Experience the ultimate in exploration.
- Written ByJennie Nunn
For nearly two decades as a magazine editor and writer, I’ve met people who travel for a multitude of reasons. Some simply want an escape. Others are trying to find meaning and purpose, reach a difficult life decision or fulfill a “bucket list.”
Regardless of motivation, everyone seems to ask me the same question: “Where should I go now?”
If there’s one place that’s right at the top of my list, it’s Thailand. From canoeing to a private, tented luxury camp to learning to ride an elephant to experiencing a fairytale-like setting surrounded by manicured rice fields and gardens, Thailand is the ultimate in exploration.
Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, is perhaps best known for its beloved Night Bazaar—lined with souvenir-stocked shops, restaurants, art galleries, nightclubs and even Muay Thai boxing rings.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
Set amid 32 acres of pristine gardens and terraces, the lush property with 99 pavilions and residences is dotted with lily ponds, lakes, four restaurants, a spa, a cooking school and a working rice farm replete with water buffalo. The resort offers complimentary activities such as Thai language classes, sunset yoga, nature hiking with a local expert and mountain biking.
Should you want to venture off the premises, catch a ride on the in-house shuttle that runs several times daily to and from downtown Chiang Mai, where you can cruise around the city like a local in a tuk tuk, or rickshaw. At Chiang Mai National Museum, explore sculpture, artwork and artifacts from the Lanna kingdom. If you enjoy the outdoors, pack a picnic and head to a waterfall/swimming hole like Monthathan Waterfall or Huay Kaew Waterfall. fourseasons.com/chiangmai
Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai
Opened 10 years ago, the 277-room property features guestrooms decorated with calming earth tones and Asian artwork. There is even a pillow menu, where you can choose between a feather pillow, anti-snore, buckwheat, foam or bolster. For a personal reboot, head to the yoga pavilion, outdoor swimming pool or Chi Spa and opt for the Wild Flower Body Glow with an aromatic blend of Chiang Mai herbs, followed by an exfoliation and massage. shangri-la.com/chiangmai/shangrila
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle
Don’t let the word “camp” fool you. Opened six years ago, this luxury property in Northern Thailand, approximately 490 miles from Bangkok, is comprised of 15 tents tucked in a bamboo jungle, situated along the Ruak and Mekong rivers. Laos and Myanmar (formerly Burma), can be spotted in the distance.
To get to your suite, framed by canvas walls, you cross an Indiana Jones-style wooden bridge, suspended high above a large pond. The spa is located in a series of converted treehouses with open-air salas hovering above the jungle. Just as unique are the treatments, which include the new kala coconut massage, using kala, smoothly finished half coconut shells and virgin coconut oil made exclusively for the resort.
For the experience of a lifetime, sign up to learn to be a “mahout”—an elephant rider or trainer. The program is a partnership with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, an organization dedicated to rescuing non-wild elephants from cruel conditions. Students learn basic commands (“pai” or go; “bean” or turn; and “how” or stop), go elephant trekking and become a trained mahout for the day.
Other activities include a city visit to a local market with fresh seafood and produce, an 800-year-old temple or Wat Pa Sak—home to the Chiang Saen Museum. On display are artworks by local hill tribes and ancient Lanna-style artifacts. fourseasons.com/thailand
Le Méridien Chiang Rai Resort, Thailand
Located approximately a one-hour drive from the Golden Triangle, the property features an on-site spa, swimming pool, manmade lake and two 100-year-old rain trees. Guestrooms are appointed with cool tones of charcoal and lilac, flat-screen televisions and rain showers. Activities range from a Mae Kok River cruise to a visit to Rai Mae Fah Luang (or the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park)—a botanical garden and museum. lemeridienchiangrai.com
Airline passengers can choose from one of three flights daily on a Boeing 777-300ER to Hong Kong (one until October only) on Cathay Pacific Airlines (cathaypacific.com). In business class, maintain privacy in a roomy pod-like cabin complete with a fold-out entertainment screen, a reading light, power outlet, small storage compartment with a mirror and a fully reclining seat powered by the touch of a button that lowers into a bed.
Thanks to partnerships with notable guest chefs, hotels and wineries including Mandarin Oriental and Chef Daniel Green of Food Network’s Kitchen Inferno, the onboard culinary experience is a not-to-miss event. The airline was one of the first to offer rice cookers, toasters and skillets to prepare everything from steamed rice and toasted bread to eggs. From Hong Kong, you can fly direct to Chiang Mai on Cathay Dragonair.
The food is only part of the charm.