Exploring Bangkok - A few days in "The Land of Smiles"
In November 2019 I was honoured to join the “best of the best” in the luxury travel world and attend Virtuoso’s Chairman event, which was taking place in Bangkok. This is the most prestigious event of the year and only select member agencies are invited (top producers and most engaged agencies). I am invited as a thank you for the work we do on Virtuoso’s Global Member Advisory Board which is amazing and I get to bring a guest so was able to bring my partner, Darmas along for the ride!
This was a fully hosted 5 day, 4 night experience in the charming but crazy city of Bangkok. My first experience to Thailand was back in 2007 when I was a backpacker, so I knew I was going to see a totally different side to this city, being spoiled by our Virtuoso hoteliers, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and destination management companies that we work with who had sponsored the event. If you’re planning to visit Thailand, you’ll likely be flying into Bangkok and it’s a great place to start your vacation for a fun city break before heading up north to Chiang Mai or down south for a relaxing beach holiday on one of the idyllic islands. Here are highlights from my trip:
STAY Our host hotel was the Peninsula Bangkok- this was my first stay at a Peninsula hotel which was exciting in itself! We couldn’t believe our eyes when we walked into our room and saw our names stitched into the pillowcases! Wow! At the end of our stay they had been cleaned, pressed and re-presented to us in a beautiful box to take home as a keepsake. The Peninsula is renowned for its world-class service and the friendly bell men and women, wear the infamous white outfits which were so elegant and classy. As soon as you walk into the hotel you can smell the fresh flowers and see the stunning displays in the main entrance lobby. The hotel has a large fresh herb and vegetable garden where they grow the vast majority of their produce. They also have a multi-level swimming pool which was like an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the river right behind the hotel. Service with a smile at every turn... One of the lovely waiters offering us a complimentary fresh fruit smoothie- perfectly timed as I only had about 45 minute pool time all week! We also got to visit the magnificent Mandarin Oriental which has just undergone an extensive multi-million dollar renovation and it’s truly spectacular. The lobby is just gorgeous- dripping in opulence but with a modern flair. There is so much history with this property which is celebrating over 143 years of heritage and service excellence. In the middle of the 19th century, when Thailand was still known as Siam, a rest house for foreign seafarers was established and was to become one of the world's great hotels: The Oriental. In late 2019, the hotel just completed a USD$90 million restoration to revive this iconic hotel. We also attended a lovely welcome party at the Shangri-La- I didn’t get to see the rooms but was so impressed by the beautiful landscape around the pool area. The food was fresh and delicious and they created a market style atmosphere with different food stalls. They also gave us the opportunity to hand paint an ceramic miniature elephant, in support of Elephant Parade which is a social enterprise which raises awareness for the need of elephant conservation. It was a fun activity but I won't be giving up my day job! Conveniently situated, all three hotels were across from each other on the river and the hotels provide complimentary boat transfers across day and night. During my stay I also visited another Virtuoso hotel, COMO Metropolitan Bangkok which is situated in the business district. I had a spa treatment as the COMO brand is renowned for their special wellness programs, and it was absolutely fabulous! EAT Food glorious food…Thai cuisine is loved by many all over the world. But to be honest, I have a nut allergy, hate coconut, ginger and spicy food, so Thailand isn’t actually the best place for me, however everywhere we went were very accommodating. And fried rice was always on the menu which I love! My stepbrother speaks Thai so kindly prepared “severe nut allergy” signs which I could show street vendors if we wanted a snack on the go. Darmas on the other hand, was in heaven and tried literally everything! Our most impressive meals was an incredible banquet dinner outside on the Riverside Terrace at the Mandarin Oriental. They even surprised us with a fireworks show at the end of the night and flew in an award-winning live band so we could dance the night away! I have to say, the breakfast buffet at the Peninsula was a feast- and it was the first time I had ever seen a made-to-order create your own eggs benedict bar- heaven!
