Thailand with Maggie Wilkins
July 5 – 16, 2023
Our connections via Tokyo with Air Canada and Star Alliance partner Thai Airways proved excellent, I enjoyed the onboard service of both carriers, and I was seated in Economy class. We landed in Bangkok- it is still very stringent in this airport for security; you are photographed and finger-printed – information is sent to the Royal Thai police immediately (the same happens upon departure). Once through we went to the currency exchange.
My trip was sponsored by Thailand Tourism, and we were treated royally – they used a local ground operator, and I can’t say enough about the gracious guides and the precision planning, they ensured we were fast tracked everywhere – knowing the best times to arrive for attractions, best restaurants etc.
Thailand is affordable, you can stay in 4-star or 5-star properties and not break the bank, especially off-season. It is officially known as the Land of Smiles – everyone smiles and all seem at peace, even the hectic commutes in the big city, I did not witness road rage or angry “Karens” – people are in touch with their spirituality! The Thai people are very proud, they were never conquered and they show their respect to their country at 8am and 6pm, the national anthem plays and all stand to attention.
Our first two nights were spent at the Athenee Hotel, a Marriott Luxury Collection property. Bonvoy members will be happy, you are greeted by a very grand lobby. This property is in an excellent location – near sky-train - easy to manoeuvre the city from here. Athenee is great for business and leisure travellers. Dining is excellent – buffet breakfast in the dining room near the front desk has an amazing selection and service is quite sublime. The hotel also has three restaurants on the 2nd floor, A Thai restaurant, Chinese & Japanese (A Michelin Star for this one). We dined at the Thai restaurant and the food was artistic and tasty; the surroundings were elegant. This hotel will arrange special occasions as an example; we were dressed up in traditional Thai dress and learned how to fold the beautiful lotus flowers, a memorable evening!
After a great night’s sleep in heavenly beds we were transported to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) – our guide got us here at 8 am just as the Temple opened so we had the place to ourselves. We then did a klong tour of the Chao Prya River – you get a very good view of the city and can see many landmarks – I recommend this as it gives you a great perspective – this river is the longest in the country- and it still used as transportation, you can hop on the ferry and head to the mall or a Temple.
We did the first of our massage experiences at Let’s Relax Spa – this is a chain. We did a foot massage (one hour) and I honestly wasn’t sure how I’d handle this as I hate my feet to be touched, after a few uncomfortable moments I could relax and allow myself to be transported – I recommend that everyone take the massages as they are the best and they are so inexpensive! Thailand is a mind, body, soul experience!
After two nights in the capital city, we moved onto Sukhothai- a Unesco World Heritage site, this is a short hop by flight on Bangkok Airways. Sukhothai – is the original capital -13 to 14th Century – and I suggest this is a one-to-two-day experience. Whilst here we travelled to a rice farm where we learned how to plant rice and then off to make Buddhist amulets with a very traditional Thai family.
We stayed at the Sriwilai Sukhothai, a beautiful oasis in the middle of nowhere – it could be in South America, Africa or Asia! We spent time at the Historical Sukhothai Park, which was built about 725 years ago. The then king was very learned; he is credited with creating the Thai language. This site has a very spiritual feel, so peaceful! The structures are built with terracotta kiln-fired bricks.
From this beautiful place we did the five-hour drive to my favourite part of Thailand – Chiang Mai – I truly felt the vibe here! We split our group between three hotels – our hosts really hit the mark as to where to put us – I stayed at the beautiful Anantara Resort, situated on the river close to the city. The rooms are serene and come complete with a yoga mat. On the property is the 100-year-old British Consulate - the bars and main restaurant are located here and you get the British Spy vibe, a great place to sit, enjoy a G&T and imagine yourself in another era. Others in our group stayed a few doors down at Na Nirand – this is a property that screams honeymoons and romance, small boutique – the restaurant was fabulous. I discovered the world famous “Khao Soi” – Chiang Mai Noodle Soup – said to be the world’s best soup! You must try this delectable dish. Others stayed at Raya Heritage – this is a resort about 30 to 40 minutes outside of Chiang Mai and it is a spectacular, out of the way, peaceful oasis - more of a destination property!
