My trip to Thailand, after 4 months in the making alongside my partners Thai Tourism Board @Halathailand, involved us visiting hotels in Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and experiencing activities that showcased Thai hospitality and culture. An important aspect of this trip was to showcase unique destinations within Thailand that offer wonderful experiences and an authentic look at Thailand which does not involve the ‘conventional’ image of Thailand as simply being about shopping, beaches and partying. In fact, like most countries, Thailand has many layers of culture, adventure, hospitality, dining etc. and on this trip we were fortunate enough to peel back some of these layers.
I was also so grateful to have experienced this trip with 10 other ladies - all from the Middle East who all offered something beautiful to the group. Our group included Emirati ladies who are all successful entrepreneurs having business in F&B, fashion, an artist., a food & travel photographer, a lifestyle influencer and an Egyptian actress. The group also included my fantastic colleague Taya from Thai Tourism Board and Pinky our wonderful guide who without her we would have been late for everything and the ladies constant craving for Mango sticky rice would not have been satisfied – between us we all experienced love, laughter and adventure and not to mention forging new friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.
For me personally when I travel half the fun of experiencing a new destination is the property in which you decide to stay.
For this itinerary the hotels were chosen on the fact that they all offered something unique and special which appeals to the Unique Family Travels audience and clients and each hotel went above and beyond my expectations.
So let me take you back to the start of our trip as we flew from Dubai to Bangkok staying at the wonderful Rosewood Bangkok. Approx. 40 mins drive from the airport and located in the business and shopping district on one of Bangkok’s busiest corners with access to the sky train. Even Central Shopping Mall is just 1 stop off the Skytrain from the Rosewood. The BTS Skytrain runs through all important downtown districts and major transport hubs in Bangkok and so is a fast and efficient way to move across the city.
With a striking architectural design, Rosewood is a 30-storey hotel, having been opened for only 5 months its a dramatic addition to Bangkok’s skyline. The building is formed from two connected structures, which is supposed to symbolize wai – the Thai gesture of hands pressed together in greeting.
The entrance is hidden behind a discreet wall on the main road. Upon entering you take the lift to the lobby, which then opens up into a very swanky, modern and elegant reception with soft tones/colors and textures - added to this are interesting attention to detail items such as books, art and accessories.
The look and feel carries on throughout the property yet still provides a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle on the doorstep.
There are 159 rooms including 34 suites and studios. We all stayed in the Deluxe Rooms with floor to celling windows in the bedroom and bathrooms providing panoramic views of the city. The décor embraces both Thai heritage and contemporary culture. A wonderful soak in the bath which was positioned right in front of the window provided perfect views of the busy city. I loved all the little touches in the room from the ice coffee and evenings chocolates to having the brand new dyson hairdryer (which was great by the way!) surround sound system, electric sheers and curtains and a bed that felt like I was sleeping on a cloud. Also some hotel rooms you can never work out which light switch is for what – well Rosewood made that easy with mood lighting and master switches all labeled.
Guests have four dining options to choose from including a brasserie, a signature Chinese restaurant, an upscale organic café G&O (Green & Organic) that offers farm to table cuisine which is situated next to the swimming pool. The pool which is mostly indoors showcases a view of the city with the noise drowned out by a large waterfall. Lennon’s is a stylish bar perched on the top floor - inspired by an old recording studio, providing a vintage yet classy feel and home to 6000 vinyl records.
Children are welcome at the Rosewood but the hotel has more of a grown up vibe, so I am not sure if I would check in with my kids being so young.
We spent two nights at the Rosewood and I’m excited to experience more of their properties, which are located across Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East.
After checking into the hotel our first activity was to enjoy a relaxing spa at Divana Nurture Spa, which was about 15 minutes from the hotel. We all had our own room and therapist who gave all the ladies a 90-minute Thai massage, which was well needed after our flight. The service was excellent and even though this is a very popular spa in the city, it felt very relaxed and comfortable.
I’m not a foodie but I do love new experiences and I will always aim to visit a Michelin Star restaurant. A few years ago I had heard of Jay Fai the only Michelin Starred street food restaurant in the world. If you have Netflix you must watch the documentary “Street Food” as they interview Jay Fai herself and she explains in detail her personal journey, which I found to be very humbling.
Jay Fai found fame from receiving a Michelin star two years in a row. You can always find her in the restaurant cooking as every dish is prepared by her while wearing her signature look - black apron, beanie hat, red lipstick and ski goggles to protect her eyes from long hours in front of intense heat.
Jay Fai started her roadside eatery in the 1980’s and made a name for herself by buying very high quality seafood and transforming the ingredients into soulful dishes.
