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
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
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
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.
Ideal Client: Leisure travelers looking for the
latest experiences and destinations without sacrificing
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
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 grounds include shops, dining facilities, bar, library, spa
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Four Seasons Chiang Mai
Four Seasons Tented Camp
JW Marriott Bangkok
www. marriott.com/property/property page/BKKDT
JW Marriott Phuket
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi
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
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.