It's hard to imagine that through most of its history, the country known as Thailand was called Siam until 1939 - just 80 years ago. Today it remains brimming with bucket-list-worthy experiences. Traveling for work as a TV host for my show Travel Time with Linda, I get to experience many beautiful places, but Thailand is one I especially wish to experience over and over again. From mind-blowing tropical beaches, opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins and ornate temples displaying figures of Buddha to soothing traditional Thai massage therapies, there is no shortage of magical fabulosity to encounter.
Compared to other destinations around the world, it’s also a bargain lovers paradise – even for luxury travelers like myself. The Thai baht goes a very long way in Western currency which we took full advantage, enjoying a heavenly Thai massage daily at just 500 baht (12 USD!) an hour.
We traveled through Thailand like a boss expertly navigated by Exotic Voyages covering four exotic locales. Starting our travels in Bangkok to explore its capital city of must-see historical and cultural attractions, we then became “elephant owners for a day” at Patara Elephant Farm in the jungles of Chiang Mai. An absolute-must to go island-hopping Thailand’s beautiful beaches, we spent a few wondrous days each in the beach paradises Koh Samui and Phuket. All of our extraordinary journeys memorable and perfectly executed, Exotic Voyages truly knows how to treat first-class travelers and is one of the few luxury travel companies that you can trust will deliver with private and customized tours to destinations in Asia.
Persuaded to spend less time in Bangkok’s bustling metropolis by friends describing it as “dirty”, I wish to dispel that rumor, as I immediately longed for more time in this gilded city upon entering the courtyard to our stunning urban sanctuary; the luxurious boutique hotel The Siam.
Set on three acres of verdant frontage along the Chao Phraya River, The Siam is 39 suites and villas located in Bangkok’s Royal Dusit District. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Bill Bensley, the Art Deco inspired, Thai-antique-infused premier resort is reflective of its kingdom's historic name.
Our spacious serene escape from “mad, bad Bangkok” was outfitted with plush Art-Deco furnishings, a super-size king bed and lofty ceiling with original turn-of-the-century artworks and antiquities.
Ready to experience “Bboujee Bangkok,” as I later nicknamed it, we met our tour guide Peek of Exotic Voyages in the hotel lobby early on our first and regrettably only day in Bangkok to begin a full day of tailor-made adventure temple hopping the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho, viewing the iconic reclining Buddha - and remembering to enter each building leading with the left leg as a sign of good luck.
Hopping a short one-hour flight from Bangkok to Thailand’s Northern Region we arrived in Chiang Mai for a serene escape shrouded in nature. I checked off another bucket list thing-to-do organized by Exotic Voyages to participate in the unique “Elephant Owner for a Day” program at Patara Elephant Farm.
It was incredible spending the day with these gentle giants feeding them, learning about their skin and how to bathe them and the spoken commands how to communicate and ride them. Mommy (below) and especially Baby above) were my absolute favorites to hang out with at socializing hour.
Soon I was assigned my Elephant “Ploy” to “own for the day” along with trainer Ew, who taught me several key phrases: dee dee, which means “good girl”, na lo ("lie down"), ma (come), and most important during the riding portion, how (stop).
Our haven of tranquility, 137 Pillars House was our tropical oasis in Chiang Mai. A beautiful boutique hotel where the elegance of the Orient meets modern luxury is built lovingly around “the House”; a teakwood building carefully restored to reflect its 19th-century origins.
In Chiang Mai, by the way, the importance and wealth of a property owner was often measured by the size of their houses - built in the style of the 13th-to-18th-century Lan Na Kingdom of northern Siam - and in particular how many sao (pillars) the houses had - the more the pillars, the more important. Jack Bain, the property owner at the time, decided to count the number of pillars an impressive 137. An old map of the Wate Gate area also referred to house as “Baan 137 Sao”, which translates to 137 Pillars House - thus the name of the hotel.
Jack Bain’s legend lives large in the old house as we ended our adventures each day enjoying handcrafted "Old World" contemporary cocktails, and on one particularly exhausting day shopping Nimman Road; the heart of the trendiest part of Chiang Mai, we rewarded ourselves with a delectable afternoon tea in the spirit of the Orient, with wonderful offerings of Chai Dim tea selections paired with savory and sweet delights.
After exploring the rich cultural heritage of the historic Lan Na Kingdom, we retreated in style to our expansive bedroom suite with lush garden terrace and daybed overlooking our private jungle oasis; my favorite amenity was the Victorian bath, along with indoor/outdoor shower.
Then a quick hop took us down to to Phuket - touted as one of the world’s most romantic destinations - where we were fortunate enough to be “VIP’s by the sea” as guests at Baan Banyan Villa. This heavenly rental property was truly a jaw-dropper, blending its natural environment perfectly in a contemporary-meets-traditional Asian style. It was all ours, complete with private chef, villa manager, and two housekeepers, providing us extraordinary service beyond our imagination.
Upon arrival, we are greeted outside by the entire staff and offered a beautiful flower garland called a malai, presented by our villa manager Bood as a form of good luck and respect, followed by receiving a mind-blowing tour of our stunning “home away from home”.
Nestled into the hillside of Kamala Bay with breathtaking ocean views surrounded by nature with uninterrupted views of the Andaman Sea, this ultra-chic villa that accommodates up to 12 guests was our luxurious landing pad for three wondrous days to enjoy. Feeling utterly spoiled in our newfound eye-opening appreciation of the luxury-villa concept, we couldn’t manage to tear ourselves away from our villa paradise.
We dined like royalty on delectable, exotic dishes, with our private chef preparing scrumptious cuisine with portion sizes enough to feed a large family; blissfully lounged in the lap of luxury, enjoying the expansive infinity pool; and ended each day with a Thai massage poolside, framed and protected by Baan Banyan Villa’s majestic namesake; the gorgeous banyan tree gracing its beautiful grounds.
Whether you’re a romance-seeking honeymooner (and we met quite a few during our travels) or celebrating your golden anniversary, you will most certainly fall in love with Thailand, the magical “Land of Smiles” that had me at the first wai kha (the traditional Thai greeting, with palms pressed together as if in prayer).