If there’s one word that can sum up the experience of Thailand, it’s “vibrant.” Vibrant foods dancing across the corners of the palette–sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy–sometimes all at once. Vibrant colors of umbrellas, bougainvillea blooms, lush green foliage, white sand, and azure waters. Vibrant bursts of energy from temple dancers, the surge of the sea, the collective current of locals funneling through the narrow market streets. A visit to Thailand is a banquet for the senses–it’s unlike anywhere else I’ve been.
The first leg of our visit started in Bangkok. We had intended to spend a few days in Tokyo. However, this trip happened about two weeks after the disaster at Fukishima–not the best timing for a vacation there, as everything was still quite a mess. So we decided to point our arrows to Bangkok instead. (You’ll be able to read more about this adventure in a blog post coming soon.) The second leg of our visit began with a stay at Sandalwood Luxury Villas in Koh Samui–a verdant oasis perched on a hillside, overlooking the Gulf of Thailand (you can see it here.) One of our first days there featured an endless downpour and dramatic storms over the coast, so we enjoyed a long and much-needed couples massage and spa treatment on the beach.
The next branch of our trip took us to Chiang Mai, where we stayed at the enchanting and unbelievably beautiful Secret Garden (click here to check it out!) This magical boutique hotel is hosted by Peter and Pai, friendly and gracious hosts that have a gift for making their guest feel at home. Every last detail is meticulously chosen and arranged–from lanterns dotting the darkening hillsides to peaceful gardens of orchids, palm, and heliconia to water features and sculptures accenting the grounds.
During our stay in Chiang Mai, we visited the village of the Lahu Shi Balah tribe, known for the “long-neck women.” In their tradition, brass rings are placed around the necks of girls and women, beginning as young as age five, in order to make their necks appear longer. We also visited the Maesa Elephant Camp, the home of the largest assembly of domesticated elephants in northern Thailand. (Click here to learn more.) Here, the elephants play, interact with guests, and even paint! They seemed very well-fed and well-cared for. We especially enjoyed visiting the baby elephants in the nursery, where Maesa Elephant Camp dedicates its knowledge and resources to increasing the elephant population in Thailand. Other stops along our journey included a quick stop at a tiger sanctuary, and watching a traditional “cobra kissing” ceremony.
One of our favorite stops in Chiang Mai was an orchid nursery where the multicolored plants dangled like jeweled mobiles from the ceiling. We wandered through the Paper and Umbrella Handicraft Center and a silk-worm farm before ending up at the stunning Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Thailand. This golden wonder was built in the 14th century and its founding is deeply intertwined with local legend. While visiting the temple, we watched several beautiful performances by girls in traditional Thai costume. Like everything else we had experienced in Thailand so far, it was captivating, festive, and, yes, vibrant.
Our Thailand experience was equal parts relaxation and stimulation, and we enjoyed every moment of it. From languid afternoons laying across the rocks, listening to the rumble and spray of the surf, to standing in the square of the temple, trying to absorb the multicolored dancers and the murmur of the bells, every moment was filled to the brim with tastes and smells, sounds and color. Henry Miller said “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” This is Thailand, a completely new way of seeing, hearing, and tasting that lingers in you long after you leave.
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