MARCH 2011 COVER FEATURE
Amazing Thailand: Don’t Call it a Comeback
By Ryely Hartt
In recent years, Thailand has had numerous opportunities to measure the resilience of its tourism sector. A devastating tsunami that crippled Phuket in 2004 and a spat of anti-government demonstrations in parts of Bangkok last spring both challenged the rich hospitality, economy and environment that have created what can only be described as an emotional connection between the “Amazing Thailand” brand and the visitors who keep coming back to it. In both instances, the Tourist Authority of Thailand sprang quickly into action, fixing the damage and providing travelers with real-time information, always with the same warmth and “Thai-ness” that has proven itself to be unshakable. Thailand’s tourism sector enters 2011 headlong with a momentum that is—to borrow its favorite word—amazing.
Bangkok: A Feast for Pleasure-Seekers
The 2007 opening of Bangkok’s second international airport, Suvarnabhumi, has done much to expand Thailand’s role as the top gateway to the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), which includes neighboring destinations like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Lao PDR, Hanoi in Vietnam, Kunming in China, and Yangon in Myanmar. There are an estimated 258 weekly flights between Thailand and major GMS cities. The government is also making efforts to further develop Chiang Mai and Phuket as Thailand’s northern and southern aviation hubs. Last year, even as anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok caused a dip in arrivals to Suvarnabhumi Airport, traffic to Phuket International Airport was skyrocketing, at times showing up to a 70% increase over the year before.
A recently completed light rail whisks travelers from Suvarnabhumi to downtown Bangkok in 15 minutes, connecting with the Subway (MRT) and SkyTrain (BTS) at the City Air Terminal (Makkasan). Ignore that friend who said you just had to hail a tuk tuk for an authentic city tour. You did not come all the way here to get dropped off somewhere to be fitted for a suit. Bangkok is a city to be maneuvered with haste and confidence—not that it should ever feel daunting, there’s just too much to see. The BTS is the fastest, cheapest and most convenient way to get around the city. Tourist information centers are located at the Siam, Nana and Saphan Taksin stations. This last one is also where you can pick up boat tours along the Chao Phraya River. Visitors looking for the real city tour and authentic Thai markets will find them on the water, where traders meet on the narrow klongs to swap and sell products and wares by sampan boat. For those who feel naturally drawn to the markets, the one in the tiny fishing village of Mae Klong is worth the hassle of getting there. Though it’s less than 70 km outside of Bangkok, it feels longer by train and longer still on bicycle—though there is one exceptional Bangkok to Hua Hin bike ride that can be found on the TAT’s website that passes through here. What’s unique about the Mae Klong Market is that a local train runs right through it, not once, but 8 times daily. As the train approaches, the vendors—who erect their stalls and umbrellas right on the tracks—must hastily pack everything away to allow the train to pass by with just inches of clearance on either side.
Bangkok’s staple attractions—the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo), the National Museum and the floating markets—can all be found along the Chao Phraya River. The Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) borders on the Grand Palace enclave, and the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) lies on the opposite (west) side of the river in Thon Buri, which served as Thailand’s royal capital for 15 years before the site was moved to present-day Bangkok in 1782. Tourists seldom visit this side except to explore the temple, which is easily reachable from the Grand Palace via a cross-river shuttle that runs regularly from the Tha Tian Pier. From here visitors can also hitch a long-tail taxi boat and explore the khlong, or canals, that once served as the main arteries of transportation in Bangkok. Away from the traffic and high-rise condos of the main river, these canals offer a glimpse into a different world, lined with stilted houses whose kitchens feel close enough to reach into, temples, orchid farms and plenty of ninety-degree turns skillfully executed at high speed with a cough of smoke and a grand sweep of the shaft-mounted propeller.
The Metropolitan Bangkok (www.metropolitan.como.bz) offers a pared-down but chic aesthetic in an ideal location in the Central Business District. Insulated from city traffic but walking distance from the nightlife, this 171-room property has its own exclusive Met Bar and a swank, authentic Thai restaurant run by a Michelin Chef David Thompson.
