From Bangkok’s bustling city life to Chiang Mai’s temples and elephant farms, and Phuket’s paradise beaches and resorts, Thailand has something for everyone. As I write this, I am on my way to Chiva Som, Thailand’s premiere health and wellness resort in Hua Hin, about three hours from Bangkok International airport. I am excited to go, but also sad, as I leave my friends behind after what was just an amazing ten day journey, exploring the culture, people, and cuisine of Thailand. I was traveling with seven other writers and photographers from New York and Canada, and while none of us knew each other before the trip, the magical experience bonded us.
Thailand has so many regions one can explore, but with only about a week to explore, we had to fit as much in as possible, so we covered Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, which gave us the opportunity to experience a long boat ride along the Chao Phraya River outside our hotel, the Chatrium Hotel Riverside, the Grand Palace, and reclining Buddha in Bangkok, along with the red light district of Papong and the night bazaar.
Papong is comprised of two streets with people selling knock off purses, sunglasses, etc. and the perimeter consists of bars with women showing off talents with muscles not usually trained at the gym. And like with all the shopping in Thailand, one should bargain for these goods as well. The longboat ride was a great way to see the city from the river and a good intro to Bangkok. The Chatrium properties throughout Bangkok are very comfortable and a great place to stay, especially if you plan on being in the area for awhile and want to do your own cooking. Each suite comes with a kitchen, and many with sweeping views on the city.
One property is located more in the business district along the river, while another in the heart of the city. On the way back from the night bazaar the first night, I was determined to get in my first massage. It was a one hour Thai massage for just 250 baht, which is about $8. I splurged and got a half an hour foot massage as well for $4. With tip, an hour and a half spa treatment came to $15. I was a happy girl. Two days later, we all went for two hour (yes, two hours!) massages at “Let’s Relax,” in the Mandarin Hotel. They have locations throughout Thailand, and it was one of the best massages I had in Thailand.
In Chiang Mai, we stayed at a few different properties, each unique in its own right. In the city, we stayed at Le Meridian and dusitD2, where we had an amazing Thai dinner in their restaurant, whose head chef was formally at the Four Seasons. The hotels are located right near the night bazaar, which makes for some great shopping until midnight or 1am. And yes, also near more massage storefronts. This time I elected a foot massage, as we had hiked earlier in the day throughout the Doi Inthanon National Park. The easy to moderate hiking trail took us through gorgeous rice fields, waterfalls, and ended with a visit to the Mae Klang Luang Village, where we tasted arabica coffee and had a delicious homemade lunch. Doi Inthanon makes for a great day trip from the city of Chiang Mai, and if you feel like immersing yourself even deeper into the culture with a community based tourism program, you can spend some time at the government’s Royal Agricultural Project and stay on property of the Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon.
A visit to Thailand is not complete without a visit to an elephant farm Chang means elephant and since there is chang water, chang beer, chang pants and boxers sold on the street, we had to see the country’s animal up close and personal. For this we went to the Patara Elephant Farm, where we had the opportunity to feed the elephants, get into the water with them to clean them, and then go for a ride. This is a great activity for both kids and adults, as you can spend the day learning all about caring for an elephant, and then take part hands on. Naturally the kids were far less fearful about climbing up onto this huge animal than I was!
The Silk Village is a fun place to go and watch how silk is made, from the beginnings of the silk worm to the finished scarf. In the back, one can purchase a taylor made suit or dress from thai silk, cashmere or wool and a number of other silk products. There are many shops throughout Thailand with skilled tailors who will make suits and dresses to fit your body, but you need to allow a few days for the fittings. Jim Thompson is a well known store that sells silk garments and purses as well. There is the main museum and also satellite stores in Bangkok’s biggest malls and I spotted one in the Phuket airport. Chiang Mai’s Chinatown, which was located near Le Meridian and DusitD2 hotels is also a fun place to shop for food and inexpensive clothes and purses. I picked up some pajama bottoms and tights for $1 each, and a couple of cosmetic purses, for a $1.50 each. If you have the burning desire to try cockroaches and an assortment of other bugs, they are available there too, along with the delicious selection of fruit local to Thailand, such as the dragon fruit, passion fruit, and longan.
For our last night in Chiang Mai, we stayed at the magnificent Dhara Dhevi. Dhara Dhevi is more than a hotel. It is a small village on over sixty acres. While the hotel is fairly new, it is modeled after the ancient villages and is filed with antiques throughout the property. This property is definitely for the high end traveler, and I promise you won’t see another property like it in Chiang Mai. The grounds are stunning and the rooms fit for a king! The bathroom is as big as the bedroom and gives you the option of an indoor or outdoor shower room, and a jacuzzi. Downstairs, there was a full kitchen and piano in my living room. We managed to sneak in some time to go for a night swim in the huge pool, which is bigger than the standard 25 meter lap pool, to burn off some of the calories we consumed at the amazing multi course meal at their French restaurant.
Lastly, we flew south to Phuket for the last part of our trip. We had seen the city of Bangkok and the northern beauty of Chiang Mai. Now it was time for the beaches and the beautiful resort Paresa. Affectionately known as heaven, they aren’t kidding. Set atop a mountain, the views from every spot in this resort are breathtaking. Miles and miles of the Andaman Sea can be seen from your private plunge pool or from inside your shower, which can be taken inside or outside. Your bedroom sliding doors open onto the terrace with your plunge pool and lounge chairs. The resort is secluded in the wealthiest area of Phuket, so while not directly on the beach, there is a complimentary shuttle that will take you to and from the beach. Paresa is more than just a place to stay. The general manager and the entire staff go out of their way to make sure your visit is a productive one, catered to your interests.
On premise, they offer one on one cooking classes in their top notch cooking facility. Their infinity pool is beautiful and can be rented out for dinner during your stay. That’s right…there are beds within the pool where you can have your private dinner overlooking the sea. Chef Luca Mancini, originally from Italy, does an amazing job with both the Italian and Thai cuisine. For dessert, we were treated to the most expensive and rarest coffee in the world, Black Ivory Coffee, made from elephant dung in Thailand. It may not sound the most appetizing, but Blake Dinkin is the founder, and explained and demonstrated to us the intricate process of how each cup is made.
A unique tour which should not be missed while staying at Paresa is a stroll through the morning market, which opens at 1am and closes at 9am (we went at 6am) and is mostly for the locals to buy their goods and food to sell later in the day. We made merit with the monks and had a delicious dim sum breakfast at the oldest dim sum restaurant in Phuket, Boonrat, which is only open in the early hours as well. Our tour ended with a stroll through Old Town with its beautiful Portuguese architecture and temples. The tour was offered by Khiri Travel, a company that organizes off the beaten path tours for travelers throughout Thailand. Personally, I prefer delving into the heart of a culture rather than doing all the typical touristy stops, and Khiri Travel will make sure you have that opportunity. In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to take advantage of Paresa’s spa, and you guessed it, another awesome Thai massage!