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Traveling In Style : Correspondents' Choice : Where They Lingered

October 16, 1994| Charles Wallace | Singapore bureau

Even the famous have to rest their feet sometimes. Five Times correspondents from around the world reveal the favorite rest-stops, loitering places and relaxing haunts of celebrities of an earlier time.

THE ORIENTAL HOTEL, Bangkok

British novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham ("Of Human Bondage," "The Moon & Sixpence," "The Razor's Edge") first visited Bangkok in 1923, making his way overland from Burma, then the jewel in the crown of Britain's Asian colonies. Like many travelers in those days, "Willie" Maugham and his lifelong companion, Frederick Haxton, stayed at the Oriental, a small hostelry on the Chao Phraya River that had opened in 1876. Maugham kept coming back and celebrated his 85th birthday there in 1960.

"Towards the evening a flight of egrets flew down the river, flying low and scattered," Maugham once wrote of the his view from the terrace. "They were like a ripple of white notes, sweet and pure and springlike, which an unseen hand drew forth, like a divine arpeggio from an unseen harp."

The river is still there and so is the Oriental, but Bangkok is now a city of towering skyscrapers and mind-blowing traffic jams. Nevertheless, the hotel's old wing, with just four suites (one of them named after Maugham) and four smaller rooms, looks much the same as it did in the author's day. The rooms feature four-poster beds, Tiffany lamps and Persian carpets. Instead of harp arpeggios, though, visitors today are likely to hear the chain-saw sound of river taxis revving up their truck engines as they speed up and down the waterway.

The Oriental makes an effort to preserve memorabilia of Maugham and other noted writers who stayed here (Joseph Conrad was another), but the clientele today is more likely to be heads of state and rock stars. This was, for instance, Michael Jackson's hotel of choice during last year's ill-fated tour.

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