Everything Within Reach
For a day trip from Bangkok, the former capital city of Ayutthaya lies just 55 miles to the north. Buses leave every half hour from the Bangkok Bus Terminal on Kamphaent Phet II Road and the journey takes about 90 minutes—or hop a train from Hua Lamphong Railway Station. The Chao Phraya Express Boat leaves every Sunday from Maharat Pier at 8 a.m. and returns around 6 p.m. Once one of the wealthiest cities in Asia, dubbed the ‘Venice of the East,’ this riverside fortress was built up by 33 Ayutthayan kings over 400 years. Walk, bike or cruise among the saffron-sashed Buddhas and marvel at the remaining temple structures that survived the Burmese siege that toppled the city in 1767.
Just three hours to the northeast of Bangkok lies the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Khoa Yai, Thailand’s oldest national park. Here visitors can hire a naturalist guide and go off in search of some 300 wild elephants who call this park home. In fact there are over 800 animal species—including leopards, tigers and bears—living here among the stunning waterfalls, 4,400-foot peaks and hill tribe villages. Adventurous travelers can find plenty of ways to enjoy the natural beauty, with accessible hiking trails that range from easy to intense, a wealth of hot springs and waterfalls that visitors can rappel down.
For a more leisurely experience still within a few hours from Bangkok, Hua Hin is Thailand’s oldest beach resort town. Opened in 1920 after the completion of a railway linking it to Bangkok, Hua Hin became the official summer getaway of the royal family when King Rama VII established Klai Kang Won, or “Far from Worries.” Today this laid-back seaside town of 60,000 attracts both Thais and tourists, who come to enjoy some of the most renowned golf courses, beach resorts and destination spas Thailand has to offer. A bit further down the coast at Takiab Bay, visitors can romp in the powdery white beach sand on horseback, and visit a hilltop Buddhist temple with a spectacular view.
Green Routes on Land and Sea
While there are certainly plenty of big name resorts and products in Thailand’s tourism supply chain, SME’s are the real backbone of the travel industry, representing over 80 percent of Thai tourism businesses. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is heavily invested in promoting practices, which benefit society and the environment, and through the work of the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association (TEATA) and its partners in the private sector, Thailand has really pushed sustainability to the forefront in the development of its tourism products. These products include a growing number of villages that now fall into a new category of Community-Based Tourism (CBT), as well as eco-friendly diving, bird watching, bike tours and nature walks. A special booklet called “Go Responsible Ecotourism and Enjoy Thailand” highlights a broad range of such products nationwide. Additionally, the TEATA and its partners have worked closely with 5 Thai tourism supplier groups—specialist Ecotour operators, Thai professional Tour Guides, SME Green Hotels, Green Restaurants and CBT communities—to develop new sustainable tourism standards and package tours. A new “Stepping Towards Sustainability” manual showcases the 20 Common Principles and 4 Thai Sustainable Tourism Routes that this partnership has produced.
Southern Thailand, with over 1,165 miles of jungle, mountains and beaches, offers some of the most incredible opportunities to commune with nature in all of Southeast Asia. The glistening waters and limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay, a marine national park close to Phuket, provide visitors with unmatched beauty and tranquility, and a host of reasonably priced luxury resorts. With 26 villas and 37 luxury suites set on a gentle slope rising over Kamala Beach and “Millionaire’s Mile” on the west coast of Phuket, Andara Resort & Villas Phuket (www.andaraphuket.com) was featured on the Conde Nast Traveler ‘Hot List’ in 2010.
Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi (www.sixsenses.com) is located on the island of Yao Noi, situated midway between Phuket and Krabi, locally known for producing the colorfully festooned wooden long-tail boats that languidly ferry fisherman across the stunning expanses of Phang Nga Bay.
For anyone traveling within or around Phuket, a Thai cooking class at the Blue Elephant Cooking School (www.bluelephant.com) is a must.
