they said. The price. Now I remember. It has to do with that thing you must pay when you check out. When I looked at it that way, the Shangri-La rose to the top.

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Mandarin Oriental Hotel (on the banks of the Chao Phraya river opposite the Peninsula) has been rated as the "Finest Hotel in the World" and is known in Bangkok as the "Grand Lady of the Chao Phraya." Founded in 1876 and rebuilt 1947, it has been written about by Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward and Rudyard Kipling. In “Gentleman in the Parlor”, Somerset Maugham recalls what a lovely time he had recovering from malaria there the hotel.

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is owned by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The first hotel in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group was the Mandarin, Hong Kong, currently the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, established by the British corporation Jardine Matheson Holdings Ltd. in 1963. In 1974, it bought Thailand's prestigious Oriental Bangkok Hotel, currently the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok.These two hotels are the group's flagships, even though the group boasts 28 hotels. The Mandarin Oriental hotels are also known for their high-quality restaurants. According to the 2012 Michelin Guide, 11 of the hotels' restaurants garnered a total of 14 stars. At the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, the French restaurant Signature and the Cantonese restaurant Sense each received one star. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2012]

The Oriental has ranked forth in Condé Nast Traveler reader's poll for best hotels in the world and ranked no. 1 in Travel and Leisure's list of the ten best hotels in Asia. Among the other awards it has won are "World's Favorite Individual Hotel" (Business Traveler, U.S.), "Best Business Hotel in the World" (Business Traveler, Germany), and "World's Best Room Service" (Gourmet Magazine).

Susan Span wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The Peninsula and the Oriental gaze jealously across the river at each other. They are similar, but the Oriental has something the Peninsula doesn't: history. The Oriental was established in 1876, about the time Anna was waltzing with the king of Siam, and in the ensuing years, the hotel earned a reputation as one of the world's best. Nothing remains of the original colonnaded Italian Renaissance Revival building. But if you walk through the glitzy contemporary lobby, you end up in the Authors' Lounge on the first floor of the restored oldest wing of the hotel, a yellow and green-trimmed colonial-style building that dates to 1887. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2008]

With its potted bamboo, white wicker and vintage photos of Thai royalty, the Authors' Lounge is a divine place for high tea. The traditional afternoon set begins with a little scoop of green lime and gin sorbet, followed by a three-tiered silver serving tray full of delights: miniature scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, salmon and cucumber finger sandwiches, shortbread cookies, English fruitcake, berry tartlets After tea, I went to my room on the 15th floor. At 430 square feet, it wasn't as spacious as the one at the Peninsula and its view wasn't as nice. But it was more elaborately decorated with silk pillows, Thai paintings and other traditional crafts. Shortly after I walked in, a butler appeared and asked whether he could unpack my things. I declined, embarrassed by my ratty clothes.

When I went out to explore, I found Bangkok's old Assumption Cathedral, the French Embassy and handsomely restored O.P. Place shopping center on the same alleyway as the hotel. There was more street life than on the Peninsula side of the river: fruit stands, silk shops, tailors, Thai tourists wearing yellow polo shirts to honor the king and a queue of tuk-tuk tricycle taxis whose motors sputtered. Even in the cooler month of December, Bangkok is like a perpetual hot flash, so I retreated to the Oriental's infinity lounging pool. Together with a 25-meter lap pool, it is cupped in the garden on the river side of the hotel.

Nearby, guests catch hotel ferries that cross the Chao Phraya to the Oriental's lovely garden annex, where there is a full range of resort facilities: a health club with tennis courts, a jogging track and yoga classes, a Thai restaurant and dance theater, beautifully appointed cooking school and sumptuous spa. My flawlessly executed body wrap started with a tamarind-honey scrub and sesame-milk mask.

The unguents made me hungry, so I recrossed the river and took a table at the Riverside Terrace, which serves a lavish dinner barbecue buffet for about $70 a person. There were salads, Arabic meze, a made-to-order sushi station and tandoori oven. Chefs grilled prawns and crab and carved a big joint of roast lamb. I ate as much as I could, eyed a chocolate profiterole but gave it up. When I returned to my room, my bed had been turned down. A boo kilometers ark, placed on my pillow, bore a quote from Somerset Maugham: "Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of habit."

Famous People at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Michael Jackson liked to stay there when he was in Bangkok. Other famous guests over the years have included Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvester Stallone, French President Jaques Chirac, U.S. President George Bush, Prince Charles, Princess Dianna, Barbara Cartland and Harrod's owner Mohammed Al Fayed.