DRINK An absolute must is the Moon Bar on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree which has magnificent 360 degree views of Bangkok and delicious cocktails! DO
Floating Markets: There are many but the most famous one is Damnoen Saduak. We got to taste lots of delicious fresh fruit and local Thai snacks. We were taken through the labyrinth of canals on a wooden paddleboat and passed by market stalls built alongside the waterways. Be warned, it’s hot, the markets are packed (think literal traffic jams on the water) and I would highly suggest bringing a bandana or mask to cover your mouth from the fumes. It was an experience for sure- still deciding if it was a good one or not, but it is kind of a must see for Bangkok as they showcase the culture of riverside shopping which traditionally was used by so many families, but now serves more of a tourist attraction.
Tuk Tuk Ride: A trip to Bangkok is not complete without getting between two locations on a tuk tuk. Don’t forget to haggle on the price!
Railway Market: This was another first, we ventured about an hour outside of Bangkok to visit the famous Maeklong Railway market, that was literally set up on *active* railway track. Up to 8 times a day you can watch these dedicated market sellers wait until the very last moment (I’m talking you can hear the train tooting it’s that close) and suddenly pack their items away in a manner that’s so impressive you are left shell shocked. As soon as the train passes (you can touch the sides of the train, it’s centimeters away) the vendors get everything back in order and resume business as usual!
Wat Pho Temple: This was great, we are so glad we went. We couldn’t do it all in our short time. We had attempted to visit the most famous Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew but once we got inside the grounds and saw the 1000s of people we decided against it. Instead we went to Wat Pho, this was a much smarter choice, busy, but a lot more tranquil with beautiful grounds to explore as well as the infamous reclining golden buddha.
Night River Cruise on the Chao River: There are many to choose from and the inclusions and size vary greatly, but we for the most romantic experience we chose the intimate Apsara by Banyan Tree which was on a converted vintage rice barge. It’s not cheap but we were treated to a four course dinner highlighting 4 regions of Thailand, all freshly prepared onboard and served to your table course by course. We cruised up and down the river seeing the beautiful temples such as the Grand Palace and Wat Arun lit up at night.
Thai Massage: Definitely a must do when in Thailand. But a word of warning, don't let the traditionally petite female masseuse mislead you, it may be one of the most painful massage experiences of your life! They are super strong and it involves a lot of deep-pressure point work and stretching. Being spa-obsessed as I am, during this trip I made sure to experience both luxury spas such as the one at the Peninsula...As well as the "cheap as chips" parlours found all over the city. It definitely has a comedic element though, and for around $10 you can have a massage for an hour, in a shared room as below. At times I had to ask her to stop as it was too hard for me, but there were chuckles in the room as others (including Darmas) were getting thrown and bent in all sorts of shapes during the treatment.
A Muay Thai Class: Thailand created this form of martial arts and there are drop in class opportunities all over the city. Abercrombie & Kent were one of the destination and experiences sponsors and during our “Design your Day” we signed up to one of their “Insider Access” day trips, and we enjoyed a private Muay Thai boxing lesson with a former Muay Thai boxing champ. How cool!
VIP ACCESS Being a member of Virtuoso means we can offer our clients unique and exclusive experiences. Our arrival to Bangkok started by us being met at the end of the bridge as we got off the plane and were escorted to fast track and were taken to the hotel in private transfers hosted by Luxe by EXO, one of our ground partners in Asia. The Tourism Authority of Thailand pulled out all the stops to show off their wonderful country and bring flavours to us from all regions throughout the week with their cocktail and dinner events. Our final dinner was held at the National Museum, where we got small group tours to see the museum after hours after hours without the crowds, which was a real treat. To my amazement, each coach was escorted by the police so we could cut traffic during peak rush hour. I had never experienced anything quite like it. We enjoyed a multi-course meal with fresh produce designed by a collaboration of celebrity chefs and were treated to cultural dancing and music throughout the evening! All in all it was an incredible few days where we all created memories of a lifetime together! A huge thanks to the amazing events team at Virtuoso, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Abercrombie & Kent, Luxe by EXO and the Peninsula and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Groups for creating this epic Chairman's event! What a way to end 2019!