With a portfolio of the world’s finest beach and spa resorts at his disposal, the owner of a leading UK tour operator would be forgiven for holidaying at only the most exclusive and relaxing luxury hotels. Not so our roving MD; get off the beaten track with ‘Mr Kenwood Travel’ and friends on an action packed journey through Thailand.
Day 1: Arrival in Bangkok
We left London on a cold January morning and landed in Bangkok early the following day amid hot, humid temperatures. Our guide took us to our coach and our adventure began. We were greeted at Banyan Tree Bangkok with a welcome drink, and escorted to the Club Lounge. Our room upgrade granted lounge access, as well as daily breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktails and canapés. The rooms, staff, service and dining were outstanding, even down to finer details like the ‘pillow menu’. After relaxing we walked to Patpong, the famous night street market, to start what became a holiday great for shopping (at least for the ladies).
Day 2: Bangkok Day Tour
On route to the beautiful Grand Palace our guide recommended stopping at a flower market. We then visited the 150-foot long reclining Buddha – a real sight to see, gilded entirely in gold leaf. Lunch was included at a lovely riverside restaurant.
Day 3: Speaking of gold…
We boarded a long-tail boat, (AKA James Bond Boat, as seen in The Man With The Golden Gun) and navigated narrow canals to the famed floating market. We sampled noodle soup and local fruits and browsed traditional arts and crafts. On our way back to Bangkok we visited the Buddhist Monastery at Phra Pathom Chedi Temple. Later we dined at a fish market restaurant where you ‘shop’ with a trolley for your seafood and vegetables, which are then cooked to your liking.
Day 4: Bridge over the River Quai
We drove two hours to the River Quai and boarded a boat which took us under the famous bridge where we disembarked. We then walked across the bridge and waited for the old train before taking a fascinating 45-minute journey on the ‘Death Railway’, so-called because of the many thousands of people including POWs and locals that died building it under 2nd World War Japanese rule. We found the poignancy of it all incredibly thought-provoking.
Day 5: Bangkok to Chiang Mai
A mere one-hour flight and we’d arrived in Chiang Mai. We were met by a charming local tour guide who organised the transfer to our accommodation, Tamarind Village. A beautiful city hotel surrounded by tamarind trees and only ten minutes’ walk to the riverside restaurants and night bazaar.
After check-in we were each allocated our own trishaw (bicycle) and driven through the city to the Wat Chai Mongkok pier where we took a short cruise via longtail boat on the Mac Ping River. This was a great perspective from which to take in the colourful scenery and get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the local people.
As luck would have it we found ourselves in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, giving us the opportunity to visit the famous Sunday Walking Street. After some tasty street food and a spot of shopping we sat down to an amazing dinner at a nearby restaurant – the quality and value of the food were excellent.
Day 6: 3,500 Feet High and Rising
We visited Chiang Mai’s most famous religious landmark, the Doi Suthep. Tucked away in the mountains at 3,500 feet this is a truly impressive sight and affords terrific views.
In the evening we were treated to a fine dinner of local cuisine and an Old Chiang Mai cultural show. We then drove on to the Golden Triangle on the border between Thailand, Burma and Laos created by the mighty Mekong River. With the help of the Thailand government the area has been transformed; the opium trade has been replaced with farming and handicraft production. After a short boat trip, we crossed into Laos and explored the local market. On the return journey, we enjoyed the views of the golden Buddha, erected on the riverbank to commemorate the Queen’s birthday.
Next stop was the Legend Chang Rai Resort, just in time for the fading light over the river. We perused the local market, ate some authentic Thai food and watched a captivating traditional dance performance.
Day 7: Elephant Trainer for the Day
No Thailand travel diary would be complete without an elephant encounter, and what an incredible day we spent at Patara Elephant farm! Situated just outside of Chiang Mai, this privately owned operation rehabilitates and breeds elephants. There are approximately 50 individuals of various ages, from large males to mothers and newborns. We were free to mingle with the big friendly beasts, even to roll around and play with them. We learned about their behaviour and were given a few commands in the Mau language. Stop – How; Go – Ma; Lie down – Na long. We fed them from a basket of bananas and chopped sugar cane, upon which a surprising bonding session begins.
After brushing them down with leaves, we led them to the water to bathe. This was one of the best parts of the day – the elephants obviously loved the water and being scrubbed with a hard bristled brush.
A colourful spread is provided for lunch, from breaded chicken to sweet Thai pastries. This provides a good interlude to reflect on events so far and admire the ambient surroundings. The whole day is captured on camera and DVD copies are provided as keep sakes. A pleasant memory and a good advertisement for the farm.
Day 8: Heading North
We set off after a hearty breakfast for the northern part of Chang Rai Province, visiting an orchid and butterfly farm on the way. It was fascinating to see all 250 varieties and learn how new species are created.
Our hotel was the Maekok River Village Resort and we arrived in the late afternoon. The scenery was spectacular; the mountains, the tropical forest and the beautiful gardens on the riverbank directly outside our room’s private patio. Dinner was a traditional Thai buffet on the terrace overlooking the river.
Day 9: Meeting the Karen Padong tribe
The misty sunrise of another beautiful morning was the backdrop to breakfast, before setting off to meet the legendary long-neck Karen Padong Hill tribe. This intriguing culture maintains its unique traditions hundreds of years since arriving here from China. We found the brass neck rings uncomfortable to wear for the time it takes to pose for a photo, let alone a lifetime!
Day 10: Meeting the Hmong & Lahu tribes
High in the mountains of northern Thailand lies Lanjia Lodge and getting there required an early start. Only when we got there did we appreciate just how special its position is; it’s situated between two hill tribe villages: The Lahu and the Hmong. From the terrace, the valley views and those of the lush, forest-shrouded mountains above, were breath-taking. We observed how the Hmong and Lahu hill tribes live, including visiting the Shamans houses. We exercised our artistic skills, making traditional Hmong batik handkerchiefs, and our green fingers, helping to plant trees at the herbal plant nursery project.
We relaxed that night and enjoyed delicious Thai cooking served on the charming lodge terrace – a fitting end to an unforgettable third day in Chiang Rai.
Day 11: Krabi’s Rayavadee Resort via Bangkok
Friendly staff warmly welcomed us with a cool cocktail. Rayavadee Resort is situated in a well-maintained yet lush, tropical forest that’s only accessible from Krabi town by boat. The two-storey pavilion rooms were spacious and comfortable and we were provided aromatic toiletries and daily herbal teas, fresh coffee, fresh fruit and cookies. The hotel’s two white-sand beaches are towered over by lofty limestone cliffs creating that classic Thai scenery.
You can hire boats here and the beaches make a great starting point on a spot of island hopping. We visited Hong Island (part of the national park) whose warm shallow waters are great for snorkelling. The nearby Blue Lagoon was beautiful too – as if taken straight out of the pages of a Kenwood Travel holiday brochure!
A fun evening was had in and around the bustling Ao Nang night market. We bought more souvenirs, handicrafts and pashminas before strolling the beach that flanks Rayavadee Hotel where bars and restaurants serve a variety of dishes ranging from pizza to Thai food and fresh fish.
The hotel infinity pool was a great place to relax and take in the tranquil scene. Spectacled monkeys and crab-eating macaques played in the trees but kept themselves to themselves, as did the water monitor lizards. The Rayavadee Hotel staff were gracious and went out of their way to please us and be of assistance.
Already, all too soon, it was time for the boat ride back to Krabi airport and so began our homeward journey. Suffice it to say, London greeted us in typically cold, wet and windy fashion.