For more information visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand online at www.tourismthailand.org
Exclusive INTERVIEW — By Ryley Hartt
Post Recovery Growth Initiatives and Sustainability
Are there any specific markets that the TAT is targeting or working to develop in 2011?
Yes, we’re trying to focus on the growing baby boomer market, to try to bring more baby boomers to Thailand. Many of them have already been to Thailand and may be visiting for a second time. These people are very smart and valuable to us. They have the freedom to stay, and time and money to spend.
There is something about Thailand that visitors want to keep coming back to. Is there a typical route for first-time visitors? Second? Third?
For the first time they mainly visit Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. For the second time, they will go somewhere new like Hua Hin and Krabi. In the north, if they have been to Chiang Mai, they will go next to Chiang Rai. Hua Hin is not far from Bangkok, about two hours by car, and it is one of our next beach destinations. Many of them try to discover new destinations when they return to Thailand.
Medical tourism is gaining popularity as more people recognize that they can have world-class care for lower costs. Do you expect this trend to continue and are there resources available to people who may be considering it?
That’s one of our top products this year. Actually, I can’t say just this year because medical tourism has been popular for maybe five years. As you know, many American tourists don’t have health insurance so it works because Thailand has international standards for our doctors and technology, reasonable prices and the benefit of Thai hospitality. More than two million medical travelers come to Thailand every year for everything from check ups to procedures and dental care. There is a website (www.thailandmedtourism.com) that was created as a central database for medical treatment offered in Thailand and a resource for travelers to research before they come. Here they can research hospitals, doctors and even pricing information for the procedure.
What other tourism products are you focused on promoting this year?
We have a website to find special packages for honeymooners from our trade partners and hotels. On February 16th we invited wedding guru Jacqueline Johnson to go to Thailand to meet suppliers and educate them about marketing honeymoons. We are making sure we can offer exactly what the honeymooner coming from the U.S. wants–the kinds of products and services we need to provide–because honeymoons carry different expectations in the Asian market from the U.S. market. Essentially, it is our regular tourism product: Thai culture, Thai people, beaches and scenery, festivals. We are trying to focus on niche markets like honeymooners, baby boomers, gay and lesbian travelers and the younger generations. We would like to make clear what kind of product holds the most appeal for each target market. That’s why we have honeymoon products, adventure and eco-tourism–because from now on sustainability will be a major focus for Thailand.
What steps are being taken to improve sustainability?
The Thai tourist office and the private sector work together on behalf of TEATA, the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association. We have been working towards sustainable tourism for over a decade. Many TEATA members are specialized ecotourism operators and uphold a commitment to preserve and maintain the best aspects of Thai tourism. The Tourism Authority of Thailand exists at the center of many joint efforts with suppliers and tour operators to preserve and promote things like community-based tourism. People go to Thailand to live and learn the Thai way of life, and Thai people want to share and encourage visitors to take part in their community.
Are there any emerging destinations that Americans should be aware of?
Yes, for example many people know Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, so we are trying to promote Chiang Rai, which is two hours from Chiang Mai; or Mae Hong Son, which is another northern destination that few tourists know about. Very few people reach the Northeastern part of Thailand. Now, more and more, local communities allow visitors to experience Thai traditions and show their respect for the environment. As far as new activities, we have more community home-stays, bird watching, green diving, bicycle tours and things like that. Hua Hin is a beach destination that’s not far from Bangkok, and it’s pretty well known with the European market but Americans don’t seem to know about it. Along with Phuket, we encourage travelers to go to Krabi, which is two hours away by car.
After travelers have come and fallen in love with Thai cuisine, what can they do to hone their own cooking skills and bring the taste of Thailand home with them?
We have many Thai cooking classes, especially in the major cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. For those who want to experience cooking Thai food, there is a distinction between Thai Royal Cuisine and local cuisine. For the ones who love street food or the spicy food that Thai people eat, they can look for a class that will give them hands-on experience with local food. For the type of food that you normally find in nice restaurants or in the big cities, that is Royal Cuisine.
What’s the difference?
