My most memorable trip of 2019 was to Southeast Asia in September.
We began our journey in Bangkok; a large, cosmopolitan, international city of 10-12 million people, but also fairly clean, orderly, and very friendly. We stayed in 2 very different properties while in the city. The first was the St. Regis in the heart of commercial/business/high-end shopping district. The hotel has 220 rooms/suites and is a 5-star experience and quintessentially St. Regis, complete with the well-known 6pm Champagne Sabering. The Asian inspired breakfast buffet is out of this world!
We then stayed at The Siam, a 5-star boutique private urban sanctuary of just 39 rooms/suites. There was exquisite art, antiques, and lush gardens throughout the property along the Chao Phraya River. Besides enjoying the incredible rooms, we ventured out to see amazing sites such as the Grand Palace, Wat Po (Reclining Buddha), Wat Pra Kaew (Emerald Buddha), and Wat Arun.
We loved experiencing the mazes of canals and waterways, and the unique floating markets of Damnoen Saduak and Lao Tak Lak. Notable restaurants were Sala – a riverside restaurant across river from Wat Arun and Krua Suan Rimnam on the river, near Nakorn Pathom, where cooking classes are offered, as well. Of course we had to experience SkyBar, one of tallest open-air bars with amazing views of the city and very expensive fare!
We then made our way to Chiang Mai, which is much smaller and a special gem!
137 Pillars was home for us for several nights; a luxurious 5-star boutique hotel with 30 suites in a walled compound. The main building was built 125 years ago as the headquarters of the Borneo Trading Company; the 137 Pillars House is a beautiful teak wood building that has been carefully restored to reflect its 19th Century origins. The location is stellar and a short bike ride away to temples, shopping and the night market.
One of the most memorable experiences was our evening tuk-tuk ride through Chiang Mai, street food sampling experience, various temples, the Three Kings Monument ending with night market shopping. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes will remain in my memory! We even met Anthony Bourdain’s famous Cowboy Hat Lady.
The sacred temples of Chang Mai are Wat Suan Dok, Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, Wat ChetYot/Jedyod. All beautiful and each unique, especially Wat Prathat which is up the hill with an outstanding view!
We also had an afternoon at Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, learning about the elephant sanctuary and playing with the elephants. You get wet and dirty, but oh what fun!
Our next stop was Luang Prabang, Laos. Luang Prabang is a lush green town, and named a UNESCO world heritage site. Situated between the Mekong and Khan Rivers and surrounded by hills, it is full of interesting history and loads of charm. While there, we stayed in the Sofitel Luang Prabang, originally built as a French Governor's residence in 1900s, located in a quiet residential quarter and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The luxury all-suites hotel offers 25 suites.
Upon arrival, we were hosted in a private Baci ceremony held in the home of a local family and it was a fantastic opportunity to go inside a home and have a blessing bestowed on us. We had a private walking architectural tour with UNESCO rep, Francis Engelmann, visited the temples of Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai and Wat Sene, the Royal Palace and National Museum.
We took a steep climb up Phousi Mountain to a small temple perched on top. Then a visit to a Water Buffalo Dairy where we learned the history of this small operation that leases lactating buffalo from local farmers, milks the animals, and makes yogurt, cheeses and ice creams. A farm to table lunch was elegantly served on the porch over looking the hills. When in Luang Prabang, one cannot miss Kuang Si Waterfalls-truly amazing! Another must is Alms Giving – some of us ventured out in the very early morning, using complimentary bicycles from Sofitel to watch the daily ceremony of alms giving by and with the local monks and it is very moving!
Second to last stop was Siem Reap; a vibrant and colorful, busy city with markets, bars, restaurants and so much history. We were hosted in the Jaya River House – small boutique hotel of 36 rooms with a warm and wonderful staff! The manager is committed and intent on helping local Cambodians and supporting plenty of non-profit work in the city and country.
Siem Reap has incredible Angkor Wat and it is impossible to overstate the impressiveness of the ruins. Absolutely huge grounds with many multiple temples. One day barely scratches the surface and if anything, we all wished we’d taken more time to learn. A very unusual experience is the Phare or Cambodian Circus – great show and really fun night out held in a small theatre. This circus has a “feel good” component as it helps ordinary Cambodians escape poverty or worse domestic situations and provides education, skills and income for many.
Our last stop was the pristine, private southern Cambodian island of Song Saa where we felt like castaways! The bungalows are quite special and the perfect get away for couples.
Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are filled with exquisite beauty-the people are gentle, the temples and sites amazing and the tastes wildly spectacular.
If you want a unique travel experience to all of the best known and unknown places, allow me to create the perfect itinerary for you! Contact me through my website!