Her specialty dishes are:
Crab omelet, drunken noodles, tom yum soup and crabbed yellow curry.
Daily there is a queue of approx. a four hour wait to enjoy her cooking but as we had booked in advance due to knowing her daughter who is the only fluent English speaking member of the team and manages the floor.
Even though I don’t eat seafood, I wasn’t going to leave this place without trying everything. Watching this chef maestro at work preparing her dishes while her staff move around her like clockwork is not only mesmerizing to watch but I truly had so much respect and admiration for Jay Fai
I had the noodles which were great and tasted like they had been cooked on a bbq (not surprising with the flames that came out of her pan (watch my video) they actually didn’t taste like the giant crab which was sitting on them. The Tom Yum soup was super spicy but not greasy, You know sometimes when you have soup and it can taste oily or leave a film in your mouth, this tasted clean and gave an explosion of flavors. In fact all the ladies truly loved the food saying it was fresh, clean and the taste was mind blowing. We were all lucky to have had our picture taken with Jay Fai and this fast became one of the highlights of the trip.
Dishes are approx. 600 Thai Bhat which is approx. AED 70- $20 – which is nothing for the great food and experience.
You can’t come to Bangkok and not experience the floating market. Its not only a place great for instagramable pictures but you can eat traditional local dishes from the many boats floating up and down the canals. Damnoen Floating Market is the busiest in Bangkok and a 2-hour drive from the city, so you have to go early.
Unfortunately we were all under rain ponchos covering from the rain our experience was a little different but enjoyable at the same time. The floating market is a maze of narrow canals. Female farmers wearing blue shirts and the local Thai straw hat use sampans (small wooden boats) to sell their produce fresh from their farm. Along the side were shopkeepers selling souvenirs.
The rain continued to come down really heavy so we cut the market short and headed to Rose Garden at Suan Sampran for lunch. We actually really enjoyed the traditional Thai buffet lunch and then the sun came out and we could experience the outdoor facilities including Patom Organic Farm and Village, which sold many handicrafts and organic produce. We also joined a workshop to make our own body scrub and oil using natural products. It was something different to try while enjoying the beautiful grounds.
An early start, as we headed back to the airport for our one-hour flight north to Chiang Rai. The ladies kind of knew where they were going but not fully aware of the experience that they were about to witness. Once we landed we had about an hours drive to the Golden Triangle.
North-East of Chiang Rai close to Chiang Saen lies the infamous Golden Triangle, once the center of opium production and trade in South East Asia. Those days are long gone. Now the area is peaceful and tranquil dotted with hill tribe villages, ancient temples and markets.
The Golden Triangle locally known as Sop Ruak is where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet separated by the Mekong river. The border between Thailand and Myanmar is marked by the Ruak River, which flows into the Mekong at Sop Ruak.
We arrived at the Anantara Golden Triangle where we were met by all the staff who escorted us into the lobby, served drinks and gave the ladies a welcome shoulder massage. From the check in area the views were spectacular you could see the blue of the swimming pool and the amazing dense jungle with Laos mountains in the background. With a closer look we all spotted what we had come for – the elephants as they roamed around freely.
Anantara Golden Triangle is a rustic property in the jungle hills with views of the Mekong River, Myanmar and Loas mountain ranges with an elephant sanctuary/camp on its doorstep. This is a property I had longed to visit and to have the experience of walking with elephants.
The rooms were a great size, all open plan with a large in door window which separated the bathroom from the bedroom. Touches of elephants completed the room and every room had a good size balcony with my view over looking the award winning swimming pool and jungle. I loved the feeling when walking into a beautiful property that’s not only enchanting but offers a true escapism and this was exactly what I was experiencing. The energy was peaceful and relaxing; we were literally in the middle of nowhere with not a care in the world.
That night our hosts General Manager, Gauderic and Linda provided the most wonderful "Dine by Design"sunset dinner amidst the jungle in the bamboo forest within the elephant camp.
We were welcomed to dinner by 3 elephants along with their mahouts. These giant elephants were happy for you to touch and have photos with them. These elephants are only used to meet guests and not used for activities. In fact the property is home to 22 elephants but only 8 are used for some kind of gentle activity, as they are young, strong and in good health.
As we sat down, to enjoy a wonderful Thai meal, the sun set and we watched all the firefly’s around us. The service was excellent especially considering we were having dinner in the jungle surrounded by nature.
As well as employing local staff the Anantara Golden Triangle funds the ethical elephant sanctuary/camp, which is a wonderful initiative to help street elephants rehabilitate in their natural environment. The organization running the camp is GTAEF - Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation which supports and protects sustainable Elephant tourism while providing a home & education for the Mahout families - (a mahout is an elephant trainer, rider or keeper). GTAEF are globally recognized for responsible wildlife tourism and one of the only options in Thailand for conscious travelers who want to get up close and personal with elephants.
