In a kingdom where the monarch is venerated to such a degree that the merest of criticism can see you end up before the courts, or worse, behind bars, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find an entire hotel themed on the life of a royal.
But here I am at Hotel Muse in Bangkok, capital of Thailand, a royalty-mad country where lese-majeste, meaning "injured majesty", is a law enshrined in the constitution.
It decrees that the king "shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the king to any sort of accusation or action".
Fortunately for critical travel journalists, and for that matter TripAdvisor reviewers, the 174-room Hotel Muse, located on Langsuan Road in the prime high-rise residential area of Lumpini, is not dedicated to the reigning and long-ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, so I guess it can be critiqued at will.
It's a multi-storey tribute to a long-deceased Thai monarch – the extraordinary Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poraminthra Maha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua (let's refer to him by his title, King Rama V, or just Chulalongkorn, shall we?), a kind of regal Thai Walter Mitty.
There is ubiquitous faux travel memorabilia and weighty antiques designed to recall the reign and travels of Chulalongkorn.
Thailand is the only southeast Asian nation to have avoided being colonised, and it was King Rama V, in the late 19th and 20th century, who really opened the doors of the world to his kingdom.
Each October 23 is a national holiday in Thailand marking "King Chulalongkorn Day", King Rama V. He's credited with several major reforms in the areas of education, the military and the state railways. But perhaps his greatest achievement, along with his heroic abolition of slavery, is avoiding the colonisation of Thailand by Western powers.
He achieved this feat by travelling extensively, visiting otherwise acquisitive powers such as Britain, France, Russia and the US, and extending the friendship of his country. Rama V was the first Thai king to send his children to be educated in Europe. Literary works, previously banned, were allowed to be circulated again, and the lunar calendar was replaced with its Western equivalent. Even Western haircuts were adopted by the royal family.
Everywhere in the rather dimly lit hotel, clad in dark timbers from the lobby to the rooms, there is ubiquitous faux travel memorabilia and weighty antiques designed to recall the reign and travels of Chulalongkorn. It's all a bit like an in-joke. Unless you know the story and have taken the trouble to learn about it, the hotel's theme can remain a little baffling.
On a previous trip to Thailand I visited King Rama V's greatest folly, the oddly enjoyable Bang-Pa In, which can be reached on a day trip from Bangkok. It's a palace estate sited on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, which passes through Bangkok, close to the lost city of Ayutthaya. As far as royal palaces are concerned, it's probably closer to Disneyland than it is Versailles, with gardens full of outlandish reproductions of foreign buildings and topiary animals.
Back at Hotel Muse, after a dinner at the fine classical Italian restaurant in the basement, I retire to the Speakeasy Rooftop Bar, located in the 24th and 25th floors, where you'll also find a cigar bar replete with smoking jackets. There I sit nursing a cocktail, cloaked in the heat of the Bangkok night, overlooking the skyline of the city, dotted with the pulsating red aircraft warning lights characteristic of high-rise Asian cities.
I wonder what Rama V would make of the modern-day Thai capital, ruled by the umpteenth military junta, with its insatiable choking traffic, still licentious nightlife and unbridled development. He may not approve of it all, but I suspect he'd give Hotel Muse, the colonial hotel you're having when you didn't end up a colony, a decent review on TripAdvisor.
Qantas operates daily direct flights to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport from Sydney, with services from Melbourne connecting in Sydney. See qantas.com
Doubles at Hotel Muse, which is a member of AccorHotels MGallery collection of unique properties, start from THB4925.74 plus taxes. Hotel Muse is at 55/555 Langsuan Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok. Phone +66 2/6304000. See mgallery.com
The writer was a guest of AccorHotels, Hotel Muse and Qantas.