Thailand Travel Mart Plus 2019 was held this June in the coastal resort city of Pattaya,
just an hour and a half drive from Bangkok. (See my story about the forum in the July, August issue, pg. 30.) Thai tourism is hoping to attract the American market to this tropical beach getaway with properties like the 5 star InterContinental Pattaya Resort, a lovely hilly retreat set amid verdant greenery with 3 swimming pools and a private beach at the bottom. Guests can take boat day trips out to nearby Coral Island and enjoy water sports aplenty. www.ihg.com
Post forum, I experienced some of the treasures that Thailand offers guests. This included fascinating Bangkok where glistening skyscrapers stand alongside old wooden houses, quaint shops and pungent noodle stands. The lively capital filled with gilded temples, amazing shopping, buzzing night-life, luxury hotels and remarkable cuisine has attracted even more foodies with Michelin launching its first ever Bangkok guide in 2018. I relished delectable lobster, blue swimmer crab, wild prawns and other superb Thai dishes at Michelin-starred Nahm in the chic COMO Metropolitan Bangkok Hotel. This sleek, contemporary hotel in the heart of Bangkok’s Central Business District also boasts an outdoor pool, Shambhala Urban Escape Spa plus complimentary shuttle to various spots in the city.
Taking in the sights, I marveled at the Emerald Buddha housed in the Grand Palace; then glided along the lovely Chao Phraya River in a long-tail boat stopping at Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn; and Wat Pho with the renowned gold leaf reclining Buddha. A delicious dinner of Southern Thai specialties at local favorite Klua Kling Pak Sop was topped off at close-by stylish Thaipioka Bar with a bang-up Bangkok cocktail.
Elephant Hills Luxury Tented Jungle Camp (with en-suite bathrooms), set on a nature reserve close to the virgin jungle of Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand, is one of the country’s hidden gems. A scenic canoe safari down the Sok River takes you to the elephant habitat where you can feed, bathe and interact with the gentle giants. Returning to the atmospheric camp, guests dine on authentic Thai cuisine and enjoy traditional dance performances. Their Luxury Floating Tented Rainforest Camp is for true adventurers. A 45 minute long-tail boat trip takes you to the picturesque camp set on Cheow Larn Lake. However, there’s constant noise if your tent is near the dining area where groups also hang out in the water out front and electricity used for fans is spotty. Also, during the rainy season trekking is slippery and there are leeches.
Northern Thailand with its picturesque landscape of mountains, rivers and waterfalls is growing in popularity as a luxury destination, with Chiang Mai as the jewel in the crown. The former capital of the Lanna Kingdom boasts century old chedis (temples), night markets and a rich diversity of cultures seen in everything from the tasty local cuisine, striking architecture to handicrafts.
The luxurious Raya Heritage Hotel inspired by ancient Lanna traditions, set in a lush tropical garden on the banks of the Ping River, opened in 2018. It’s the first notable new hotel in the area in many years. With bamboo walkways, swaying palms and a tranquil ambiance – it looks like a pastoral paradise. My stunning suite done in white, cream and indigo with handcrafted traditional accents contained a pool plus large indoor and outdoor living spaces. Khu Khao restaurant delivers exceptional Asian Fusion cuisine and The Ai Waan Spa features an herbal steam room and healing treatments that will leave you blissed out. Just 15 minutes from the old city, Raya offers complimentary shuttles to town.
Exploring Chiang Mai, highlights included: a splendid tuk tuk temple tour to Wat Chiangmun, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phantao; a visit to the revered mountainside temple Doi Suthep, a luscious lunch of signature dish Khao Soi at Khao Soi Samer Jai, a cooking class in the pretty countryside by The Chiang Mai Thai Farm making Pad Thai and Tom Yum soup, a dye workshop at Studio Naenna Textile Gallery initiated by Patricia Cheesman to sustain the weaving tradition of the hill tribe women; ambling around trendy Nimmanhaemin followed by a dinner of Thai delights at stylish WOO Chiangmai.
Thailand is a fantastic gateway to the greater Mekong region so we ended the trip in Luang Prabang, Laos. The luxe Avani Hotel, a handsome contemporary retreat in the heart of Luang Prabang centered around gardens and a pool with Main Street Eatery serving up excellent Laotian fare – makes a perfect base to explore the UNESCO designated sleepy town on the banks of the Mekong. Guests can participate in the ritual early morning Tak Bat, giving food to the saffron robed monks right in front of the hotel. Stroll the enchanting town with its colonial buildings, countless Buddhist shrines, cafes, cool shops and night market. Don’t miss a dreamy sunset cruise on the Mekong.
Cathay Pacific has seamless daily non-stop service from major US cities to Bangkok and Chiang Mai connecting in Hong Kong. Business class offers the ultimate in comfort and amenities that make a huge difference on long flights. Their fabulous lounges in Hong Kong including the newest – the Deck – offer tantalizing cuisine and luxurious ambiance.
Flights in Thailand: Bangkok Airways, based in Bangkok calls itself Asia’s Boutique Airline and offers excellent regional service. www.bangkokair.com
Thai Airways, in addition to domestic flights in Thailand, offers stellar service to a wide range of International destinations.