MENU
FIVE questions
you should
ask ...
CALL US
Speak to one of our travel
experts
within 5 rings
020·7962·9933

Which of these is important to you?

  • Concierge style service. Your own dedicated travel manager who'll look after you until you travel.
  • Better value. Exclusive fares you won't find online to save you money.
  • 24 hour helpline. A worldwide team just a phone call away if you need help while you're overseas.
  • Top on Trustpilot. More highly rated than all our competitors with 98% saying they'd book again.
  • Risk free. Fully licensed with Client Trust Account to protect your money. ABTA, ATOL protected.

Your calls always answered within 5 rings.

x
You've read the reviews so why not call us NOW?
Tell us what you need. We'll find you a solution
Asia Reviews 12549
Asia Offers 32
Stunning scenery

Thailand is Double-O Heaven

In a land with a licence to enchant and to thrill, Frank Barrett finds the inspiration for both James Bond and The Night Manager

You all know Roger Moore, 007? If you are too young to know what he looks like, he looks like me,' said our small, squat, spectacularly un-debonair Thai tour guide, Captain Alex, with a deadpan face.

While not exactly shaken with laughter at his wry quips, everyone was stirred by the stunning scenery at Ko Khao Phing Kan, or James Bond Island, as this place is more famously known. It became a must-see site due to its double-O heaven setting in The Man With The Golden Gun, when Moore's Bond goes in search of Scaramanga, played with relish by Christopher Lee.

This was all heady stuff for a first-time visitor to Thailand, an exotic land that has also inspired on the big screen the sublime (The Beach) and the ridiculous (The Hangover, Part II).

 

Kayaking through the limestone caves in Phang Nga Bay

 

Many writers, from Somerset Maugham to Graham Greene, have fallen for Thailand's bars, silk, curry and hospitality. Its ancient history, temples, islands and beaches, as well as the gentle people of unrivalled grace, have made it endlessly enchanting.

A small bit of detective work led me to deduce that John le Carré found his original inspiration for The Night Manager - his thriller televised this year - in Thailand after staying at The Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok, on the banks of the Chao Phraya river.

I discovered his fascination for the legendary hotelier Kurt Wachtveitl, famed for decades for arranging everything with charm and discretion, just as we saw Tom Hiddleston's character do in the BBC series. More later about le Carré, a drunken night on champagne, and his eternal gratitude to the night manager.

But first back to James Bond Island. This speck in Phang Nga Bay is firmly on the tourist track as boatloads arrive to get their fix of the legendary spy.

Indeed, everyone else on our boat seemed to think they were wannabe secret agents, as the men stripped down to Daniel Craig-style swimming shorts and the women wore Bond-girl bikinis. They also donned their best Bond-villain shades for selfies in front of the limestone outcrops.  

 

Thailand is known for its friendly people, and the Banyan Tree staff are no exception

 

Captain Alex's tour included kayaking into sea caves, shopping for silk and a lunch of fresh grilled fish, before driving back to the Banyan Tree Hotel in Phuket, a tranquil base where smiling courtesy is second nature to its staff.

Phuket became a favourite destination of backpackers in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to its sleepy beauty and sensational beaches, and luxury hotel chains soon discovered its appeal.

Many of the villas in the Banyan have a private pool, and you can have spa treatments in your garden overlooking the lagoon. Bicycles make it easy to get to and from the main lobby and its zen-like spa.

The starting point for my trip before heading to Phuket was Bangkok and the splendid Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Leave so much as half an apple in your room and it will be replaced within the hour. As well as supreme service, there is nothing the staff haven't seen, from Billy Idol smashing up his suite to Somerset Maugham fighting off a bout of malaria.

 

Dining on the banks of the Chao Phraya river at the Mandarin Oriental

 

Some simple sleuthing persuaded me that le Carré first came across his inspiration for The Night Manager here. The clues were staring me in the face in the le Carré suite on the tenth floor.

