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Letter from Asia Thailand

It’s About Thai

It seems somewhat serendipitous that I had just started reading A Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes when I was invited to tour one of Asia’s greatest treasures—Thailand. The theme of Rhimes’ best-selling book was her commitment to saying “yes” to all opportunities that came her way, especially those that would take her most out of her comfort zone. So channeling my spirited inner Shonda Rhimes, I said “yes” to Thailand and traveled half way around the world to a place I had only ever dreamed of.

My trip to Thailand began on a whimsical note as we flew on EVA Air’s Hello Kitty Shining Star’s first direct flight from Chicago to Taipei. With Hello Kitty-themed travel amenities, cabin décor, food and movies—I couldn’t help but land with a smile on my face when we touched ground 15 1/2 hours later in Taipei. Our Elite Class seats were more than comfortable and EVA Air’s staff outdid themselves catering to our every need.

One more short plane ride later, we arrived in the bustling city of Bangkok—the city of smiles—home to more than 20 million people, just in time for lunch and our first authentically Thai meal. The Savoey Restaurant, a local favorite, wowed with a 13-course tasting menu ranging from fresh papaya salad and spicy seabass coconut soup to grilled river prawns and Pad Thai, a culinary feast to say the least. But with each and every bite being better than the last, we couldn’t help but fold our hands, bow to our hosts, and sincerely say “kob kun ka” (Thai for thank you) as we left for our hotel.

With a full stomach, I arrived at The Peninsula Bangkok, located on the Chao Phraya River (the King’s River) a 5-star hotel that opened in 1998, with 37 floors and 370 rooms. I was personally checked in by one of the hotel’s gracious staff and taken to my room where she carefully highlighted the room’s features, including automated curtains that when open framed Bangkok’s skyline across the river, western power sources, and a pillowcase with my name elegantly embroidered.

After a quick freshening up, I was introduced to the hotel’s executive chef Chamnan Thepchana who led a tour through the hotel’s herb garden. He spoke of how he highlights seasonal herbs from this garden in his dishes and how the hotel’s spa uses others in the compresses they make to accompany their spa treatments.

On that note, I was treated to my first traditional Thai massage. Traditional Thai massage differs from others I’ve had in that it uses no oils or lotions. I remained clothed during the treatment where my muscles were compressed, pulled, stretched, and rocked. Thailand is known for its history in massage and the techniques that are taught. I left my 60-minute spa experience feeling both invigorated, relaxed, and knowing why the spa at The Peninsula is world renowned.

My first day in Bangkok ended with a riverside dinner in The Peninsula’s Thiptara Thai Restaurant. Surrounded by Banyan trees and lush tropical gardens, this was Bangkok at its most beautiful with the city’s lights sparkling as a backdrop. In an elaborate, multi-course dinner where Chef Thepchana dazzled us with his food carving skills, Thailand was living up to its title as a foodie paradise.

Our Thai immersion continued the next day as we ventured into Bangkok’s Chinatown. We walked through the streets, tasting the region’s freshest fruits—mangosteen, longon, and rambutan—right from local vendors selling them from card tables set up on the city’s sidewalks. We had dim-sum, rode on a tuk-tuk, and toured the historic Wat Pho Temple, home to the golden Reclining Buddha.

We dined that evening on the family-owned Supanniga cruise that took us up and down the majestic Chao Phraya River while spoiling us with more authentic Thai food and genuine hospitality. Their take on mango sticky rice was my favorite in Thailand.

On our last day in Bangkok, after touring a coconut plantation, we saw things you can’t see anywhere else in the world. Our first taste of Thai markets was at the Maeklong Railway Market, nicknamed “Talat Rom Hup,” means the “umbrella pulldown market.” It is one of the largest fresh seafood markets in Thailand, and is centered on the Maeklong Railway’s track. Whenever a train approaches, the awnings and shop fronts are moved back from the rails, or strategically placed so that the train can safely pass over them, only to be replaced once the train has passed.

From a train to a longboat, we ventured to the Amphawa Floating Market. You have to see this water-based community in order to believe it. Busy markets have been set up along the Mae Klong River, where tourists and locals can find Thai noodles, traditional coffee, juice, fruit, fresh seafood and souvenirs. Boats, docked in the water, have been retrofitted into make-shift kitchens where some of the area’s best seafood is prepared, while visitors sit in bleacher-like seats above them to enjoy their seaside fare.

After grabbing one last fabulous cup of iced Thai coffee at what has to be the best breakfast buffet in Thailand, I said goodbye to The Peninsula Bangkok and made my way to the rural Krabi on the west coast of southern Thailand. Immediately, a slower pace was tangible and it felt like I was now officially on vacation.

The Amari Vogue Krabi, an Onyx hotel, welcomed me with open arms. This is a beautiful resort, on the verge of five-star status. With a relatively new general manager, a brand new executive chef, and extensive facility renovations underway, the Amari Vogue is poised to be the place to stay when touring Krabi.

On my first evening there, executive Chef Nattakit treated us to a French-inspired meal. As much as I had been enjoying the best of Thai food, the French diversion was a nice change of pace. Fresh foie gras, delicately prepared lamb, and a perfectly whipped panna cotta was served. General manager Patrice Landrein explained that the Amari Vogue does its best to cater the menus of their two restaurants—the Bellini and the Lotus—to their guests. Both restaurants make the most of their resort-like landscapes.

After a good night sleep, we visited Ban Ko Klang in Krabi, a traditional fishing community where visitors can see the relationship between the islanders and the sea. It’s located five minutes by boat from Krabi Town, populated mainly by Muslim families. While the main form of livelihood is still fishing, others are making a living farming rice or creating batik or wooden boat art. I also had a young woman teach me how to make Thai roti—a delicious favorite among the locals. It was the perfect way to end my stay in Krabi.

As I began to make my way back to Chicago, I had one more night in Bangkok—this time at the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort, an Avani property. This luxurious experience was like no other—literally the feeling of staying on a remote resort rather than a downtown Bangkok hotel property. After a quiet afternoon at their pool, I was invited to drinks at the rooftop bar of their sister property, the Avani Riverside Bangkok Hotel. Having opened just a little more than a year ago, this hotel is hip, modern, and oozing with sophistication. Its rooftop infinity pool offers unforgettable views of Bangkok that are best enjoyed with one of the bar’s signature cocktails. I know first-hand how delicious their lavender-infused gin martini is.

Toasting Bangkok above the clouds was the storybook ending my first trip to Asia deserved. I can’t wait to say “yes” to my next adventure.

Yours,

Ann Marie




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