Thailand’s Many Faces
Phuket’s beaches and Bangkok’s bustle
Suzanne and I had met on an Alaskan cruise the year before; our instant rapport consisted in part of our passion for travel. When I had the chance to visit the brand-new Six Senses Destination Spa in Phuket, Thailand, she was the first potential traveling companion I thought of (admittedly, my husband couldn’t get away from work at the time).
Thailand is exactly halfway around the world from us; after all those in-flight hours, arriving at Phuket was heavenly. The hot and sunny weather was a soothing balm to our February-in-the-mid-Atlantic bodies.
From the Phuket airport, it’s a short drive to the marina, then a speedboat trip to Naka Yai Island. I’ve been to many a spa in my lifetime, but nothing quite like this. This “destination” spa is dedicated to transforming the lifestyles of its guests through a complete immersion into healthy and “mindful” living.
Upon arrival, a wellness consultant determined the state of our overall physical and mental health and designed unique programs for each of us that combined nutritional and fitness guidelines as well as treatments in the four distinct spas—Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Indonesian. We wore our provided cotton yoga suits everywhere, including to meals made from produce grown right on the property (they claim their entire landscaping is edible) and fish plucked from the pristine Phang Nga Bay.
Shockingly, not only did I lose seven pounds during my five days there, I’ve been able to maintain my way healthier eating habits in the months since I’ve been home. We met several European guests there who had come for the recommended two-to-three weeks. Wish we’d had that much time to devote.
On our way to our much-anticipated time in thrilling Bangkok, we boated over to the Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi, on a neighboring island—an even more lavish venue replete with alcohol, chocolate, and decadent dining. There we lived in a super-luxurious rainforest treehouse with—as at the destination spa—our own swimming pool and personal butler. Our ocean views included hundreds of limestone islands rising majestically from crystalline waters.
Duly relaxed, we jetted to Bangkok, where luxury travel purveyor Cox & Kings planned our six-day private, customized itinerary. This 250-year-old company will suggest loads of options for your destination and provides a private car, driver, and English-speaking guide to take you to them. But while the itinerary is planned, you may make changes at any time. On day one, for instance, we made an unscheduled stop at a glitzy department store and at the famous Gems Gallery (after a week of fishetarian cuisine, private yoga sessions, and Thai foot massages, a girl’s gotta get her fix of perfume, electronics, and jewels … and we did)!
Cox & Kings provided the perfect guide: Vee, a charming woman with an endearing sense of humor and untiring enthusiasm. Though an excellent English speaker, we taught her a new word, “adorable,” which she truly was.
We stayed first at the storied Mandarin Oriental Hotel—where authors from Joseph Conrad to Noel Coward hung out—then, after two nights, we crossed the Chao Phraya River to the Peninsula Bangkok. These two are among the most stunning and pampering hotels in Asia.
Each morning we breakfasted upon a riverside terrace, and were ready promptly for our early calls with Vee.
As is the way with travel to exotic countries, just the car ride to a well-known site can be as exciting as the final destination. Stirring scenes of Thai daily life included ghostly white figures with face masks mining salt in endless paddies by the roadside; groups of saffron-robed monks receiving their daily bread (literally; Thai citizens are required to provide monks with all their food); elderly ladies squatting by the road frying up coconut pancakes and filleting fresh fish; water buffalo grazing in fields.
We took a long-tailed speedboat to visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, where merchants (usually women) paddle the congested network of canals in sturdy canoes laden with fresh fruit, vegetables, and conical hats to sell to shoppers on the banks and in other canoes.
On a cruise along the Chao Phraya, which divides Bangkok in half, we saw daily life in homes lining the riverbank, from the simple to the elegant. We trekked through the expansive Grand Palace, the ancient Siamese court where the Kings of Siam once dwelled, and where the lit-up golden rooftops make a spectacular nighttime sight.
We walked the haunting ruins of Ayutthaya, capital of Siam from 1350 through 1767, when it was burned during a war with Burma. Some still-thriving wats (temples) we visited held golden or emerald Buddhas and were paved over with the distinctive pottery mosaics seen nowhere else.
We watched performances of Thai music and classical dance, rode an elephant through a rubber plantation, visited the Chatuchak Weekend market—with 15,000 stalls on 35 acres—selling everything from silks to jade to clothing to puppies. (I just wish I could have figured out a way to bring home vast quantities of the fabulous gold-painted china several stalls were selling.)
But our gold lust was sated in Chinatown, a section of Bangkok teeming with tiny three-wheeled tuk-tuks (a Thai taxi, if you will), autos, food peddlers, and pedestrians from the world over. There are seemingly hundreds of cheek-by-jowl shops selling gold jewelry, and each looks exactly like the next. The Chinese here work only in 23-karat gold, the most precious anywhere.
But truly the most precious? The memories made in faraway lands.
Six Senses Destination Spa Phuket
Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi
The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
The Peninsula, Bangkok
Cox & Kings