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Thailand Trip Review - BKK, Chiang Mai, Phuket & Golden Triangle

Thailand Trip Review - BKK, Chiang Mai, Phuket & Golden Triangle

Oct 17th, 2006, 10:21 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: Oct 2006
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Thailand Trip Review - BKK, Chiang Mai, Phuket & Golden Triangle

My husband and I returned from a wonderful two week excursion in Thailand. We had just over two weeks there (last week in August & first week in September) and visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and finished up in the Golden Triangle. The trip was just magical and we loved every minute of it. Thailand is a very easy country to travel around – the people are just so gracious and despite flying to four different locations in two weeks, it was still as relaxing as can be. In all, we found air travel in Thailand to be much less stressful than the US (we arrived 45 minutes before the flights and never had to wait in lines). All of our in Thailand travel was on Thai Airways, all of which I booked online via expedia. If I had to pick my favorite parts they would be Bangkok and the Golden Triangle. Bangkok for all its traffic, craziness, pollution, was such a fun city to explore. So much culture, nightlife, amazing food, and shopping – I loved the Suan Lum night bizarre. The absolute highlight of our trip was the Four Seasons Tented Camp in the Golden Triangle. The only way I can describe it is the most beautiful place in the middle of nowhere. A place that allows you almost complete isolation (there are only 15 tents on the whole resort), perfect service and lets you play in the mud with elephants! I plan to put together a full review for each stop but will start with Bangkok and hopefully get to the rest soon.

We arrived in BKK at around midnight on Sunday after a trip that started Saturday AM from Washington Dulles to LAX to Tokyo and finally to BKK. I booked one ticket using miles on United so was forced to deal with the multiple layovers, but we actually did not mind the stops – it gave us a chance to stretch and down a bottle of water before boarding the next plane. I took melatonin throughout the trip and pretty much slept like a baby. We were in United Economy Plus on the way out and the extra leg room made for a fairly comfortable trip.

We arranged for the Peninsula to pick us up upon arrival at the airport. It was late so the ride to the hotel was pretty speedy and uneventful – although our driver kept pressuring us to book tours with him the following two days. We tried to be as cordial as possible, but after he would not relent – we pretty much told him we had been on a plane for 24 hours and to just leave us alone – which he did. We booked a balcony room at the Penn and the view was fabulous. The trip was over our second wedding anniversary and the Penn had a nice little anniversary cake in the room waiting for us. We really were not tired when we arrived so we showered, opened a bottle of champagne and relaxed on our balcony. It was our first experience breathing the Bangkok heat and pollution that I had read about in many other reviews. The only way I can describe it is that we felt like we were constantly surrounded by burning cinders. After that we were off to bed and slept like babies the first night.

The next morning we slept in, took the Penn boat across the river and then headed to the Cotton House. My husband had a business suit and two dress shirts made. I had a silk dress and a cotton shirt made. The service was wonderful and we enjoyed the experience of picking out fabrics and custom made clothing. I brought a picture of a dress I wanted replicated and a shirt I already owned to be made in a different color. Our initial visit took about an hour and my husband agreed to go back later in the day for another fitting. By then we were starving so we headed around the corner to Tongue Thai for our first Thai meal. I had read about Tongue Thai on this board and it was one of the restaurants the Penn concierge recommend to us (along with Harmonique) so we decided to give it a try. I had a vegetable green curry dish and my husband had pad thai. Both were delicious and the service and the restaurant was so charming. I quickly learned though that I needed to ask for things to be extra spicy – although the food was tasty; it was definitely not spicy enough for my tastes. After lunch we headed to Siam Paragon mall for some shopping via the skytrain - which was super easy to find and navigate. Siam Paragon mall was very nice but very upscale. We enjoyed walking around a bit and I did a bit of shopping. It was nice to be inside in the cool AC since we were still getting accustomed to the Bangkok heat. We took the skytrain back and stopped off at the State Tower building for a few sunset drinks. The bar was great and the view is amazing. After that we stopped back at the Penn to freshen up and then were off to Face for another Thai meal. We enjoyed the atmosphere of Face – beautiful candles everywhere and the food was great as well. I asked for the food to be prepared spicy and it was – but still not spicy enough for my tastes. I should note that my husband has much milder tastes and he thought everything was very spicy . I started with Tom Yum Goon and then Cashew Chicken and of course Mango and Sticky Rice for desert.