The elephants have 160 acres of hills and jungle to roam freely and the rivers to keep cool in. As the elephants have grown up listening to only their mahouts they are kind of conditioned to their voice. So with this in mind the foundation invited the mahouts to live onsite and to rent the elephants from them in exchange for a home and education for their families, medical insurance and jobs as the wives of the mahouts make handicrafts such as bags, table runners and the mahouts outfits (from old outfits they are recycled to make other items).
The oldest elephant in the camp is 62 years old and there are only 3 males. The elephants are not allowed to breed so the males are kept away from females.
To answer any questions you may have on Golden Triangle Asian Elephant foundation – click to read this post: http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2019/10/02/golden-triangle-elephant-camp/
We woke up bright and early and watch the amazing sunrise over the Laos mountains. This was the morning I had been waiting for as we were going to be walking with the elephants. What a truly incredible experience we were about to have!
We were introduced with a talk from a member of the GTAEF team on how to behave around the elephants and informed not to walk in front of them as they can walk very fast, only walking at their side or behind them. This experience was so amazing - to walk next to these giants who quite frankly were not fazed at all with us being next to them. They did their own thing and we just slotted in next to them. They would stop to eat leaves off high branches, scratch up against the trees when they had an itch and you could take a picture when they stood still, but when they moved, you had to move with them. It was a peaceful yet exhilarating walk and experience especially as the elephants were so quiet. They then walked into the river, as we sat to watch them on the cliff side, they splashed around in the water and the noise from them playing was incredible.
To have witnessed this, I can only say that the elephants are happy and free, of course they can not be put back into the wild as they have never lived in that environment however this is the closet they will get to that life and this is all thanks to the work the GTAEF is doing to and funded by the Anantara Group of hotels.
As this is the jungle don’t forget to bring walking clothes and trainers with you. We were given the pants and top that the mahouts wear, which was a really nice touch. As our trainers got very muddy, the hotel offers a cleaning service and I’m pleased to say my shoes came back looking brand new.
We then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and had the entire day ahead to enjoy the pool, spa and explore this exceptionally unique property.
Anantara Golden Triangle is a wonderful child friendly property with many outdoor activities on offer by the in house team. I went to check out one of the 6 family suites, which are 2 bedrooms and an excellent size for a family of 5.
To fully enjoy this bucket list experience, I would highly recommend the VIP arrival treatment. This includes being picked up from the airport, then taken to the Mekong River for a 20 minute boat ride then your greeted by the elephants and invited to walk with them to the hotel. Now that’s a welcome you wouldn’t want to miss!
We were now heading to our next destination Chiang Mai by road, which would take 3 hours - stopping along the way at the “Blue Temple” and the “White Temple” known as Wat Rong Khun.
My favorite temple was definitely the White Temple as it really stood out due to its blazing white color and the use of pieces of glass in the plaster, which sparkled in the sun. The white color signifies the purity of the Buddha, while the glass symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings. The entrance fee is only 50 Thai Bhat and well worth a visit – but go early, as it gets busy and don’t forget to make a wish!
The drive to Chiang Mai is relatively easy as we arrived just in time for lunch, which we had booked at Villa Mahabriom.
Wow this was a hidden gem that we really didn’t expect to be as wonderful as it was. This boutique hotel took 7 years to complete, as its 14 spacious rooms are all villas that have been meticulously restored and brought to Chiang Mai from all over Thailand. These traditional teakwood Thai homes are surrounded by beautiful gardens and offer peace and relaxation for its guests. Raised on stilts and topped with a distinctive gabled roof complete with handmade clay tiles, each villa houses a suite of bedrooms, study area and spacious Italian marble bathroom featuring the latest amenities. Some villas feature a covered, opened-air living room on the ground level decorated with object d’arts and antiques from the owners’ private collection and each individually decorated with its unique style. A few of the villas had a private swimming pool otherwise there is a large pool in the middle of the property. If you want luxury living in a traditional Thai property, this is the hotel for you.
After lunch we headed to a newly open spa called Fah Lanna Spa. We all enjoyed a two hour deep tissue Thai massage before heading to our next hotel which was located 10 minutes away. I was super excited as this was a hotel that I had been waiting for the ladies to experience, I new that they were in for a treat!
Take a peak inside: - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flVJeWdXai4
Welcome to 137 Pillars House a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
We were welcomed with open arms by the beautiful Anne, who is the General Manager of this stunning property. We checked in from the comfort of our rooms and were assigned our personal butler who was on hand via Whatsapp. To be honest I love this touch and a lot of luxury properties are starting to offer this service for convenience and all-round indulgence.
