Thailand: Fit For Kings

Matching upscale clients with luxury resorts is easy in this small country with big style

By: Kenneth Shapiro

Size can be misleading. Thailand, one of the world’s smaller countries, features a disproportionate number of the world’s greatest hotels and resorts.

Check any “Best of” list and you’ll see Thailand’s big three tourist areas Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket mentioned over and over again. In last year’s Conde Nast Reader’s Choice Awards, for instance, Thailand once again made an impressive showing, holding its own with much bigger Asian tourism powerhouses, such as Japan, China and India, with eight of the top 50 Asian hotels and five of the top 15 Asian resorts.

While the country’s popularity with backpackers and other budget travelers is legendary, Thailand’s great hotels and service are a perfect fit with luxury travelers as well especially in light of the growing desire for exotic adventures among the wealthy. With so many great options in such a relatively small area, however, it can be confusing for travel agents to decide where to send their upscale clients. And if the key to selling to the luxury market is matching the exact desire of each client to the product, getting it close, or almost right, just won’t do.

So, while there is virtually no client that won’t enjoy a stay at every hotel featured here, there are some specialties worth keeping in mind.

For Families

Ideal Client: A well-traveled family with kids over the age of 4, spending a few days in Bangkok.

You can’t go wrong recommending the Peninsula Bangkok. It’s widely considered one of the greatest hotels in the world, and for good reason. Some agents might not be aware, however, that the Peninsula Bangkok has an exceptional kids program and is a great base for families as well.

But is a city like Bangkok really fun for kids?

What kid wouldn’t enjoy spending time with a Thai storyteller on a dragon-tail boat trip along the city’s famous canals? Or being a Junior Chef for the day? Or a “Diva for a Day,” where girls (the program is for girls only) are chauffeur-driven in a Mercedes to one of Bangkok’s shopping centers, Siam Square, for a day of shopping followed by hairstyling and a manicure?

These are just a few of the inventive options in the Peninsula’s Junior Academy program.

Rainy Chan, general manager of the Peninsula Bangkok, is one of the most creative GMs in the business. While there are plenty of hotels that pass off sitting around playing video games as a “kids program,” Chan won’t have any of that.

“I want our kids to do more,” she says emphatically, “to learn about the country through stories, art, dance and food, and by interacting with Thai kids too.”

The result is a creative and action-packed program kids will remember forever.

The Junior Academy is for kids 4-12. Prices are per class or activity and range from one hour for $20 per person to six hours for $130, depending on the program. Some of the classes are for kids alone; others require that an adult supervise. A minimum of two days advance reservation is required for most programs (e-mail:

Also Try: The JW Marriott Phuket is great for families traveling to Thailand for the first time, or those more at home at a resort. Also a five-star property, the JW features a new MAZE (Marriott’s Activity Zone Experience) program, with five levels of activities based on age group. And most of the activities are complimentary for guests. The resort also features two-bedroom villas perfect for families, on-property babysitting and a large pool with a separate family area and waterslide.


Ideal Client: A couple ready to splurge on a romantic getaway.

Trying to pick the most romantic hotel in Thailand is a fool’s burden there are great choices throughout the country, whether your clients’ ideal is a lonely stretch of beach, jungle seclusion or the bright lights of the city. The legendary Oriental Hotel, the charming Chakrabongse Villas, the Banyan Tree Bangkok with its romantic outdoor restaurant 60 stories in the air, Phuket’s stunning Amanpuri and Chedi resorts, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai and the new Four Seasons Tented Camp in the north are all good options. Resorts in emerging areas on Ko Samui might provide clients with a less crowded slice of beach paradise as well.

One option that deserves a closer look is the JW Marriott Bangkok. This hotel is famous for its dining with multiple “Best of” awards and a wide variety of choices but the property also offers year-round romance packages. Its One Night in Bangkok package is great for couples stopping in Bangkok on the first night of their honeymoon or on their way to other destinations. For $230 per night, couples get a spa treatment for two and a romantic dinner at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant Nami, in addition to the room and a full buffet breakfast.

Also Try: The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, in Chiang Mai, offers an incredible Lanna wedding ceremony option for guests. Lanna is the culture associated with northern Thailand, and the ancient and elaborate wedding ceremony is unforgettable as is the resort’s attention to every detail. Visit the Dhara Dhevi Web site for more information.

Adventure Travel

Ideal Client: Leisure travelers looking for the latest experiences and destinations without sacrificing comfort.
One of the newest entries into the luxury market is also one of the most unusual properties, and it is perfect for the new breed of leisure traveler. The Four Seasons Tented Camp, in Thailand’s Golden Triangle, is designed to mix adventure travel and one-of-a-kind experiences with Four Seasons-style pampering. As the first all-inclusive resort in Four Season’s brand, the tented camp holds no more than 30 guests at a time and features two- and three-night packages that come with activities, including elephant training, an excursion along the Mekong River with stops at local villages, jungle trekking, visits to hill tribes, spa treatments and more.

The tented camp features 15 luxurious, air-conditioned tents with decor and furnishings “reminiscent of 19th-century adventure expeditions.” Each tent has mosquito netting, a king-sized bed and a copper bathtub in the room, and daybeds and an outdoor shower on the sundeck.

The grounds include shops, dining facilities, bar, library, spa and pool.

