We boarded a comfortable Air Asia flight, true to their tag line "Now Everyone Can Fly,' they offer economical air fare to multiple destinations across the globe. Their frequent offers and promotions could fetch even better deals. Indian currency is gladly accepted on board the aircraft. Icing on the cake was our flights were not delayed and one of the flights reached its destination a good 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
Our first destination was Chiang Mai, former capital of the Kingdom of Lan Na, situated among the highest mountains in the country and we were greeted by lush green, fertile hills of northern Thailand. Until 1920s reaching Chiang Mai was not so easy with the only options being a strenuous river journey or riding on the back of an elephant through the jungles. One of the most scenic destination in Thailand, Chiang Mai is a temple town with over 30 ancient temples spread across 2 square kilometers. It is an ideal place to relax and unwind far away from the ultra busy and fast paced Bangkok. The streets are relatively free of traffic and the ancient age old structures strewn around the city give the it a rustic and antique feel.
We started our tour at Chiang Mai by dining a very healthy and heavy meal at Salad Concept.
After lunch, we headed to the most famous temple in Chiang Mai- Wat Doi Suthep. The prime attraction being the 'Inner Sanctum - The Pagoda.' The massive golden Chedi towers 79 feet high and is adorned by precious stones and gold. There are a lot of stunning monuments and statues built around the sanctum. Another interesting attraction is the Bodhi tree, the sapling is believed to have been brought from the tree in Maha Bodhi temple at Bodh Gaya, India where Buddha attained enlightenment. A scintillating view point from here offers panoramic and dramatic views of Chiang Mai.
The 11 km road leading to Doi Suthep is believed to have been laid by the people of Chiang Mai in a record 5 months and 22 days showing their grit and determination. A fleet of 306 stairs with Nagas on either side welcome you to this grand temple or a cable car can be chosen as an easier option. We opted for the cable car to reach the temple and climbed down the stairs. Entry to the temple is 30 Baht per person and a cable car round trip is 20 Baht per person.
We then headed to pamper ourselves at one of the best spas in Chiang Mai -'Oasis Spa.' The spa surrounded with beautiful gardens soothes you as soon as you enter. They have tried to make the surroundings as green as possible and the decor in the massage rooms has a traditional Lanna touch. The open bath just adds on to the romance in the air. They have extensive packages and massage options to choose from.
We were treated to their Signature two hour session King and Queen massage. The King massage is a traditional Thai stress buster treatment with herbal hot compress placed along the stiff muscle lines followed by a hot oil massage to relax the muscles. The Queen massage is a combination of hot stones and aromatherapy relaxing the muscles. We thoroughly enjoyed the couple massage and felt rejuvenated and light. We were given one of the best welcome drinks and post massage were served herbal tea and cut fruits. It truly is Luxury in the Lap of Nature.
This was followed by a lavish dinner at Khum Khantoke with Live Cultural performance.
The next day we headed out to Dumbo Elephant spa to pamper, feed and bath these gentle giants. This sanctuary came into existence with the sole aim of rehabilitating elephants. Tourists can feed, play with the elephants but they are not allowed to ride. This spa had 3 - 4 adults and a calf. The elephants at the spa were not chained and were let free in the wild. It was a refreshing feel that they were not confined to a small area and were well looked after. The sanctuary is open to give us a unique experience with the elephants and help them take care of these beautiful animals.
An average adult elephant requires around 250 kg of food everyday which makes them hungry almost throughout the day. We carried pumpkins, pineapples and sugarcane which they seemed to love. They were grabbing food right off our hands and the youngest of the lot employed coy ways to sneak food from right under our nose. We headed out to a nearby water body to give them a scrub bath and post this amazing cardio workout we were treated with a simple but amazing Thai lunch comprising of boiled vegetables, steam rice and chicken curry along with juicy fruits. They ended the lunch by serving some amazing and finger licking french fries.
In the evening, we took cooking lessons and learnt the basics of Thai cuisine and prepared a meal for us.
During our two days stay in Chaing Mai we checked into hotel Des Artists, Ping Silhouette on Chareonrag Road. The decor of this extremely comfortable and luxury hotel had a very authentic and antique touch to it with wooden doors plus age old door bell and brass taps. There has been a lot of effort and hard work put in to give a very rustic and ancient vibe to the hotel. The rooms have soft mattress and pillows, cozy quilts and a huge bathroom with aesthetic fitting. They have a swimming pool, pretty well stocked bar and cafe with amazing service. The complimentary breakfast at the hotel is amazing with extensive spread and their Thai chicken fried rice is quite heavy but amazing for breakfast.
Our next destination was Phuket and the stunning views of beautiful islands of Phuket from thousands of feet in the air were breath taking. We started our Phuket sight seeing by visiting one of its kind, mind blogging 3D illusions- "Tricky Eye Art Museum." This is an exceptionally well kept unique museum, perfect for kids and adults alike. The perfectly done 3D illusions are unbelievably realistic with scenes from epic movies and fictional characters depicted with military precision. It brings out the best of our creativity while striking poses. Open everyday from 10 am to 7 pm with last admission at 6 pm, the entry fee is priced at 500 Baht for adults and 300 Baht for kids.
