Thailand: A Fun & Cultural Experience

Story and photos by Jon Haggins

Koh Samui is Thailand’s second largest island after Phuket with an abundance of sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees. Upon arrival in Koh Samui, we transferred to a pier where we boarded a private speedboat and sped through the tranquil blue water passing a number of lush green islands as we headed to Koh Phangan Island. When we arrived at Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villa Resort & Spa, the staff greeted us with cold, wet towels and cool refreshing coconut drinks.

This five star property offers a variety of villas, some with private dip-pools with a view of the sea. The serene environment and swaying palm trees will take your breath away. It’s a total eco-friendly property surrounded by nature and offers great hospitality. The outdoor pool and open dining room lead to a white sandy beach.

The early morning golden sunrise is unbelievable. I stepped into my dip-pool just to start my day. Lunch was in the restaurant under thatched umbrellas on the beach. The afternoon was very relaxing with a deep-tissue Thai massage. The hotel offers a variety of water sports such as kayaking and jet skiing. There is also a morning boat excursion where one can snorkel and have lunch on board. A shopping mall is located several steps from the hotel.

Sugar, one of the hotel staff took me to an elephant farm for an unbelievable experience. Riding the elephant and being lifted up by the elephant’s trunk was unforgettable. We also visited a colorful temple high on a hill and stopped at a homemade ice cream parlor where they make fresh, tropical flavored ice cream from local fruit. They even have a durian ice cream. Durian is a fruit that locals love. The most amazing and spectacular thing to do is watch the sunset while sipping tropical drinks in a restaurant at the edge of the sea. We returned to the hotel for a local island dinner under the light of the full moon.

After reluctantly departing from Koh Phangan Island, our next destination was Anantara Bophut Resort and Spa. We were pleasantly surprised by the amazing receiving line as they welcomed us to the hotel. They pulled out all the stops, including a young person dressed in a colorful cultural costume. A large painted elephant sculpture stands at the head of a lily-pond and the open garden of the hotel is ethereal. It’s lined with royal palms and floating lilies. We dined in the restaurant overlooking the pool and ocean. There is a service bar next to the pool for those who don’t want to move a finger.

We had a Thai cooking lesson from the chef. Everyone was instructed on how to prepare some of the local dishes and we ate what we prepared. The hotel also offers Thai kick boxing lessons, flower making and fruit carving lessons.

The hotel had planned a white party where everyone had to wear white from head to toe and was held on the beach under a white open tent with candlelight. The service was impeccable and the dinner was the best, especially with the sound of the waves crashing against the shore.

The hotel is a short walk from the Fishermen’s Market where we shared a few beers at a bar on the beach. We reclined on large pillows on the beach looking out over the sea while an acrobatic flaming fire act performed in front of us.

Along the edge of the island sits the Grandmother & Grandfather Rock, very phallic and suggestive. A large golden Buddha sits on top of a hill overlooking the city and there is a steep climb to reach it. One can experience a sense of peace and tranquility when arriving at the top.

Lunch was at the newly renovated Six Senses Spa and Resort. This peaceful environment was the perfect stopover. A large infinity pool overlooks a green valley of coconut trees. Chaise lounges and large white umbrellas surround a pool and it’s a perfect place to relax and forget your troubles.

Anantara Siem Bangkok Hotel sits in the heart of Bangkok. The hotel has a grand stairway in the lobby decorated with a colorful mural. This is the very same hotel where Hillary Clinton stayed. The hotel has an open court with lots of shops and restaurants. We dined in the Spice Restaurant in the hotel. The outdoor pool is a perfect place to lay back and reflect on Thailand’s culture and beauty.

No visit to Bangkok is complete without a visit to the Grand Palace. It’s the most visited site in the city and was built in 1782. For 150 years it was the home of the Thai King, the Royal Court, and the administrative seat of Government. The Grand Palace of Bangkok continues to awe visitors with its beautiful architecture and intricate details, all of which are a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of the Thai people. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom and the Grand Palace is perfectly preserved.

Let’s not forget a visit to Wat Pho, the Temple of a beautiful reclining Buddha. It’s one of the largest Temples in Wat Phra Chetuphon, located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 150 feet long. The figure is molded out of plaster around a brick core and finished in gold leaf. Mother-of-pearl inlay ornaments decorate the feet, displaying 108 different characteristics of a Buddha. It’s an easy ten-minute walk from the Grand Palace. The golden Buddha is very popular; you need to take time to wander around the entire complex because it’s very relaxing. This is also a great place to get a traditional Thai massage. Wat Pho is often considered the leading school of massage in Thailand.

The Chao Phraya River, a major transportation artery, runs north to south through Thailand. The river is used for boat tours as well as commercial transport and is a colorful and exciting experience while looking back at the city skyline.

We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the busy river and shoreline. Afterward, we visited the Nii Spa and had a traditional deep tissue Thai massage, which was a perfect way to relax after a busy day.

For our farewell night, we shared drinks at one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars, followed by a visit to the Asiatique Night Market where we explored various shops and then we went out to dinner. We also visited Patpong Night Market where everything is for sale, from clothing to wallets and watches. It’s a perfect place to haggle for the right price. After shopping you might want to take a Tuk-Tuk (one of the colorful truck-taxis) ride back to your hotel just for the thrill of it.

Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are idyllic and relaxing experiences. Bangkok is a huge metropolis with lots to offer and a must see when visiting Thailand.

Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel
999 Samutprakarn 10540, Thailand
+66 (0) 2 131-1111

Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villa Resort & Spa
5/5 Moo 5, Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach, Koh Phangan, Suratthani 84280, Thailand
+66 77 239 555

Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa
99/9 Moo 1, Bophut Bay, Amphur Koh Samui,  Surat Thani 84320 Thailand
+66 (0) 77 428300-9