The way it’s presented, the type of ingredients used. For example, the people northeastern Thailand like hot and spicy food, which is different from the food you will find in Bangkok. Of course, the food you may find in Bangkok might come from a different part of Thailand, but typically we find different influences in the Northern, Northeastern, Central and Southern parts of Thailand.
How did you arrival numbers from last year measure up to your expectations? What is your outlook for this year?
There was a slight decline, 0.51 percent in American arrivals, due to the crisis in April and May of last year. But the international arrivals increased to about 15.8 million. The recovery was better than we expected. We didn’t even think we would see 14 million arrivals last year and we did much better than that. For 2011 we are watching that growing number of baby boomers and hoping to connect even more of them with the great products we have to offer.
JULY 2010 COVER FEATURE & INTERVIEW
Thailand Welcomes Visitors Back
By Evelyn Kante
The political emergency that prompted the postponement of the annual Thailand Travel Mart to September is over, and even though tourism officials are optimistic that the temporary crisis will not have long-term consequences, the Royal Thai Government is working hard to rebuild confidence in the country’s reputation as a welcoming host. Internally, that means quickly addressing the damage sustained to Bangkok’s infrastructure and externally, rebuilding confidence in the country’s tourism product—both in time for the upcoming peak travel season.
It’s important to know that 99% of the country, “especially the destinations where international travelers prefer to go, were not involved in the political protests,” said Srisuda Wanapinyosak, director of the Tourist Authority of Thailand office for the Eastern U.S. and Canada. “Perhaps the most difficult element for us was the interruption in what the people of Thailand love to do, which is to welcome visitors with grace and warmth,” she added. “It was hard for that culture to be placed temporarily on hold.”
Tourism is one of Thailand’s major industries, contributing nearly 7% of GDP and accounting for an equal percentage of jobs. International visitor numbers had been climbing steadily since the 2003 SARS scare and the 2004 bird flu epidemic that affected most Asian destinations, as well as the Tsunami that devastated Thailand’s southern islands including Phuket. Even the worldwide economic setback of 2008 and other political instability did not have a measurable effect on Thailand’s annual tourism numbers, which have been between 14 and 15 million visitors annually since 2007, according to TAT. The Thai economy is so strong that the World Bank predicts an overall growth rate in 2010 of 6.2%. It is a momentum Thai officials do not want to lose.
The Red Shirt demonstrations that began in mid-March truly only affected one area of Bangkok, but are partly responsible nonetheless for a significant decline in arrivals at Suvarnabhumi International Airport during April and May, the beginning of the rainy shoulder season and summer’s low season when tourism normally slackens. At the same time, traffic at Phuket International Airport was up significantly, and has been running as much as 70% more than last year, depending on month. Phuket, Thailand’s largest island and one of the world’s top beach destinations, is now Thailand’s second largest international gateway. In recent years it has become a major destination for charters from Europe and a growing hub for regional flights from Asia and Australia.
Internally, the government launched a program of commercial incentives, including cash handouts and low interest loans, to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses directly affected by the unrest could remain solvent and not lay off staff. Plus, an effort to revive Thailand’s own domestic tourism market was launched. To further strengthen the overall economy, additional tax breaks are being extended to foreign corporations with regional operating headquarters in Thailand and to the employees stationed there.
Not surprisingly, the largest part of the tourism recovery effort is directed at international visitors, especially the prime North American market. TAT’s long-term marketing themes such as “Amazing Thailand” remain unchanged, along with the core message that Thailand is an excellent destination for value, hospitality, culture and environmental appreciation.
Incentives to Watch For
New measures include the waiving of visa fees and faster processing of visas; reduced landing fees for international carriers and joint marketing with top in-bound lines. There are more fam trips available for travel agents, media and MICE event planners. Social media efforts have been enhanced, and you can expect to see Thailand product seminars and road shows in the U.S. Thailand has also stepped up its corporate sponsorships, for example, in July Jaguar launched its new XJ luxury sedan in Southeast Asia by co-sponsoring the Six Senses Phuket Raceweek sailing regatta. The program included a “Jaguar Driving Experience” road rally. Thailand also has worked with hotel providers to offer discounts and other packages to incentivize tourism.
