Since I have many to share, I thought it might be fun to post them each in a weekly series I will call "Travel Tuesday." Today, I thought I would start with a bang by posting my recommendations for Thailand, our honeymoon destination.
I am a great budget traveler, and like to try and experience the "real" parts of places and cities, so I hope that this weekly blog series will be helpful to others who travel in the same way. That being said, the Thailand trip may be a bit different. While we are always budget concsious, since this was our honeymoon, we did splurge with our first accommodation, so I can't really classify that resort as budget conscious (fabulous yes, cheap no). Everything else in Thailand is amazingly reasonable (read: dirt cheap), however, so even if you are not honeymooning when you visit, you are sure to find some of this helpful.
Here goes! I will start by reviewing the cities visited, then the hotel accommodations, followed by tips on things to do.
We went to beautiful Thailand for our honeymoon. We wanted to experience as much of the country as we could, so we spent a few days in a more remote, beachy resort in a private villa with a private pool, followed by a few days in Chiang Mai for a more rustic experience staying in a converted rice barn, and finishing with a few days in Bangkok at a chic hotel to explore the city.
The first part of the honeymoon was spent in gorgeous Khao Lak (on the Andaman Sea an hour north of Phuket).
Khao Lak is a resort beach in Thailand, located 80 km north of Phuket International Airport in Takua Pa district, Phang Nga province and popular as a departure point for liveaboard scuba diving trips to the Similan Islands.
The pristine coastline is synonymous with beauty. Nearby rubber and palm plantations dot the coastal region and most nearby inland areas. The major national Highway 4 runs north and south and mostly parallel to the coastline. Khao Lak is a thriving tourist destination for backpackers, up-scale tourists, adventure tourists and seasoned scuba enthusiasts. Local peoples are mostly Thai often with some Chinese ancestry. The diversity of ethnic groups and cultural influences within and surrounding Khao Lak makes this region rich in agricultural, fishing and dry good products. Tourism is Khao Lak's revenue generating entity, becoming Thailand's most popular jumping-off point for the world renowned Similan Islands.
Here is where we stayed:
The Sarojin (Pool Residence):
What we arrived to find :)
This tub and the rainfall shower were awesome.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have an important news flash: CANNONBALL!
Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, and is the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is located some 700 km (435 mi) north of Bangkok, among some of the highest mountains in the country. The city stands on the Ping river, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya river.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city, although it lacks the cosmopolitan nature of Bangkok. It has many attractions for the thousands of foreign visitors who come each year. Chiang Mai's historic importance is derived from its important strategic location on an ancient trade route. Long before the modern influx of foreign visitors, the city served as an important centre for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewelry (particularly silver) and woodcarving.
Here is where we stayed in Chiang Mai:
We arrived to find a honeymoon surprise :). The resort was so serene, you'd hardly know you were in the city.
Bangkok is the capital, largest urban area and primate city of Thailand. In the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has been the political, social and economic center of not only Thailand but for much of South East Asia and Indochina as well. Its influence in the arts, politics, fashion, education, entertainment as well as being the business, financial and cultural center of Asia has given Bangkok the status of a global city. The city's mix of Thai, Chinese, Indian, Buddhist, Muslim and Western cultures combined with the driving force of the Thai economy makes it increasingly attractive to foreigners both for business and pleasure and has made the city one of the world's top tourist destinations.
Bangkok is the world's 22nd largest city by population with approximately 6,704,000 residents, but due to large unregistered influxes of migrants from the North East of Thailand and of many nations across Asia, the population of greater Bangkok is estimated at nearly 15 million people. This has in turn shifted the country from being a rather homogenous Thai population to increasingly a more vibrant mix of Western, Indian and Chinese people.
Here is where we finished our Thai adventure in Bangkok:
We loved the funky, modern details of the hotel and the blue lighting in the rooms.
The Sarojin - Pool Residence. OMG, this was absolute paradise! We seriously considered just moving in while we were there :). The service was out of this world from the second they greeted us at the airport with a cold towel, beer, and our choice of playlist for the car. That was just a hint at how well you are attended to during your stay. Our room (or should I say villa) was spectacular, from the private plunge pool and Thai sala, to the rainfall shower. The food at both the resorts restaurants was top notch. They even have an "imagineer" on staff that will create any experience you want. He made sure to meet us right away and ask how he could surprise us :). The beach was amazing... we couldn't sleep the first few nights because of the time change, so instead took sunrise walks on the beach collecting shells. It was so beautiful. We also took advantage of the couples massage they threw in for our honeymoon, and found it to be the best massage we got the whole time we were in Thailand. We also took advantage of the resort's car service to town (Khao Lak) for some shopping, eating, and drinking. If you go to Khao Lak, the local restaurants in town are amazing and SO CHEAP! The Sarojin is the perfect honeymoon destination.
Fern Paradise. All the reviews of Fern Paradise on TripAdvisor (where it is the #1 ranked hotel in Chiang Mai) are true. The service was incredible, and you would have no idea that you are in the middle of a big city when in this haven. It is a family owned establishment, and that is just how you are treated: like family! As part of our package, we had a home cooked dinner for breakfast every morning, and it was GOOD! Also, thanks to the owner we had a good hook-up with a cab driver that took care of us during our entire stay. The cab driver (Patrick!) was our personal tour guide for our days in Chiang Mai. He gave us history, drove us around, stopping at spots he thought we might like to take a picture or shop, joined us for lunch at a restaurant he recommended, and waiting for us while we shopped the night markets. One thing to note about Fern Paradise: it is more like a B&B than a luxury resort, and it is tucked in a fern forest, so you will hear interesting insect sounds in the night outside your barn.