After illusions, it was time for some adventure to experience the rain forest of Phuket and we arrived at "Flying Hanuman." High speed zip-lines crisscrossing from one massive tree to another guaranteed one of the best jungle experiences. It was an ultimate adrenaline rush flying from tree to tree amidst total wilderness including a zip line running 400 mt and two nerve wracking 90 degree free-falls. If you crave for extreme adventure, this is your ideal place. It is very professionally run and though they take extreme precautions for user safety, one is expected to sign an indemnity form. Patrons could also get their photos and videos shot by professionals for an additional charge. The experience ends with a heavy Thai meal.
We ended our day by dining at One Chun restaurant that serves amazing seafood apart from the local Thai delicacies.
No trip to Phuket is complete without a visit to its stunning islands and we set out cruising to the beautiful Hong Island. The beauty of this tour was hopping on to paddle canoes surrounded by limestone rocks exploring her stunning caves with massive stalactite and stalagmite formations. The massive green mountains standing several meters high above the blue sea is a sight to behold. Paddling across the caves through narrow channels opens up to hidden lagoons and that is what makes it so special. After exploring the caves we moved to our next stop which was the much famous "James Bond Island." Needless to say it got its famous name after the James Bond movie "Man With Golden Gun' was shot here, it is otherwise known as 'Koh Khao Phing Kan."
Silver Hawk tour company had impeccably planned our timing in such a way that we had the entire James Bond island to ourselves, free from the crowd. We stood there on the white sandy beach soaking in mesmerizing views of the island. A short hike from here, led us to the other side which opened up to a delightful stretch of turquoise blue water. The entire crew was extremely professional and made sure we had the best of our time despite rains. In our opinion, the cruising experience was very safe and comfortable. They entertained us by teaching us traditional Thai dance and taught us how to make a kratong. Later on, they took us on a long tail boat to pirates cave to traditionally offer prayers, make a wish and float the water lilies in the sea. After the ritual the water lilies were promptly retrieved. Post sunset, we relished the meal that was served by the crew and it was one of the best meals in Thailand.
During our stay in Phuket we checked into hotel Casa Blanca, a hotel that still retains its old school vibe in the old town of Phuket. The rooms were very spacious, clean and comfortable and loaded with all modern amenities. Their service standards were excellent and professional. The hotel also has a pretty good swimming pool. If you prefer a quiet stay in this part of the town, this will be an ideal choice. The most elegant part of this old town is the Chinese and Portuguese architecture. The weekend market is located just 2 lanes away and Airport is 45 minutes away.
Our last leg of the trip was Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand. On one side it keeps a spiritual traveler contended and happy while on the other hand it ignites the spark and gets the party animal going. Bangkok is a shoppers paradise where big brands and cheap knockoffs happily co-exist. The over populated city and her crazy traffic could shatter your weekend plans whereas the express quick bike taxis and comfortable sky trains ferried us around the city without any delay.
Among the many local markets, Ko kret market is vibrant and lively. This massive local market houses very nominally priced day to day household products, from cosmetics to souvenirs and most importantly Thai street food. The goods here are nominally priced saving the time and effort on haggling. Another interesting thing about Ko Kret market is the many temples around that is an added advantage. Another even bigger market is the JJ weekend market near Mo Chit. This massive market is spread over acres of land and has even more extensive shopping options. Interesting road side shops were selling 'Bose and JBL' speakers for few hundred Bahts. After a long walk we walked into one of the many spas and pampered ourselves with a foot massage. Do try the local food and coconut ice cream here.
If you are looking for fancier goods then Asiatique, an open air mall is the perfect place. Once a warehouse but later converted to a swanky market and entertainment hub with tons of shops selling almost everything. This would be a perfect family getaway option. A wide variety of shows of different genres are played here in the evening plus there is a lot to keep kids entertained such as Ferris wheel and go-karting. Sunset by the pier with sky rises in the backdrop makes for a perfect romantic evening. While at Asiatique, we were treated to yet another lavish meal with a puppet show at Joe Louis Puppetry.
During our stay in Bangkok, we checked in to Pullman Bangkok Grande Sukhumvit. A luxurious 5 star hotel that pampers their guests in ultimate way possible. The architecture of the hotel is like the deck of a ship and the massive rooms are loaded with every luxury and comfort that could be expected. There is a fitness lounge, pool and spa.The complimentary breakfast is way too grand and lavish and their service was extremely professional and perfect. The hotel is centrally located on Bangkok Sukhumvit Road right opposite Terminal 21. They also provide free tuk tuk service to Asok BTS for their guests. If luxury and comfort is what you are looking for, this wold be your ideal stay option.
To know more about Thai food, enjoy Culinary Delight in Thailand.
And for a visual treat, have a look at Thailand Thru Our Lens.
DISCLAIMER- This trip was sponsored by Air Asia India and Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mumbai.