The “Bangkok Bouncing Back” promotion by Metropolitan Bangkok offers rates starting at $80 a night, plus 30% discounts on extras such as dining and spa treatments. The promotion coincides with the hotel’s July opening of a restaurant by celebrated Australian Chef David Thompson, which replicates the Michelin-starred restaurant he created at The Halkin hotel in London.
Accor Hospitality (www.accor.com) is offering cash-back credits up to $500 THB per room per night to spend on services within its branded hotels and resorts in prime destinations including Bangkok, Phuket, Samui and Chiang Mai. The incentive is $500 THB at any Pullman, MGallery and Novotel property; $250 THB at any Grand Mercure and Mercure hotel; and THB $150 at Accor’s Ibis and All Seasons properties. The offer is available through Sept. 30th.
The “Asia Best Deals” promotion offers room rates as low as $39 US a night at Best Western (www.bestwestern.com) properties in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Krabi. Additionally, BWRewards members earn ten points for every dollar spent.
In late August, the Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai (www.mandarinoriental.com) is sponsoring the first Dhara Dhevi Golf Challenge. Guests play one 18-hole round at each of three leading local courses. The price ($66,888 THB or about $2,063 USD per double) includes four-nights in a luxury suite, airport transfers and a spa treatment. New hotels since the spring unrest are a further indication of confidence in Thailand’s tourism. In Phuket, the Magosteen Resort and Spa opened in June after an extensive renovation and rebranding as a Golden Tulip (www.goldentulipmangosteen.com). The first Hotel Indigo in Southeast Asia has just started construction on upscale Wireless Road, home to Bangkok’s diplomatic district and trendy restaurants.
Bangkok Favorites, Old and New
The crafts markets in and around Bangkok are an on-going lure for visitors. The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is about one hour west of the city. Canals are crowded with long-tail boats, some of them floating kitchens feeding the traders and the tourists, others stocked with everything from woven straw hats and spices to expensive handmade artwork, and there’s more of the same in the covered stalls alongside the water. The market is over by noon, so get there early for the best buys and smallest crowds.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market in downtown Bangkok is part flea market, part art gallery and entirely fascinating. The size of several football fields, it’s crammed every Saturday and Sunday with more than 15,000 stalls selling just about anything you can think of. As with the floating market, when you see something you like, stop and bargain for it, because if you pass it by you might not find that stall again, even with careful backtracking.
Any tour of Bangkok must include the magical Grand Palace, a confection of gilded roofs and sculptures, fearsome monkey statues and beautiful paintings, and Wat Pho temple, where the famous golden Reclining Buddah resides. The best vantage spot for a photo is by his inlaid pearl feet, with the camera set to a wide angle to sweep the length of his block-long body. Even more historic is Ayutthaya, which was the second capital of ancient Siam, an easy day-trip excursion from Bangkok, just one hour away. Majestic temple ruins, some dating to the mid-1400s, are a mute testament to a fabulous kingdom lost to history.
The glorious Siamese culture is captured in two theater experiences. Siam Namarit is a complex that includes the re-creation of a historic village outdoors, and a huge indoor theater show that combines Las Vegas and Cirque du Soleil with world-class staging and special effects. Dancers fly in from the wings, boats sail across a water-filled on-stage canal, and horses and elephants parade in embroidered finery. More than 150 dancers and musicians and 500 costumes make this extravaganza a memorable evening. More traditional is the Thai Puppet Show at the Aksra Theater, Each three-foot tall puppet requires three people to manipulate it, and unlike Western puppet shows, the puppeteers are on stage and an integral part of the performance.
TAT also is marketing the Nakhon Nayok province just 80 miles from Bangkok as an eco-tourism destination, for its cascading waterfalls, streams and hiking and biking trails.
The northern highlands are both romantic and pristine, with luxurious mountain resorts and rustic lodges set among the thickly forested mountains. Eco-tourism, elephants and the culture of the mountain tribes are the main attraction here, along with the famous Chiang Mai Night Market.