A typed letter from the author is framed on the wall. He thanks the hotel manager for the incredible care and hospitality, having arrived 'tired, dusty and unannounced' after a 'swing through divided Laos' while researching his novel, The Honourable Schoolboy.

He recounts how he met up with a friend in the hotel and drank copious amounts of champagne, which annoyed a journalist from 'a lofty London paper' who was also staying there. 'I fear we may not have seemed as funny to him as we did to one another.' A year later, when The Honourable Schoolboy finally appeared, the same correspondent took time off from his political musing to give it a perfectly dreadful review.

The fact that le Carré bothered to send such a letter to the manager indicates his fascination at how Kurt Wachtveitl looked after him and the dozens of others guests, all seemingly effortlessly.

Incidentally, the room opposite le Carré's is the Barbara Cartland suite, for those who are more inclined to soft romance than spy thriller.

Just outside the hotel, Bangkok shows all its buzz and brashness, with street food, shopping (incredible silver), mai tai cocktails at sunset at bars both grand and grubby.

There has always a sense of being about to enter the land of all possibilities, be it The Beach, Bridge On The River Kwai, or Bond. Just remember not to turn it into The Hangover… 



First published in the Mail on Sunday -  October 2016

More articles below...

For more inspiration, read what travel writers have to say...

Spa from the madding crowd

Naomi Leach finds spiritual bliss in Bali

Vietnam's capital

John McEntee discovers a city of crazy extremes

Japan's Shrines

The spiritual Kansai region of holy sites is attracting attention

Cambodia's temples

How Mark Palmer was allowed an audience with the hidden Buddha

Converted to Bali

Fashion designer Julien Macdonald is stunned by the island's beauty

Paws for thought

Helen Nicholson encounters China's star bear

Partying in Phuket

Olivia Grant heads to Thailand with pure intentions

Beautiful Burma

A once closed country that is catching up with the modern world, says Tamara Cohen

Loving Langkawi

The Datai is heaven on Earth, says Max Hastings

A welcoming smile

The many faces of Vietnam

One night in Bangkok

Jonathan Neal spends 48 hours in the Thai capital

Thailand with a toddler

Julian Robinson and his wife enjoy an adventure holiday with their 20-month-old daughter

Perfect Phuket

Jo Gardner guides you through the many faces of Phuket

Langkawi in luxury

Harriet Walker is delighted by the wildlife and stunning scenery

Slick Singapore

Jeremy Clarke is amazed by the phenomenon that is Singapore

Nature in Malaysia

Renowned British naturalist David Bellamy returns to a stunning old haunt

Raffles Returns

Mark Porter is delighted to report the re-opening of one of the most famous hotels in the world

Stopover in Kuala Lumpur

Fabulous street food and so much more

Our guide to the joys of Japan

Land of the rising sun

From war to perfect peace

A source of beauty and wonder

Vibrant Vietnam

Simon Heptinstall loves the glamour, the traditional and the exotic

Forever Hong Kong

China may be in charge but this city shines brightly, as Max Hastings discovers

Beautiful Bali

This tropical island makes Alice Hart-Davis's spirits soar

Vivid Vietnam

From vibrant street markets to havens of tranquility, Harriet Mallinson loved the contrast

A foodie love affair

Chef Raymond Blanc loves the country that he says has some of the finest, and healthiest, food in the world

Thailand forecast

TV weather presenter Lucy Verasamy goes island-hopping and finds the warmest of welcomes

Temptations of tasty Thailand

Five-star foodie treats

A taste for Bangkok

More than just a stopover, as Isabelle King discovers on a culinary tour

Thailand's grown up

Family-friendly Thailand

The luxury side of Thailand

Ashley Pearson reports on three of the country's most hedonistic hotels

Pulsating Hong Kong

Twenty years on, Siobhan Warwicker discovers that life on this island remains electric

Singapore fling

A city-state packed with excitement

Pangkor Laut

My island of dreams says Helen Moss

Not quite what you're looking for?
We can easily customise an offer to suit your exact requirements

x