An opportunity to travel with the other winners of the remarkable TATnewsroom Bloggers was one of the greatest and most interesting parts of my travels in Thailand. We had the opportunity to meet up with other travel bloggers from around the world, discover interesting places and activities in Thailand that we otherwise would not have known about as well as had a unique opportunity to meet the organizers of the competition which was the Tourism Authority of Thailand people who were not only very friendly but also delightfully hospitable and just as fun loving as we were.
Our familiarization trip of Thailand included 5 days and 4 nights of traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai which were the beautiful Northern provinces of Thailand. On the first day we all met in Bangkok after arriving from different places like Malaysia, Singapore, India, Russia, France and the Philippines. We were all provided with full return flights from our countries to Bangkok as well as domestic flights to the Northern provinces.
We were also provided with the best hotels, best dining experiences, best tour destinations and not forgetting the best in travel logistics. Short of saying that we were treated like VIPs, if you do have a chance to compete in the next TATNewsroom Blogger 2017 competition, I would highly recommend that you compete and try to win it!
The first leg of our incredible journey began in Bangkok with one night stay at the new Novotel Sukhumvit 20. We had wonderful rooms and in the morning before we had to leave early in the morning to the airport for Chiang Rai, we were packed a nice breakfast box by the hotel. Dinner in Bangkok was at the Eat Sight Story Restaurant which afforded a wonderful view of the magnificent Chao Phraya River and scrumptious Thai fusion food. We also met up for the first time here with the other bloggers and TAT persons who showed us all a great time.
Early morning on the second day was a flight by Thai Smile Airways to Chiang Rai Mae Fah Luang International Airport. The sight of rolling green hills and open green land was a welcoming sight promising a truly refreshing experience in these famous mountain areas. We started off with a visit to the Doi Tung Royal Villa where we visited the well-manicured grounds and place where the Queen Mother spent most of her time to develop sustainable agriculture and various other Royal Projects. We also visited the Mae Fah Luang Botanical Garden which has a wonderful display of temperate flora including a canopy tree top walk to admire the beauty of nature. Doi Tung Mountain is famous for growing macadamia nuts in the Royal Projects here and we had our fair share of just so delicious macadamia nut coffee and shakes including lunch at the official restaurant for Doi Tung where macadamia nuts were incorporated into Thai dishes.
After Doi Tung we went to the famous Baan Daam (Black House) of one famous artist called Ajarn Thawan Duchanee who was famous for his unique look on the world around him through a sense of the macabre and morbid. The house which stands in a sprawling ground of smaller out-houses displayed a collection of animal bones, skins, hair, wood carvings and an immense collection of baskets, boats, pottery, statues and old rifles. The house is made from blackened teak and iron wood which gives it that color and done in a Lanna design reflective of the location of Northern Thailand.
With this visit, we were only through half the day in Chiang Rai and our next destination was to Singha Park where the more adventurous of us dared to experience the zip lining from the top of the tower in the park. The sound of whoops, screams and cheers were echoing for quite a distance from the bloggers who dared to try this but from the look on their faces, you could tell it was great fun. After that we went to the park area where the iconic gold Singha Lion stood majestically overlooking the area of 5,000 over rai of park land from the top of his perch on a knoll of well-manicured grass. It felt good lazing around on the grass without a care in the world and jut soaking in the setting sun over the horizon. Dinner was at the Phu Pi Rom Restaurant in the park which had a breath-taking view of the tea plantations. Situated at the highest point of the property, we were treated to a wonderful Thai dinner and our Russian blogger had brought 10kg of traditional Russian gourmet food including caviar, Vodka and a host of other goodies for a cultural exchange night! During the dinner we got to know each other better, exchanged notes on our blogger experiences and enjoyed the food with rounds of drinks and good company.
After Singha Park we made our way to the Chiang Rai Clock Tower which was design by Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat who also designed the White Temple that we would be visiting the next day. We went to the clock tower to watch the changing of the lights which happen every hour at night. After that we went to check in to the Imperial River House Hotel, Chiang Rai which was a luxurious resort by the river with huge rooms and facilities to pamper yourself after a day’s hard touring. One thing is also for sure was that the hotels provided were some of the best and most luxurious in the cities we visited. This marked the second night of our trip in Thailand with the making of new friends and a celebration of new adventures.
Our third day started after breakfast at the hotel on a road trip to the White Temple another famous icon in Chiang Rai also known as Wat Rong Khun. Design also by Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, it had similar signature sculptures as the Clock Tower. The pristine whiteness of the temple which was constructed of white marble, concrete embedded with pieces of glass gave it a surrealistic appearance but not everything white is as pure as it may seem on the surface. Elaborating the interpretations of life, death and karma it has its own story of unusual morbid sculptures all done in white. There were also buildings painted in gold to signify materialistic wealth and this place has one of the most beautiful restrooms in the world all painted and decorated in gold! After this was a drive to the next province of Chiang Mai down south which was about a three hour drive.