Lisu Lodge is a 24-room rustic hideaway managed by Lisu villagers whose ancestors settled here from southern China and Tibet in the 1800s. Furniture is hand-carved bamboo and teak from the surrounding jungle, and water is heated by solar power. Lunches and dinners are multi-dish banquets served family-style in an open-air thatched-roof hut. The village’s school children, dressed in native costumes, perform traditional dances one or two evenings a week. Lisu women are known for their intricate embroidery, and there’s a small crafts market here. My tour of the village included stop at the shop of an instrument-maker, the communal herb farm, and the local shaman. Income from the lodge supports local schools and a hospital. It is a vivid example of community-based tourism.
Patara Elephant Farm is a rescue facility for abused and unwanted elephants from zoos and farm work hauling heavy loads. Beyond returning them to health, Patara’s goal is to increase reforestation of the Golden Triangle and training the elephants to return to the wild. Each visitor who spends a day here is assigned his or her own elephant to bathe and feed, including leading or bareback riding the creature to the river and giving it a spa-like scrub with a bristle brush. Elephants are known to be intelligent and family-oriented. What also becomes evident when you care for them is their playfulness. Getting a two-ton elephant to stop splashing happily and get out of the river requires prodding similar to getting a two-year-old child out of a bathtub.
Jungle Flight is Thailand’s largest zip-line facility, in a protected jungle preserve 30 miles from Chiang Mai. There are more than 20 zips, the longest of which is some 300 meters. Guides are all from the local village, Baan Nam Khong, and trained by the French equipment maker Petz, who supervised construction and performs regular maintenance. It’s a full-day excursion through thickets of delicate orchids and ferns and massive teak trees, including a picnic lunch en route, with lots of good-natured ribbing by the guides. A shorter zip-line course also is possible.
Thailand’s southern islands are a mélange of white sand beaches edged by soaring cliffs, picturesque fishing villages, water sports and miraculous sunsets. Not surprisingly, this is Thailand’s primary destination for honeymooners.
Ko Samui lures divers and wind-surfers, especially to the south coast. The Mu Ko Ang Thong Marine National Park includes some 40 smaller islands ideal for secluded snorkeling and kayaking. The Kadaechae Monkey Training Center trains pig-tailed monkeys to pick coconuts from trees. Big Buddha Beach is named for the 36-foot tall statue of a seated golden Buddha that dominates a temple alongside the beach. Several Ko Samui hotels are offering a free third night promotion through mid-October.
Krabi offers a dramatic coastline with limestone cliffs that jut into the sea. The luxury Rayavadee Resort (www.rayavadee.com) has some of the best views from its three beaches, and a pool that hugs an inland cliff. The Krabi Marine National Park offers protected snorkeling and diving, and there are some 700 rock climbing and bouldering routes bolted into the cliff faces around Rai Le Beach. The Phi Phi islands, mid-way between Phuket and Krabi and accessible by speedboat from either, are popular for their secluded coves and clear turquoise waters.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, and its most cosmopolitan, with a thriving main town dotted with temples, and popular night market at Pa Tong Beach. Hotels range from the 530-room Katathani Phuket Beach Resort (www.katathani.com) to intimate luxury boutique properties such as the Banyan Tree Phuket villa hotel (www.banyantree.com) and Amanpuri (www.amanresorts.com). Excursions and activities includes tours of the pearl farms on Rang Yai island, elephant trekking into the mountains, and tournament-level golf courses. The coral reefs south of Phuket attract both divers and snorkelers.
For further information call the Tourism Authority of Thailand at 1-800-THAILAND or visit www.tourismthailand.org
Exclusive INTERVIEW — By Ryley Hartt
Thailand: On the Path to Renewal
What specific actions have been taken to show tourists that it is once again safe to travel anywhere in Thailand?
The Tourism Authority of Thailand, together with the Royal Thai Government, is hosting a Mega Media FAM trip for a total of 500 media representatives from around the world starting July 12th. We want to tell the world that Thailand is now safe and just as amazing as it used to be. We are ready to welcome travelers back to the Land of Smiles.