Unfortunately, I think the jet lag finally kicked in and I had a terrible time sleeping that night – which was unfortunate because we had a jam packed day of touring with Tong. First off I have to say Tong is amazing and is deserving of all of the wonderful raves she receives on this board. Yes – you can definitely tour Bangkok without her, but it definitely would not have been nearly as much fun and informative. It is also nice to be able to go back to her nice air conditioned car between stops – with cold towels and water. She even pulled out a diet coke for me when I was fading at the end of the day and a Singha for my husband. Tong took us to the Grand Palace, Wat Po (reclining Buddha), Wat Phra Kaew (emerald Buddha) and Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha). Her detailed explanations of the sites and Buddhist culture and traditions made our visits so much more meaningful. After that Tong took us to lunch to a yummy little place by the Grand Palace called Coconut Palm a restaurant she told us that many locals visit. Tong ordered a bunch of different plates for us all of which we loved and I finally got the ‘spice factor’ I was looking for. After lunch we had to run back to Cotton House for another fitting. Unfortunately, my dress was not turning out the way it looked in the picture. They were very gracious and agreed that the cuts had been made incorrectly. They agreed to fix the dress and we would go back the next morning for a final fitting. I should also note that everything was turning out perfectly on my husband’s suits/shirts. After that Tong arranged for a Klong tour (which was also a highlight of the trip) where we stopped and fed what seemed to be millions of catfish in the Chao Phrya river. Tong then took us back to our Hotel and I was literally exhausted. We had plans to go to Bed Supper Club for dinner, but had to cancel, due to my exhaustion. We ordered room service and were out within hours.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Penn and headed off to Cotton House for our final fitting. Since this was not part of the original plan and delayed our plans a bit, Tong agreed to stop by the Penn, pick up our luggage and then meet us at the Cotton House. (We left detailed instructions for the Penn and Tong’s card so they would allow her to pick up our things). The final fitting at the Cotton House went well and the dress was beginning to look more like my original vision. At the end of our trip we would have one final day in Bangkok and Cotton House agreed they would deliver the finished products to us then. After that we were off to the Jim Thompson house for the tour – which was interesting enough - and some shopping at the gift store – a nice place to pick up really nice silk gifts for family. We only had a few hours before our flight to Chiang Mai and had planned to spend the rest of the day at the Orphanages. Our first stop was the home for infants and young children. We made a donation and spent the rest of the time holding the healthy babies, visiting the sick infants and then playing with the toddlers (there are so many children at this home). The home is really in pristine condition, and the children are very well cared for, but it was just so hard to witness so many healthy children without families. Tong explained to us that it is apparently very difficult to adopt children from Thailand. It was emotional, but overall the experience was amazing and we are so glad that we found a way to fit this into our trip. The plan was to visit several orphanages that day – however we never made it past the first. After that we were off to the airport to visit our friends from DC that currently live in Chiang Mai.

All in all we absolutely loved Bangkok and wish we had more time. We did have one last day at
the end of the trip at the Four Seasons Bangkok. The hotel service and location was great but if we had to choose between the FS and the Penn, we probably would have gone with the Penn. We just liked the location on the river and the balcony view of the city was hard to beat. Our last day in Bangkok we spent relaxing by the pool. Unfortunately, there is a ton of construction going on around the FS, so the sounds of heavy machinery kind of ruin the relaxation. After freshening up, we headed to the Sum Lum Night Bizarre – where I could have spent hours shopping. I thought the selection and quality of the items was much better than the night market in Chiang Mai. I did the last of my shopping and then we were off to dinner. We asked the concierge to make reservations for us at a newish Sushi restaurant called Wasabi that is located in Q bar (which was recommended by my friend in Chiang Mai). The sushi was just amazing and I would highly recommend it if you are a fan of sushi– although the place definitely caters to the later crowd as we were there at around 9:30 and the place was empty. It did start to pick up by the time we left. After that we stopped for drinks at Q-Bar and Bed Supper Club – both of which were extremely hip and made for great people watching. We called it an early night because we had to catch a plane in the AM back to the states.