We reached Chiang Mai in time for lunch at the Rim Tarn Ban Meang Restaurant which was part of the King’s Royal Project locations. Here we had traditional Northern Thai cuisine prepared with fresh organic produce from the Royal Projects. After lunch we made our way to the sustainable village of Ban Rai Kong Khing. This village is known for its concept of preserving traditional Thai crafts, massage and food preparation. We were greeted at the entrance with specially handcrafted souvenirs made from scented pandanus leaves. For the rest of the afternoon we learnt how to make special Thai desserts from pumpkin, Thai charcoal grilled omelets in banana boats and were treated to their very special Thai Fire Massage called Yam Khang massage which was performed by the village head shaman and is a special massage handed down from generations incorporating a mix of sesame oil, essential oils and hot charcoal fire. A highly recommended therapeutic massage that is guaranteed to loosen all those tired and stiff body knots and aches!
After the village we checked in to the Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort Chiang Mai. If you talk about the epitome of luxury in a hotel, this has to be it! Complete with a private Jacuzzi in the room, a sprawling Lanna style balcony with reclining sofa, a huge outdoor like bathroom and a room you can totally dance a foxtrot in, this was luxury personified. This hotel was also situated next to the river and has a serene spa-like environment that is great for those who would like a pampered holiday stay in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.
However, our day was not yet over and we were taken for dinner to this remarkable place called Cuisine de Garden which was an Italian French Restaurant nestled in the middle of a village away from all other places. Extremely isolated and one would never have suspected that such a fine dining restaurant would exit here but leave it to the gastronomies who can locate a good restaurant no matter how isolated it may be. We had the best of fine dining in Chiang Mai at this restaurant which included pan-seared fois gras, unique appetizers, main dishes and desserts. This dinner was almost three hours long with the number of dishes meticulously prepared to the finest detail.
Our last activity for the night before calling it a day was a walk through the famous Chiang Mai Weekend Night market and Ta Pae Gate. Segregated into a long cross street, you can find almost anything here from delectable street food to clothes and souvenirs. Things are also fairly cheap and there were at least more than 200 plus stalls for you to choose from to try the food as well as to buy home a memorable gift of your journey. By the time our day ended it was well past 11.00pm and boy, were we bushed with the day activities and happy to call it a night to rest and prepare for another day of great fun and adventure.
Our last day in Chiang Mai after breakfast was to visit the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden which has one of the largest collections of rare plants including cactuses, temperate flowers and orchids. There is also an educational building where you can learn all about the place as well as a place to research and study about the flora of the region. It is one of the Royal Project stations for education and research in Chiang Mai. After the Botanical Garden we made our way to Doi Mon Jam where we just had to try the famed Mountain F1 go-carts. These special go-carts made by the Hmong tribe people from bits of logs and wood were a great pastime for kids and adults alike who used them to race down the steep hills of the place along the bumpy dirt road. Using a stick and pedal you would maneuver your cart at speeds that would put a car to shame with only the most basic of brakes … your feet. It was great fun racing these carts and one of our most unusual experiences of village life of the Hmong people.
Our lunch was at the Ban Mon Muan Restaurant where we had another round of signature Northern Thai food and hospitality and something that I believe all of us would miss when we return to our respective countries. Northern Thai food eaten in the cool air of the mountains always taste better than a standard restaurant in the city and is a unique local experience that one should have an opportunity to explore at least once in your life. After this we made our way to Chiang Mai International Airport for our flight back to Bangkok and our last dinner at the Octave Rooftop Lounge & Bar Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. Our last night was spent with recounting our happy memories together on the trip, of lasting friendships and promises to keep in touch after our parting. Some of us had to leave early in the morning for flights back so this was the last opportunity to bid each other safe journeys and farewells. After dinner we check into the Novotel Sukhumvit 20 again for the night.
As a last note, it would be great if we had the opportunity to experience these remarkable provinces again as we had barely touched the beauty of Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. However, one thing is for sure, Thailand truly is an Amazing Thailand and there is nowhere quite like it. The hospitality, friendliness and courtesy of the Thai people are legendary and we were most graciously well treated by our hosts and organizers. We have brought home remarkable and unique local experiences of Thailand that will remain with us forever and also cherish the times we have had and the friends we have made. Like I said earlier, if you ever have a chance to compete in the next TATNewsroom Blogger competition, go for it! Winner takes all, which is the best times of your life in Amazing Thailand.