TAT will be hosting one of the largest tourism expos in the region. Thailand Travel Mart, which is scheduled for September 8-10, is our largest venue for business to business opportunity in the tourism industry.
What effect do you predict or hope the "Welcome Back Thailand" campaign will have on tourism this summer?
Since most tourists plan and arrange their vacations far ahead of time, especially when they involve traveling halfway across the world, it is hard to say at this point if the campaign will bring back tourists to Thailand this summer. However, we expect to see an increase in arrivals by this fall as we regain the confidence of international travelers.
It’s interesting to mention the rather interesting phenomenon that Thailand experienced with regard to this question of confidence and traveler safety. What do you make of the fact that arrivals to Phuket continued to increase even as arrivals to Bangkok dropped off during the crisis?
Being the largest island in the country with beautiful white-sand beaches, so much variety in activities and the wide range of accommodations available for any budget, Phuket has always been Thailand’s leading tourist destination for decades. Phuket is also easily accessible by many direct international flights as well as chartered flights. Resourceful and experienced travelers are also well aware that Phuket is over 500 miles from Bangkok and rarely affected by any political unrest.
You just highlighted a few of the key reasons that Thailand has always attracted visitors, especially first-time visitors, as a great value destination. I’m curious to hear why you think that such a staggering percentage (61%) decide to return?
Thailand is fortunate to have a variety of attractions, cultural and natural alike. The warmth and welcoming nature of the Thai population has created a reputation for hospitality that has ranked us among the top 5 places in the world when it comes to friendly locals. Thailand has always been a “value for money” destination that attracts so many curious travelers from around the world who desire an exotic experience. Many people say that if you visit Thailand once you are bound to visit again.
Do you think that an increased focus on ecotourism and community-based tourism are also helping travelers to develop an appreciation for the hospitality of the Thai people?
Ecotourism and community-based tourism emphasizes the concept of local participation. Because Thai people are known for their friendliness and welcoming hospitality, these types of tourism that allow tourists to mingle and interact with the locals are even more appreciated by travelers who feel that they are able to experience the cultural aspect of Thailand beyond the typical tourist attractions.
Can you give us an idea of when to look for some of the road shows and product seminars you have planned?
TAT is planning to organize the “Amazing Thailand Road Show to USA” 2011. We expect a number of tour operators from Thailand and from across the U.S. to participate in this major event in 2011.
TAT New York also organizes product seminars to representatives of leading travel agents and tour operators occasionally. The next product seminar will be conducted at The Trade Show - Travel Retailing and Destination Expo in Orlando, FL (Sept. 12-14).
Visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website at www.tourismthailand.org
MAY 2010 FEATURE
City Chic to Rural Respite Thailand By Rail
By Kristan Schiller
Though Swain Tours (www.swaintours.com) is known mainly for its luxury itineraries in the Land Down Under, this specialized tour operator also crafts high-end, customized itineraries throughout Asia; something many travel agents may not be aware of. The following 9-day, FIT itinerary includes four nights in bustling Bangkok, an overnight on the magnificent Eastern & Oriental Express and four nights in the scenic village of Chiang Mai. The trip is priced from $3,150 per person double and $5,450 for singles, with business-class air available from $4,500 per person.
Luxury Train Journey:
The overnight ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on the legendary green and cream Eastern & Oriental Express is truly otherworldly. As the train chugs along to its own syncopated rhythm, guests mingle around the piano player at the bar and gather on the observation deck to look on as nightfall settles on the sleepy villages and rice paddies streaking by. Transported back in time to the colonial era, guests may feel like extras in the films A Passage to India or Out of Africa. The train’s wooden marquetry paneling, Parisian and Asian antiques and around the clock butler service make for an elegant experience all around. The 66-cabin train offers three grades of accommodation: superior and state cabins and the presidential suites. All cabins are air-conditioned with en suite showers, washbasins, toilets and vast windows for viewing the landscape. Gourmet cuisine, served in the train’s two restaurant cars, includes Asian and European fare using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Dishes include warm goat cheese soufflé, yellow pepper soup and pan-fried sea scallops. Breakfast of croissants, tea or coffee and fruit is delivered daily to your compartment with the ring of a tiny bell.