Since this review has gotten extremely long – I’ll post more later on Chiang Mai, Phuket and the Golden Triangle. Would also be happy to answer any questions in the meantime.

Cheers!
RJRinDC is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 10:59 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 76
Great report so far. I am writing to ask you to please write your report on the FS Golden Triangle soon. We are off to Thailand and Cambodia in 2 weeks (SOOO excited) and our trip seems to mirror yours (except we have Siem Reap in the middle). With the FS Golden Triangle being so new, I haven't read much about it from others that have stayed there and am so anxious to hear a first hand report. One question, is there anything special we need up there (clothing or otherwise) that might not already be included in a normal Thailand packing list. Also, any reason to request a certain room over any other? Thanks for any input.
cadwex is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 12:21 PM
  #3  
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No problem – here is my review of the Tented Camp. I’ll get to Phuket and Chiang Rai later. After Phuket we flew, via BKK, to Chiang Rai. A rep from the FS was there to pick us up and we drove for about an hour to Chiang Sean which is where the camp is located. The drive is through very pretty countryside and just before you arrive you can see the tents in the distance. The last 15 minutes of the trip you leave the land rover and are taken to the camp via longtail boat. Burma is on your left and the tents are across the river to the right. The arrival is definitely memorable. Once you arrive at the camp you are greeted by the host and given a tour. The camp is pretty spread out and it was about a 10-15 minute walk from our tent (Tent 13) to the restaurant. Essentially at one end of the camp is the restaurant and pool at the other end is the Burma Bar and the elephant camp. We preferred our location because it seemed a bit more isolated and we enjoyed the walk to and from the restaurant. Tent 15 seemed to be the most isolated and Tent 1 was also a bit off the main path. Honestly, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them. The first day (we were there four days three nights) we just relaxed, explored a bit and then headed to the Burma Bar for sundowners – a nightly ritual where you enjoy the sunset, chat with other guests, etc, before heading to the restaurant for dinner. When we were there only 6 out of the 15 tents were occupied so on many occasions it felt like we were the only people at the resort. I should add that the service was excellent – you could always find someone if you needed something – but it was not overbearing so you really got the feeling of being isolated in this wonderful magical place. The next day was the highlight of the trip - Mahout Training in the AM (FS gives you a traditional Mahout training suit) and then the Elephant Trek in the afternoon. During the training they teach you various commands and how to mount and dismount the elephant. You have one of the camp’s Mahouts on the elephant with you in the AM, but during the afternoon trek – you can go on your own if you wish. You really get to be up close and personal with the elephants, give them baths, trek through the jungle, etc. It was an amazing experience. I was on Lucky Boy, the camp’s oldest and only male elephant. I figured the old guy was less likely to get rowdy on me.

The next day we took a Golden Triangle tour – which was nice enough and we enjoyed our guide, a short stop in Laos and then a tour of Chiang Sean –but I would have been just as happy relaxing on the deck of our tent with a book or by the pool. I should note that although the activities were great, the best part of the camp IMO was just relaxing and enjoying the quiet and beautiful surroundings. That afternoon we visited the spa – half of which literally opens to the jungle. I had the Mahout recovery treatment which is apparently a cross between a traditional Thai massage and a regular massage. It was extremely relaxing, but definitely more pressure than I was used to – but I have never had a traditional Thai massage. Our final night at the camp we arranged to have a private dinner in the camp’s wine tasting room. It was wonderful, extremely romantic, and another highlight of the trip. The camp itself is amazing; I certainly have never experienced anything quite like it. As far as dress goes – we were there in August/September so it was still very hot – even at night. Dress at the camp is very casual. My husband wore shorts and polo shirts and I wore sundresses, skirts or capri pants. I should note that we found the brick pathway to be very slippery – I almost bit it multiple times and I was wearing rubber soled sandals – so just make sure to bring sensible shoes and some type of water shoe for the elephant trek. I wore flip-flops and they felt like they were falling off the whole time.
Hope that helps and enjoy your trip – I am sure you will love every minute of it.
RJRinDC is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 12:49 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 76
Thanks so much for taking your trip out of order for my benefit. I was thinking I might need some kind of water shoe and sounds like I do. First on my shopping list for the weekend. Your descriptions are wonderful--cannot wait for our adventure to begin!
cadwex is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 12:53 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Thanks for your report, especailly about the FS tented camp. I believe yours is the first review on this board.