Whilst in Chiang Mai we did the half-day tour at the Elephant Sanctuary – Patara. What a lifetime experience – we fed, washed and did health checks on our elephants – you are truly humbled by these gentle giant creatures! We also went to “Grandma’s Cooking School” learning how to make Pad Thai and a Green Curry. The school includes a trip to the local market and then back to the farm/school (organically grown) – our instructor was so very well spoken and gave excellent instruction. Chiang Mai is quite famous for their night market, where shoppers delight whether looking for massages, jewelry, clothing – pretty much anything you’d want or not want! We also had the best two-hour massage I have ever received – at Oasis Spa – the rooms are beautiful, peaceful and the smells are delightful. Chiang Mai also has beautiful Temples, I experienced beautiful sunrises here!
A great dining experience is Woo Café – this is a restaurant currently only open in the daytime that also operates as a gallery – it was beautiful, food, décor, flower arrangements are just over the top!
From Chiang Mai we went on to Koh Samui, an island paradise – 1.5 hour flight and you arrive at the most charming of airports! Our first stop was Six Senses (an IHG property, and I wish I could have stayed here. Vibrant colours, simple structures that opened to serenity - this would be my choice to stay, spa like cuisine, lovely treatment rooms – you honestly felt you were on a lush island paradise. We went on to our property – the Ritz Carlton – a vast resort that needed to be shuttled by golf cart. I liked the property; the rooms were expansive and luxurious but my heart was back at Six Senses. I will say this island is not for anyone with mobility issues, rarely are there any railings or elevators – lots of stairs.
The island has snorkelling tours you can do with a long boat or catamaran (we did the catamaran and the crew cooked us a fresh seafood feast), which was outstanding and we had massage therapists on board and I got my final massage, the rocking of the boat and the massage caused me to have a wee nap). The Island is small, and the happening spot is the Fisherman’s Market filled with restaurants and boutiques, shopping tended to be more on the expensive side, lots of knock-off designers, and the beach entertainment included fire dancers. It was wonderful to have a beach holiday portion but beaches are not so accessible on Koh Samui, each resort has a small expanse of sandy beach.
We ended our journey back for the final two nights in Bangkok and my favourite hotel - the Kimpton- Maa Lai Bangkok- I have a big fondness for this collection in the IHG family – they are dog friendly, and the hotels feel like a luxury community! This is a 40-floor property (some are residences), and the 40th floor has a fantastic rooftop bar that offers a Mexican,Thai fusion – great artisanal cocktails, décor is modern Thai and it is beautiful! Our last two days we did shopping at the IKON shopping centre – luxury at its finest – fancy a new Maserati? - and the more affordable malls are there too. We spent a morning at the flower market and went to a wonderful tea/florist shop where we learned how to make garlands; I do recommend this stop; it was a very peaceful interlude that taught some grounding - being in a hectic city it if often a good idea to take the time to realize the simple things!
For restaurants I’d recommend Theatre- this very modern Thai restaurant on the river was delicious and offered very nice views. Also, you must hit the Roof Bar at Sala Rattanakosin (please go around 5pm and stay for dark), an amazing restaurant on the Riverside with views of Wat Arun on one side and Temple of Reclining Buddha on other. The rooftop bar is five flights up - not a restaurant for the physically challenged, great mixologist, fabulous food. It is worth the climb!
If you are looking for a holiday that has a bit of everything; culture, food, adventure, beach – Thailand is that place - you will not regret it!
Electrical – You will need to bring an International Converter
Currency - At time of writing there is 26 Thai Baht to 1 CAD, it is best to have CAD and exchange at Bangkok Airport (better rate)
Weather – Best time to visit really is anytime but, the weather is best from December to March, summer months are the rainy season, and it is quite hot and humid.
Getting there: Air Canada has direct service Vancouver Bangkok December through March – off season you can go via Tokyo or Seoul for good connections.