Written by Denny Custer.
So I sez to Joy, that when we finish with our China trip, we’d like to do Thailand and maybe Singapore, just because we’re so close. Sez Joy to us, “Bangkok, the Regent Resort at Chaing Mai, Amanpuri Resort at Phuket and Raffles in Singapore”, all for sure. She’s been there, done that and who are we to argue with her eloquent voice of experience? So the three locations of three nights each in Thailand became known as the Thai-Fecta…and 3 more nights in Singapore became the Plus One. What an adventure… it really was different.
The difference began as the flight from Beijing was approaching Bangkok in darkness. The sky was crisp clear, the lights were dazzling. In fact the next 12 days were remarkable in that there was no smog or haze (in contrast to China where it was almost perpetually hazy).
In Bangkok we stayed at Shangri La. Once THE premier hotel in Bangkok, now I would say in 3rd place to the Oriental and Peninsula which are next door and across the river respectively. Still an excellent facility (now undergoing renovation) at a superb location on the famous Chao Phraya River.
We started with a personal half-day escorted tour to visit the Golden Buddha and Grand Palace. The Grand Palace must be unique in the world for its beauty and dazzling colors. We went into a severe photographic overload, with beautiful sun, gorgeous angles and framing possibilities. Though essentially an outdoor experience, we suggest going when the palace opens- it gets very very crowded.
That afternoon, we did a long-tail boat ride for 2 hours through the canals off the Chao Phraya. Propelled by truck motors, the long-tail can really get up and go! Because the Royal Barges are used very infrequently, one stop is to look inside the area where they are kept. It is extremely worthwhile.
Next day we started at 7 am, with our guide and driver, and drove to Kanchanaburi for the bridge over the river Kwai. Some have said “too touristy”, though there weren’t that many around. The museum and the cemetery were very solemn reminders of the grim aspect to the construction of the Death Railway, which actually started (or ended) at the bridge. We walked across (there are several end spans which are original, but the allies bombed out the center part and those spans have been replaced). The original bridge was downstream a thousand feet and made of timber, apparently never used. Then we took a 2-hour ride on the Death Railway. Just as impossible today to visualize what the pioneers saw as they traversed our west… it is similarly impossible to visualize the horror of the Death Railway. The jungle has given way to very developed and rich-soiled farm country. We enjoyed the whole experience. The movie incidentally was actually made in Sri Lanka.
Next we flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and 3 nights at the Regent Resort, some 20 miles north of town. We heartily recommend this facility. Operated by Four Seasons, the villas, pool, and dining facilities are excellent and the grounds are actually a working rice plantation. There are five resident water buffalo which are paraded around the facility twice a day so you can meet them up close and personal. Again, a place for photographers to go into overload. The nightly lighting of the Tiki torches around the rice paddies was neat. The entire ambiance is most peaceful and restful.
Two half-day side trips were taken with the remainder of the half-days swimming and sunning and enjoying the grounds. One trip was to Doi Suthep Temple (excellent) and a Hmong village way up in the hills. The village was one of abject poverty and very tough to take. We visited a kindergarten class and ol’ Den was in his glory using the digital camera and showing kids their smiling faces. Then, with help from the teacher, we got them seated quietly and I taught them an American word… “Hi!”, with enthusiasm.
The second half-day was an excellent adventure to Chiang Mai Elephant Reserve. We could feed the elephants, watch them bathe, saw a performance where they showed off their talents (including playing harmonicas), and then took an hour-long ride. Have picture proof with Den and then Karen sitting atop our elephant’s head! Was a neat experience.
We flew on to Phuket in southern Thailand and the Amanpuri resort, where we totally lucked out. Owing to a renovation of the main lobby and dining area, Amanpuri wished us not to be disturbed by noise or a need to move. So, they put us in a 4-bedroom oceanfront villa for all three nights, at no added expense! Wow, this set-up is: 4 superior bedroom units, all in separate individual buildings, a 20′ x 100′ pool, 2 dining salles, one living salle, and a live-in-villa maid to do private cooking… just for the residents of that villa. There was one other couple, Aussie from Melbourne, and we shared this whole villa. Great views, great weather, fantastic black-tiled pool, spoiled beyond credibility… normal rate of $1,400/night if you rent a minimum of two units. Aaaaaaaah nice to see how the rich and famous live!
We had a nice excursion on Amanpuri’s luxury 60′ yacht, taking us to beautiful Phang Nga Bay (where scenes from the James Bond island from “Man with the Golden Gun” were filmed). In checking out, I called to their attention that they had failed to include the $280 price of the excursion and was told that was also “complimentary”. Wow, once in a lifetime I would guess. Amanpuri is just a fantastic facility!
Lastly, we flew to Singapore and took a half-day tour of the town (very nice large city, but not just that, a very clean modern large city). The highlight and reason for going there was of course to stay at the Raffles Hotel. Yes we did down a couple of Singapore Slings at the Long Bar. No, they did not elicit a buzz (remember, this is a drink invented for women). Yes, we did throw peanut shells all over the floor (what a neat tradition). Yes, we did eat in the steakhouse made famous by Frank Cavendish and YES, we thoroughly enjoyed Raffles… what an ambiance and definitely a trip highlight.
Then 30 hours later, 19 of which were in the air, we found ourselves safely home. A fantastic China Trip, followed by Joy’s “Thai-Fecta, Plus One”!