Sightseeing Highlights & Hotel Accommodations
This in-depth Thailand experience features guided sightseeing to some of Thailand’s most historic temples, palaces and relics in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Swain Tours’ itinerary was designed to cover all of the must-see tourist attractions, but also to provide guests with some cultural interaction. In Bangkok, guests will experience everyday life at the Dammern Saduak floating market and witness a traditional Thai dance performance called the Sala Rim Nan at the well-known Oriental Hotel (www.MandarinOriental.com). In Chiang Mai, clients can relax in the Four Season’s lush setting and enjoy local foods (jackfruit, anyone?) upon returning from day trips to the antique markets, orchid farms, silk mills and hill tribe villages nearby. There is also an afternoon trip where guests can take a jungle tour on the back of an elephant, if they so choose. The guides are friendly local residents who know their cities inside and out, and as is typical in this country, they welcome visitors as friends, not just tourists. All local transportation is provided by private, air-conditioned Mercedes, operated by courteous drivers who will go out of their way to accommodate – something I learned after drinking bucket loads of bottled water on the warmer afternoons and having to request a few extra stops to visit the “happy room.”
The Peninsula Bangkok: With its W-shaped design, this deluxe hotel rises up over the less crowded side of the Chaophraya River and offers a brilliant view of the Bangkok skyline. Rooms have every technological device imaginable, such as bedside controls for the lights, sound system and curtains; bathrooms with hands-free phones and mist-free TV’s beside the bathtubs. There’s a spa, gym and a three-tiered pool, lined with private gazebos. Four on-site restaurants feature Cantonese, Thai, and international cuisine. My favorite amenity at this hotel is the traditional Thai boat or kratong that shuttles guests across the river. The short, ten-minute ride offers a peaceful lull from the hustle of Bangkok. Visit www.peninsula.com
Four Seasons Resort, Chiang Mai: The first five-star property built near this stunning northern outpost, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai (www.fourseasons.com/chiangmai) is comprised of a series of Lanna-style pavilions resting on acres of rice fields in the secluded Mae Rim Valley. The atmosphere here is extremely laid-back; two water buffalos mosey about the property at leisure as their cowbells clang occasionally through the hills. Rooms are a spacious 750 square feet and raised on pillars above the landscape. Teak floors, Thai linens and Siamese artwork add an authentic feel to the rooms and there are outdoor decks facing the mountains. Suites have two or three bedrooms and include kitchens, plunge pools, and a housekeeper. The Yoga Barn and spa are destinations unto themselves with luxurious treatments like the Synchronized Thai Massage where two therapists work together on your body for an hour in rhythmic harmony. The Thai restaurant here includes a hands-on weekly cooking class in an outdoor Lanna-style pavilion, which clients will be eager to take part in once they’ve sampled the resort’s sumptuous northern Thai cuisine, especially kaow soi gai (curry noodle soup with chicken) and gaeng hung lay (dry spiced curry with pork and pickled garlic).
For further information call the Tourism Authority of Thailand at 800-THAILAND; or visit www.tourismthailand.org
Thai Cabinet Declares Emergency
The government stresses that measures resulting from the declaration of the state of emergency in Bangkok and nearby provinces will not affect ordinary people or foreign visitors. In a statement dated April 7, 2010, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that the measures taken under these regulations and directives do not affect the normal way of life of people or their activities, nor do they affect foreigners residing in or visiting Thailand. For tourists visiting the Kingdom, it should be stressed that foreigners have not been targeted in the on-going political conflict. However, foreigners are advised to be vigilant, and avoid areas where crowds may gather. Thai Tourism Industry representatives are on stand-by to provide assistance to foreign tourists and visitors. For current information, please visit tatnews.org/latest_update or bangkok.usembassy.gov