Denis D. Gray of AP wrote: Charming a fuming Elizabeth Taylor, personally snipping a British duke's hair or catering to the refined palates of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge leaders. It was all in a day's work for Kurt Wachtveitl, as he looks back on 41 years running one of the world's fabled hotels, not with nostalgic tears but plenty of juicy tales and trenchant thoughts about how Bangkok's Oriental Hotel got to be so good. A legend himself among the international hotel fraternity, the 72-year-old Wachtveitl, who retired in 2009, having amassed awards for the five-star hotel as well as an endless roster of famous and rich, albeit not always agreeable, guests.

"She treated me like a dog. You remember guests who are really terrible," says the suave German-born hotelier, recalling how Hollywood superstar Taylor blew up because the hotel's best room, the Oriental Suite, happened to be booked when she checked in. The two had met before, when he worked at a hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, where actor Richard Burton would meet Taylor for trysts. "Usually they drank vodka by the bottle. Burton at 3 o'clock in the morning would fall down the staircase dreadfully drunk, crawling through the lobby," says Wachtveitl. Taylor would moan "Richard, Richard" as he drove off to his wife and Wachtveitl was left with helping the star to her room.[Source: Denis D. Gray, AP, June 14, 2009]

Back at the Oriental, the silver-haired Wachtveitl (pronounced Wacht-why-tell) managed to calm the actress down â and she even became an ally in 1993 when one of her best pals, rock star Michael Jackson, was holed up in the hotel and refused to give a concert to which thousands had already bought tickets. Taylor flew from California and persuaded Jacko, who had just been hit with child sex abuse allegations, to perform. "Celebrities are all easy to deal with if you do everything they want," mused Wachtveitl recently. "If something goes against them, hell will break loose."

Established in 1876 by two Danish sea captains, the Oriental's A-list crowd in the early days included Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling. They lived in what is now the colonial-style Author's Wing, the original part of the hotel above which towers the 10-story River Wing, completed in 1976. The likes of Princess Diana, Mick Jagger, Sean Connery, George W. Bush, David Beckham and Elton John were pampered and placated during the Wachtveitl years, which began in 1967 when he took over the Oriental after hotel school in Switzerland, where he fell in love with his Thai wife-to-be â and stints at several European hotels.

Given a free hand by the local owners, the eager 30-year-old transformed the hotel, which then had atmosphere and decay in equal parts, into what the New York-based Institutional Investor voted as the world's best hotel for 10 years running. His formula for success: a rigorous focus on his guests and staff. The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, as it is now formally known, maintains a database of some 40,000 guests â listing their minutest preferences, pet peeves and sometimes how their stays didn't go quite right. One senior executive was recently amazed, Wachtveitl relates, when on arrival he was greeted with an apology for a water problem in his room a decade ago, and upgraded to a suite. "You win a person like this forever. I guarantee you," he says, noting that repeat guests make up 50 percent of the hotel's clientele, with a new generation following parents who remembered the Oriental so fondly.

There are some guest requests the hotel can't manage ("A few are better forgotten," Kurt notes), but when the Duke of Bedford's wife wanted a less conservative look for her husband and heard that Wachtveitl cut his own hair, he brought out the scissors. He also obliged when Naomi Campbell demanded he personally wake the supermodel up with a morning call. The staff didn't skip a beat when Khieu Samphan and other ultra-communist Khmer Rouge leaders, now facing trial for genocide, demanded the very best in food and wine at the hotel's "Lord Jim" restaurant.

"The staff is the pillar of the Oriental. Without them we are nothing. We became a big family," says Wachtveitl of his 1,150 employees who, as guests frequently attest, have acquired Germanic efficiency without losing their natural Thai warmth. "The staff considers the Oriental as a lifetime job, as it was in Europe some 100 years ago or in Japan some 40 to 50 years ago," he says. In a Thai industry where staff flit from one hotel to another, the average Oriental employee stays more than 16 years.

Wachtveitl subscribes to the old-fashioned way of doing things, as his successor, who previously ran a hotel in Washington D.C., discovered. "He can't believe that I don't have a computer in my office, or a Blackberry, or whatever it's called," he says. "The old way is if I want to see an engineer, the pastry chef or a housekeeper I go there, sit down and have a chat. If there is something with a guest you pick up the phone and call them, you don't send an e-mail."

Wachtveitl says his view of the industry is exactly the reverse of many of today's executives, especially the Americans who obsess about the bottom line, stress fancy marketing and cut staff at the drop of a GDP point. "I always looked at business at the Oriental from a service point of view. If we give every client pleasure and we make him happy, he will come back here again, then automatically the bottom line will be OK," he says.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.