It sounds like you had a wonderful time in Thailand and that you will be back... and perhaps as addicited to SE Asia as many of us on this board are!
Kathie is online now  
Oct 17th, 2006, 03:04 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
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Super report. Great to hear another rave review of Tong. She is taking us (along with Bob) in November to a seaside village. I especially agreed with your comment that being on the river in BKK is best. Glad you finally got food that was sufficiently spicy .
Gpanda is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 05:27 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
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The only thing that would concern me was eating at the Coconut Palm. We saw it but were told by 2 Palace guides and our driver that it was good but really up-scale street food which my brother, a physician for 6 yrs. in Bangkok,strongly advised us from eating. He said he could write several books of stories of patients at the private clinic he runs that he and his staff had treated in his 6 years in practice in Bangkok. Eating at the Harmonique or the China House are a whole different story though anything can happy even after dining at a high-end restaurant in NYC or LA.
StanKase is offline  
Oct 17th, 2006, 07:35 PM
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great report...i love what you have been able to accomplish in such a short time....oh youth!!


keep it coming
rhkkmk is offline  
Oct 18th, 2006, 04:56 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Wonderful report - it is great to see Thailand through others' eyes. We will be in Bangkok for our third time in February.
Craig is offline  
Oct 18th, 2006, 05:29 AM
  #10  
 
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We were thinking of eating at Coconut Palm after touring the Grand Palace, but after reading the comment by StanKase, I am rethinking this. Has anyone else eaten there, and what did you think?
shelleyk is offline  
Oct 18th, 2006, 06:10 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,418
Well it seems the OP ate there and suffered no ill effects...

The words I read were "yummy little place"..

I would take the word of someone who has actually eaten there over someone operating on hearsay.

The potential for getting sick on food in Bkk is no different than it is here. We've all gotten sick in top-notch establishments, as Stankase says.
offwego is offline  
Oct 18th, 2006, 12:47 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 4,466
Andy

You say Tong is taking you to a seaside village??? can you elaborate? i have Tong booked a few days after you and as yet havent decided what to do!

Smeagol
Smeagol is offline  
Oct 19th, 2006, 04:16 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
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Great report BJRinDC. I love the Golden Triangle area. So peaceful, sitting near the river bank watching all the boats going by.
kingbonza is offline  
Oct 20th, 2006, 11:18 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 460
Great report. Planning a trip to Thailand next year, so doing all the reading I can.
sharon1306 is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 01:02 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 40
My husband and I are heading to Bangkok at the end of the month. Can you supply me with Tong's e-mail address so I can line her up for a couple of tours? Your two days with her sound just great. Thanks.
CapitolHill is offline  
Nov 4th, 2006, 10:25 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 4
Is the FS Golden Triangle really $1500 USD per NIGHT? It seems wonderful, and very similar to private safari camps in Africa...

Also - how kid friendly is it? We have 2 young kids (polite, cheerful, but kids nonetheless), and wondering if we would be welcome?
yvrtogo is offline  
Nov 4th, 2006, 10:32 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 5,034
The Four Seasons Golden Triangle does not accept children under age 16. The Anantara is nearby and kids are very welcome there.
KimJapan is offline  
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