“Like an African safari camp, the ability to share once-in-a-lifetime experiences with fellow guests is an essential part of Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle,” according to the resort.

Also Try: Some of the properties in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, are close enough to visit the elephant training (and riding) centers in the region, yet still spend evenings shopping and dining in town. The Four Seasons Chiang Mai and The Chedi are can’t-miss options. Rachamankha is a lesser-known gem with beautiful decor that offers quiet tranquility and a convenient location.

Health and Wellness/Spa

Ideal Client: Seasoned travelers (perhaps with previous experience at a destination spa or health retreat) with the time and desire to immerse themselves in Thailand’s healing traditions.

The fact that a traveler can walk into a local neighborhood spa and receive an hour-long Thai massage for as little as 400 baht (about $10) is practically a matter of national pride in Thailand. The concept of health and wellness is so pervasive that a luxury resort in Thailand simply must have a superior spa to compete, which means for a spa to stand out it really needs to be exceptional.

Enter the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi.

From the moment guests arrive on the Chiang Mai property, it is clear that this is no ordinary resort. With 123 massive and luxurious “pavilions,” villas and suites situated on 60 acres, all with elaborate, hand-carved teak details, and a central rice paddy inhabited by grazing water buffalo, Dhara Dhevi feels like a world all its own. That’s the idea, according to designers, who based the resort on the concept of an authentic Lanna palace. The result is at once a tribute to Lanna culture and art and a truly unique getaway meant to pamper guests with tasteful modern luxury.

Central to the offerings at Dhara Dhevi is the Dheva Palace of Holistic and Ayuervedic Healing, home to the holistic spa, ayuervedic center, fitness center and yoga and retreat programs. It is all located in the resort’s ornate spa complex modeled on the Royal Palace of Mandalay. Guests can register for an individualized program lasting from one to 21 days, including everything from specialized treatments to meditation to the preparation of special meals. It is a comprehensive health-and-wellness program unlike most anything else.

Also Try: The Peninsula Bangkok like the rest of the Peninsula Group is adopting the Peninsula Wellness program, which coincides with a new spa opening in December. The spa is being developed with the help of E’Spa, and will feature 18 treatment rooms in a colonial-style building overlooking the Chao Praya River. According to the Peninsula, the wellness program is a personalized approach meant to “touch every aspect of a guest’s well being, both during their stay and beyond.”

True spa aficionados may already be familiar with Chiva-Som, a beach resort in Hua Hin, approximately 130 miles south of Bangkok. The resort has won multiple spa awards, including World’s Best Destination Spa in this year’s Travel + Leisure Readers’ Survey, and specializes in a holistic approach to health and wellness, personalized to each guest.


Ideal Client: A couple, or possibly a small group traveling together, open to learning about other cultures and wanting to do more than shop or hang out on the beach.

The Thai are rightly very proud of their culture and delight in sharing it with visitors. With the popularity of Thai food in the U.S., cooking schools for tourists are widespread in Thailand and provide a great way for visitors to be introduced to Thai culture.

One of the best cooking schools is at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai. Opened in 2003, the school facility is built in the Lanna style and set in a lush garden with a waterfall nearby. The school houses 16 students, and courses range from Thai curries to traditional soups and noodles to desserts. Also available are guided excursions to local farmers’ markets to learn more about Thai ingredients and culture.

In addition to the cooking school, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai offers a variety of options for guests to experience the local culture. Chiang Mai is a historically and culturally rich area, and the Four Seasons goes out of its way to educate guests about the Lanna influence on the region.

“What we do at Four Seasons is ensure that our guests do not go where most visitors go, but with a guide’s expertise, get off the beaten path a little into some of the less well known and interesting areas,” says Andrew Harrison, general manager.

Also Try: Cooking programs and other cultural offerings are widespread in all tourist areas of Thailand. For example, in Phuket, the JW Marriott has opened its Ginja Cook learning facility, with room for eight guests in a newly designed teakwood building. In Bangkok, The Peninsula Academy aims to bring guests the best of Thai culture with activities from Thai cooking classes to temple visits and discussions on Buddhism.


Banyan Tree Bangkok

Chakrabongse Villas


Four Seasons Chiang Mai

Four Seasons Tented Camp

JW Marriott Bangkok
www. page/BKKDT

JW Marriott Phuket page/HKTJW

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi

Oriental Hotel

Peninsula Bangkok


The Chedi

Guiding Right

It’s one thing to match your upscale clients with the right luxury resort, it’s another when your clients leave the cozy shelter of their hotel and set out on their own especially on the streets of a city like Bangkok, which can be overwhelming to new visitors. A great way to assist clients in all aspects of their trip is to hire a first-class guiding service.

Window of Thailand, a member of ASTA, is run by general manager Suphote Hankitiwatana and is based in Chiang Mai. They guide clients throughout Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, helping with trip planning and itineraries as well. Specialties include soft adventure, cultural experiences, golf, trekking, diving and more.

Hankitiwatana often heads up tours himself (as does his wife), and is an ideal guide for upscale clients. He’s gracious, knowledgeable and speaks excellent English. He can bring a local perspective to a trip and share insights clients will never forget.

Remember: Any travel agent can book airfare and a hotel, but an agent that can make a trip more unique with the help of a local guide has a secret weapon that is sure to impress customers and bring repeat business.