Dream. Dream was the perfect way to round out our trip. After the luxury beach resort and the rustic rice barn it was great to have some modern luxury. As with our previous two accommodations, the service at Bangkok was top shelf. The breakfast that was included with our room was huge and tasty, and we loved the modern blue lighting inside the rooms. We were also so close to so much action (it's right off Sukhumvit with its shopping, and near the sky train just a few stops from Siam). Bangkok was really fun, and a good way to ease us back into city life before the long flight back to LA. I had heard some say that Bangkok is not really a honeymoon destination (since it is a large, bustling metropolis), but we are personally sooo glad to have experienced it. Definitey spend time in a beach location too, but Bangkok is really fun and international.
Korean Air. We flew Korean Air for our flights to/from Thailand. I don't have experience with other airlines that do this type of trip, but I can tell you that we loved Korean Air and would fly it again. The planes were huge and new, with private TV's for each seat. They feed you often (you have to try Bibimbap if you ever fly Korean Air and they offer it to you), and it is really good. The service was also great. Some of our US-based airlines could take a few pages from this book.
Thai Airways. For our within Thailand flights, we flew Thai Airways. They have so many scheduling choices, so this was pretty ideal. The service was also great, and they feed you every time (even if the flight is less than an hour). Once again, our airlines need to learn a thing or two!
Things to Do:
Relax by the beach and/or pool! You will be tired after an 18-hour plane ride and trying to adjust to the 14 hour time difference. Spend the first few days chillin.'
Go on a trek! In Chiang Mai we took a day to get off the beaten path. We went elephant riding,* hiking to a waterfall, bamboo rafting, and visiting native tribal villages. Treks like this can range in price, so you may want to ask your hotel concierge for their recommendations. That is what we did, and we found this entire day trek for 1900 baht total for the both of us (which included transportation to and from our hotel and a Thai lunch).
*Edited to add: At the time of this trip, I was not yet educated on how elephants are often abused and mistreated at tourist attractions like this. When planning a trip to Thailand, I encourage you to seek ethical elephant experiences, and support the local elephant sanctuaries (such as Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai) instead of a tour for riding them.
Shopping! You MUST shop in Thailand. Whether it is one of the GIANT malls in Bangkok where you have 8 full floors of designer stores, or the Night Market or Sunday Market in Chiang Mai, or one of the many street markets in Bangkok, you will be in shopper's heaven. The exchange rate is so good that you can shop till you drop without dropping a lot of dough.
Your guy should also buy himself at least one custom tailored suit in Bangkok. The price is insanely cheap when translated to USD, and he can pick the fabric and lining, the cut, and have it cut and fit to him. For this I also recommend asking your concierge as I have heard quality can vary. The place we found even picked us up from the hotel for the shopping and fittings.
Drink! Just like food, drinks are crazy cheap in Thailand. We found Singha and Chang beers to both be delicious (and the hubs claims that Chang is stronger per volume than US beers). We had fun checking out local dives in Khao Lak (and especially enjoyed finding an "Irish" Pub - where the hubs had to show the bartender how to make an Irish Car Bomb - which was on their menu). We also had fun checking out some of the bigger bars/clubs in Bangkok. We especially enjoyed Bed Supperclub, which is just around the corner from Dream.
- Kayak.com - Your one stop shop in airfare booking. It is a spider travel search site that searches all major airline, hotel, and travel sites (like Orbitz, Expedia, etc.) so that you can see and compare deals in one place. This is how we found the best deals on flights to/from and within Thailand, as well as the best rate for Dream.
- TripAdvisor.com – TripAdvisor is a HUGE help in making accommodation decisions, as it is pretty intimidating booking something across the world. We literally read every review for all our choices which helped us to feel the most confident about our final choices.
- LuxuryLink.com – if you are looking for an all-inclusive package anywhere exotic, they have some great deals you can bid on that include extras (like couples massages and dinners). It is a pretty good deal if you are looking for something extravagant, as you can get a package here cheaper than directly with the resort. We got a pretty good deal with The Sarojin booking directly, but this site is great for high-end resorts like Six Senses, etc.
- See if there is an option for free breakfast or airport transfer with your hotel. Many offer this, and it will save you money. Plus the free breakfasts in Thailand are HUGE multi-course meals, and you usually have the option of Asian or Western style meals.
- If you are honeymooning, tell everyone it is your honeymoon. The Sarojin greeted us with a congratulatory cocktail and bouquet when we pulled up, had a bottle of champagne in our room along with "Happy Honeymoon" spelled in rose petals on our bed, and a free couple's massage. Fern Paradise had a bouquet on our bed as well. Dream sent us a special dessert to our room that had "Happy Honeymoon" written in chocolate.
- While many people advised us from going during the rainy season, it really didn't bother us much at all. It was not cold when it rained (and actually, rain was a pleasant escape from the humidity), and though it rained about 50% of the time we were there, it was absolutely beautiful in between, even for full days enough for us to participate in outdoor activities. Plus, the soothing rain sounds outside your door when snuggling with your SO, or surrounding you when you get a Thai massage make for a very relaxing and romantic time. :)
- Make sure you always have address of your hotel, if not directions back to it, with you when out and about. Cab drivers don’t often know the hotels that well, so you may need to direct them a bit. Plus a map or address helps if there is a language barrier.
- Which reminds me: don't let airport cab drivers screw you! They will try to tell you it is 800 baht from the airport to your hotel. Nothing is really more than 200-300 baht away if you go by the meter. Always ask them to put the meter on! Don't fear, most other cab drivers did not try to screw us... just the ones at the airport.
- If you go to Bangkok, the sky train is a really efficient and cheap way to get around.