Destination Thailand: the best places to stay and see beyond Bangkok.
Discover the best places to stay and see beyond Bangkok.
WRITTEN BY JENNIE NUNN
For nearly two decades as a magazine editor and travel writer, I’ve met people who travel for escape (and don’t believe in a mailing address); others to find meaning and purpose or sort out a difficult life decision; others to fulfill a “bucket list” destination; and others merely because they have the time.
But there’s almost always one question I get asked a lot: “Where should I go now?” It all depends on the goal and purpose of the trip.
If there’s one place that’s right at the top of my list, it’s Thailand. From canoeing to a private, tented luxury camp to learning to ride an elephant at a nearby sanctuary to a fairytale-like setting surrounded by meticulously manicured rice fields and lush gardens, explore the ultimate places outside of Bangkok to stay and see now.
Part of the entire experience is the flight there. Passengers can choose from one of three flights daily on a Boeing 777-300ER airplane to Hong Kong (one until October only) on Cathay Pacific Airlines (cathaypacific.com). Additional flights include one on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, and one on Tuesdays only with business, premium economy and economy. In business class, maintain privacy in a roomy pod-like cabin complete with a fold-out entertainment screen, a reading light, power outlet, a small storage compartment with a mirror and a fully-reclining seat powered by the touch of a button that lowers into a bed.
Thanks to partnerships with notable guest chefs, hotels and wineries including Mandarin Oriental and Chef Daniel Green of Food Network’s Kitchen Inferno, the onboard culinary experience is a not-to-miss event on its own. The airline was one of the first to offer rice cookers, toasters and skillets to prepare everything from steamed rice and toasted bread to eggs. (First class passengers also have the option of hand-selecting menu items and dining à la carte.) From Hong Kong, passengers can fly direct to Chiang Mai on Cathay Dragonair.
Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, is perhaps most known for its beloved Night Bazaar—lined with souvenir-stocked shops, restaurants, art galleries, nightclubs and even Muay Thai boxing rings. Here’s where to regroup for the night:
FOUR SEASONS RESORT CHIANG MAI
Set amid 32 acres of pristine gardens and terraces, the lush property with 99 pavilions and residences is dotted with lily ponds, two lakes, four restaurants, a spa, a cooking school and a working rice farm replete with water buffalo. Guests won’t want to set foot off the property with complimentary offerings such as Introduction to Thai language classes, sunset yoga, nature hiking with a local expert, and mountain biking with a map, helmet and bottled water.
Should you want to venture off-premises, catch a ride on the in-house shuttle that runs several times daily to and from downtown Chiang Mai. Cruise around the city like a local in a tuk tuk, or rickshaw. At Chiang Mai National Museum, explore sculpture, artwork and artifacts from the Lanna kingdom, or pack a picnic and explore waterfalls and swimming holes including Monthathan Waterfall and the Huay Kaew Waterfall. fourseasons.com/chiangmai
SHANGRI-LA HOTEL, CHIANG MAI
Opened 10 years ago, the 277-room property offers guestrooms awash in calming earth tones, Asian artwork and a pillow menu (including feather pillows, anti-snore, buckwheat, foam and bolster). For a personal reboot, head to the yoga pavilion, outdoor swimming pool or Chi Spa and opt for the Wild Flower Body Glow with an aromatic blend of Chiang Mai herbs followed by an exfoliation and massage. shangri-la.com/chiangmai/shangrila
FOUR SEASONS TENTED CAMP GOLDEN TRIANGLE
Don’t let the word “camp” fool you. Opened six years ago, the luxury property in Northern Thailand approximately 491 miles from Bangkok is comprised of 15 tents tucked in a bamboo jungle situated along the Ruak and Mekong rivers. Laos and Myanmar, formerly Burma, can be spotted in the distance.
To get to your luxury suite framed by canvas walls, cross an Indiana Jones-style wooden bridge suspended high above a large pond. What’s most unique here, though, isn’t the spa housed in a series of converted treehouses with open-air salas hovering above the jungle. It’s not the treatments, which include the new kala coconut massage using kala, smoothly finished half coconut shells and virgin coconut oil made exclusively for the resort.
For the experience of a lifetime, enlist in elephant mahout training—a partnership with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. This organization is dedicated to rescuing non-wild elephants from cruel conditions. Students will learn basic commands (“pai” or go; “bean” or turn; and “how” or stop), go elephant trekking and become a trained mahout for the day.
Other activities include a city visit to a local market with fresh seafood and produce, or an 800-year-old temple, Wat Pa Sak—home to the Chiang Saen Museum, with artwork made by local hill tribes and ancient Lanna-style artifacts. fourseasons.com/thailand
LE MÉRIDIEN CHIANG RAI RESORT, THAILAND
Located approximately a one-hour drive from the Golden Triangle, the property features an on-site spa, swimming pool, manmade lake and two 100-year-old rain trees. Guestrooms are appointed with cool tones of charcoal and lilac, flat-screen televisions and rain showers. Activities range from a Mae Kok River cruise, to a visit to Rai Mae Fah Luang (or the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park)—a botanical garden and museum. lemeridienchiangrai.com