The spacious suites are situated in a well laid out garden and furnished in sumptuous modern interpretation of colonial style, radiating unbridled luxury. The rooms are expansive and beautifully laid out. They are designed and built around the historic teak house of the British Borneo Company. There’s a beautiful story behind this brand which includes so much history, visit this link for more info: https://137pillarschiangmai.com/en/our-story/
Visualize teak wood floors, a four-poster bed and a large outdoor seating area complete with comfortable sofas, complemented by extra-large bathrooms which feature colonial style claw tubs, as well as indoor and outdoor showers. Some of the larger suites come with private pools, which are ideal for families. The rooms have been well thought out in order to create a more relaxed at-home feel for additional comfort and relaxation.
By now most of you know I have a thing for baths – its apparent on my Instagram – so this beautiful white washed bathroom with clawed bath tub teamed with mosaic patterned floor tiles and vintage wall hangings gave a modern colonial twist to this utterly perfect bathroom.
That evening we had the pleasure of dining with Anne who explained more about the history of the property. We sat in the remarkable main heritage dining room which is held together by 137 pillars which is how the hotel was given its name.
137 Pillars House is a true beauty waiting to be enjoyed so today was a day of leisure to do absolutely nothing but to soak up the hotel in all its glory.
There are lots of peaceful areas around the hotel and in one quiet corner is the 25-metre long pool, set against a huge vertical plant wall that adds instant tropical vibes to the mood.
Located on the west side of the Ping river in the Wat Gate area of Chiang Mai’s historic foreign quarter, the 137 Pillars House is close to the city’s main sites, boutique shops and cafes plus the famous night market which is a 15-minute walk away and the old city can be reached by a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride.
For lunch we were invited to enjoy a 137 cooking class but only after we had visited the local Tanin market with one of the chefs to see the local produce. The market was nearby and actually surprisingly not busy. You name it they sold it including dry soy sauce crickets, a local delicacy, which Taya from Thai Tourism loved!
During our cooking class we learnt how to prepare a 3 course meal – Papaya Salad, Pad Thai noodles and for desert banana in coconut milk. Personally I’m a “Cant Cook, Wont Cook” type of person but it was apparent from my time in the cooking class that these meals are so easy to prepare as its all about the tasty ingredients that’s mixed together providing a sumptuous delight of flavors. We all had so much fun in the cooking class and were rewarded with what we cooked, our apron and a certificate!
137 Pillars is a beautiful escapism and a place I will surely return too. Children are welcomed at the property, there’s no kids club as such but your personal butler will help with everything you and your family need. Opt for the rooms with the private pool as the space is ideal.
Up early and after a great breakfast we were back at the airport to head back to Bangkok for one more night before our flight to Dubai.
We checked into the fabulously grand Peninsular Bangkok. This is an elegant luxury hotel with a classical style mixed with contemporary Thai touches. This is a property that has history, class and experience which works well for any guest wishing to stay.
Located on the opposite side the city on the Chao Phraya River. They have a resident boat taxi to take you across the river and to Iconsiam mall, which is literally next door to the hotel and home to many luxury and high street brands.
The hotel took us on a tour to see their larger suites – they take up an entire floor of the building with direct access to the Helipad where the hotel’s signature lifesize ‘Pagebear’ was waiting to greet us. The hotel had thoughtfully embroidered our names on our pillows on the bed, which was a beautiful touch and we all had our own tiny Pagebear with our names embroidered on. These little touches were so sweet. I personally found the rooms a little dark but they were very spacious and from my room I had a wonderful view of the pool and river.
I really liked the hotel pool which is 88 meters long and has three tiers access is via their large spa and continues to the river edge, with private pagodas as day beds.
It’s a great hotel for children with interconnecting rooms and large suites. I really enjoyed the breakfast as they offered a wonderful selection including many gluten free and diary free options and to top it off breakfast is served on the river edge.
On our final day in Bangkok we all spent time exploring the city adding in a little shopping and time by the pool before checking out to leave for the airport.
My time in Thailand was an unbelievable adventure and I managed to tick walking with elephants off my bucket list. I am grateful to have shared this journey with so many wonderful women.
A huge thank you to the TAT team especially Taya and Pop for working closely with me to create this amazing itinerary. A huge thank you to Pinky for being the best tour guide and “Mum” we could have EVER wished for and of course all the hotels for their kind hospitality and warm service.
For anyone interested to replicate this Thai odyssey and get an authentic, and exhilarating experience of this magical country, please contact Unique Family Travels.
Watch our video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHjSKfupfmo&t=5s