Happiness in the "Land of Smiles"

By Roberta Long-Kelleher, Protravel International Luxury Travel Agent

When someone thinks of a warm weather winter destination, the first places that come to mind would be the Caribbean, Mexico, or Hawaii. Well, I have another fabulous idea for the travelers who would like to venture a little farther to a more exotic destination – THAILAND.
I just returned from a 10-day trip to this amazing “Land of Smiles”, and believe me I was smiling the entire time I was there, and the memories have stayed with me even upon my return.

How To Get There

You do need at least 10 nights to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of Thailand. I flew on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong from New York/JFK, and it was a smooth 15-hour flight to Hong Kong, and a quick 3-hour trip from Hong Kong to Bangkok. I would definitely recommend that my clients fly at minimum Premium Economy, which on Cathay Pacific was quite nice – larger seats and a separate section on the aircraft. Their Business Class was very comfortable as well with a 180-degree lie-flat seat and separate pod-like seating arrangements. Either way, Cathay Pacific which is rated as one of the top airlines, with its impeccable service, was a very pleasant way to travel to Bangkok.

Bangkok- The City of Angels

On arrival in Bangkok, I was truly surprised at the cosmopolitan nature of this bustling city. We stayed at the brand new Rosewood Bangkok which has brought a contemporary architectural style to Bangkok. Its dining options, spa services, gorgeous public areas, and beautifully appointed rooms were refreshing and inviting. It is also directly connected to the Ploenchit BTS Station, which is the sky train system connecting you to all of Bangkok.

Activites in Bangkok

There are many facets to Bangkok, so having a private guide is the best way to get around the city and enjoy the many sites. We visited Wat Pho – home of the famous Reclining Buddha and School of Traditional Medicine, where you can listen to the morning chants of the resident monks. Visiting Jim Thompson’s Mansion is another must while in Bangkok where you can view all of the amazing antiques this American millionaire collected during his life in Thailand. You can also have a panoramic view of Rattanakosin Island atop of the Golden Mount, or enjoy a walk through the colorful Pak Klong Talad Market filled with fresh flowers, fruits, and vegetables. We also were fortunate to go to the Museum of Floral Culture, where we received a hands-on course in Thai flower arranging followed by a relaxing cup of Thai tea.

Other hotels in Bangkok are the famous Siam Hotel, which is a Thai gem in the heart of the city. The Waldorf Astoria is also lovely and contemporary in design with a fabulous rooftop restaurant.

Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand)

After spending three wonderful days in Bangkok, it was time to venture out to Chiang Mai where we stayed at the stunning Four Seasons Chiang Mai, which is nestled among the rice fields, and is known for its serene setting encouraging mindfulness of its guests. We enjoyed sunrise yoga overlooking the water lily pond, followed by a healthy breakfast, and an afternoon bike ride guided by an expert through the local streets and rice fields stopping for a mid-bike ride drink of fresh coconut water. We also gave alms to the local monks, who gave us their blessing for the next part of our journey.

While in Chiang Mai, I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams of living among the elephants at the Patara Elephant Farm. There are many elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, and it is most important that you are certain of the care given to the elephants and the quality of the sanctuary itself. Upon our arrival at the Patara Elephant Farm, we saw the mother elephants with their babies up close and personal. Those of us who were brave enough had a baby elephant sit on our laps. Of course, I couldn’t wait for this special experience. We were each assigned an elephant (mine was Wamsee), and a professional Mahout (an elephant caretaker) taught us how to care for the elephant. We fed the elephants bamboo and bananas, brushed the elephants, walked with the elephants, and bathed the elephants. It was exhilarating to be with these gentle giants and bond with them. I was in elephant heaven, and so grateful for this lifelong dream to be fulfilled…one I will never forget.

Downtown Chiang Mai is a small vibrant city where we enjoyed dinner at the delightful Anantara Chiang Mai in its historic 1921 Bar and Restaurant. After dinner, we enjoyed some fun shopping at the Night Market, where you can buy leather goods, casual Thai clothing, colorful fans, Thai local food, local wooden carvings, and all types of Thai crafts. It was an experience, but remember to only bring cash as credit cards are not accepted at the Night Market. Prices are very reasonable, and you will come home with some Thai specialities.

One unique hotel not to miss in Chiang Mai is 137 Pillars, which is a true gem in the heart of the city. It is enchanting in a delightful and peaceful setting.
The Raya Heritage Hotel was a pleasant surprise as well with its unique architecture and local wood used in all of the rooms and public areas. It, too, was in a serene setting.

Koh Samui and Koh Phang Ngan (Southern Thailand)

After a short 1 hour 45 minutes flight away from Chiang Mai, we landed on Koh Samui.
When I dream of Thailand heaven, Koh Samui and Koh Phang Ngan come into my mind. In Koh Samui, we stayed at the glorious Four Seasons Koh Samui, where the inviting infinity pool called to me as I entered my room. The amazing views from the hilltop were overwhelmingly beautiful, and I’m finding it difficult to put into words the beauty of this resort – from the views, to the stunning white sand beach, candlelit dinner in the evening, and the warm and gracious welcome – it was so memorable and hard to leave after only one night. Perfect for honeymooners, anniversary couples, families, and anyone who wants the peace and solitude of a 5-star resort with exquisite service!

Fortunately, after leaving the Four Seasons Koh Samui, we went to the brilliant Anantara Rasananda on Koh Phang Ngan. Arriving by boat and stepping into the clear blue sea and onto the pure white sand, we were greeted by the General Manager and his gracious staff. We were whisked away to our rooms, and had a fabulous afternoon at leisure to enjoy the clear waters, blue sky, and bright sunshine. It was magnificent – a truly lovely hotel in a natural setting and casual atmosphere – the perfect place to relax and unwind!

Ending our trip at the Ritz Carlton Koh Samui was a special treat as their villas are set along the dramatic coastline with never-ending views of the Gulf of Thailand. Each villa has its own private infinity pool with over 1,000 square feet of living space, which are welcoming. The service was excellent throughout the resort.

Other properties we visited were the Six Senses Samui whose focus on health, wellness, sustainability, and local organic farming with a lovely family of goats used for goat milk products was most impressive fueled by the passion of their General Manager. The Thai massages in their world-renowned spa were quite wonderful.

We also had a delightful dinner at the Banyan Tree Koh Samui, and the vistas from the hilltop villas were spectacular.

Things to Remember

  • Temperatures during the months of November through early range from 79 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is considered their dry season. However, you can visit Thailand year-round.
  • Bring casual light-weight clothing for day-wear, and elegant casual for the evenings. Remember that when visiting temples women’s shoulders and knees must be covered. Comfortable shoes are a must as well.
  • The Thai people have a very gentle and caring nature, and are most respectful of their culture and their King and Queen. A kind word is always a show of respect.
  • The food is Thailand is delicious made with local ingredients. The fruits are unique and delectable. One has to be open to trying new foods while in Thailand. The lemongrass iced tea was my favorite afternoon refreshing drink.

As an Adventure and Wellness Specialist, Thailand has so much to offer – from biking, swimming, snorkeling, yoga, healthy foods, gentle hikes, wonderful spas, and mindfulness.

Thailand is also an amazing destination for honeymooners, couples celebrating anniversaries, and multi-generational family travel. Thailand definitely has something for everyone, and you will come back refreshed with a sense of renewal!

Inspired to experience Thailand this winter? Connect with one of our expert travel agents.