Thailand Rolls Out the Red Carpet

The country’s outstanding service and luxurious offerings appeal to the most discerning travelers

By: By Monica Poling

Ideal Itineraries

Medical Tourism
As Thailand continues to forge the path in international medical tourism, tour operators are starting to organize customized packages specifically for medical treatments or for combination medical/spa retreats. Thailand Vacation Tour can customize commissionable packages with a complete check up for just $187 per person, including local transportation in Bangkok. 
The Golden Triangle
Once known as a trafficking hub for the opium trade, The Golden Triangle now revels in a shady nature of a different sort. Its vast forests and lush scenery make for a relaxing journey where visitors can explore small villages of the hill tribes. Pacific Delight Tours’ Thailand and the Golden Triangle takes visitors through the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sukothai before continuing onto northern Thailand’s attractions. Tours start from $2,864 per person. 
Thailand Extravaganza
Charming Asia is offering a comprehensive seven-day Thailand Extravaganza package that visits Bangkok, Pattaya and the lesser-known Samet Island. Samet, once an island getaway popular only with Bangkok residents, has developed into a favored beach destination for visitors from around the world. The package also includes a city tour of Bangkok, an elephant-riding experience and a stop to see Pattaya’s Alangkarn cultural show. The package starts at $1,619 and includes both land and airfare. It is available through April 2009.
The Thai Experience
More than just Bangkok and beaches, GTS GloboTours’ Thai Experience package brings to life the exotic images for which Thailand is known. The tour takes in the stunning scenery of Chiang Mai with its playful elephants and colorful temples, but guests also enjoy a two-night journey on the Eastern & Oriental Express and a three-night river cruise along the River Kwai, which gained recognition during World War II. The package starts at $5,899 per person. 

New & Noteworthy

72 Hours in Chiang Mai
Voted the third-best city in Asia by Travel+Leisure magazine for two years in row, Chiang Mai has always been a favored destination among travelers. As more international visitors discover the area’s rich culture and emerging, hip vibe, MasterCard Worldwide has teamed up with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to create a 72 Hours Amazing Thailand Chiang Mai campaign. MasterCard holders receive between 5 to 50 percent discounts at participating hotels, restaurants, shopping venues and other tourism facilities now through December 2009. 
TAT Targets Women Travelers
The TAT recently introduced a new micro Web site — — aimed at influencing women travelers to choose Thailand as their next vacation destination. The site is organized by different categories such as golf, shopping, spa and beauty and accommodations, and features facilities that are female-friendly. Each section also presents special offers, deals and vacation packages. 

Hotel Packages

Asara Villa and Suite Hotel, Hua Hin
Clients can enjoy a two-night Spa Getaway package at Hua Hin’s Asara Villa and Suite Hotel through Oct. 31. This charming, beachside retreat has made international headlines for its unique setting, and even won a Gold Nugget Award for Best Architectural Design and Land Use. The package includes a healthy spa menu breakfast and dinner for two, a 60-minute massage for two and an Asara food and beverage credit worth approximately $60. Package rates start at $506. 
Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket 
Consistently ranked among the five best resorts in Asia Pacific, the Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, a Luxury Collection Resort located on the island of Phuket, has introduced a Luxury Collection Destination Experience package. Designed by the resort’s concierge, the package allows guests to take in Phuket’s unique culture and learn about its past as a tin mining and rubber trading post. The package is valid through June 30, 2009 and rates start at $239 per room, per night. 
Pattaya Marriott Resort & Spa 
Located steps away from shopping, entertainment and an 18-hole golf course, the Pattaya Marriott Resort & Spa is offering a Blissful Break package that provides a relaxing getaway for two. The package includes two nights in a Garden View room, breakfast for two and a spa selection or a food and beverage voucher. The offer is valid through Oct. 31, and rates start at $238. 

Local Favorites

Royal Angkhang Research Station
The Royal Angkhang Station in Northern Thailand provides agricultural support to neighboring hill tribes. The area maintains beautiful flower and bonsai gardens, as well as fruit, vegetable and herb gardens. Bird watching is also popular at the serene retreat, which attracts more than 1,000 species of birds, many of which are rare and endangered. For a true getaway, the park is also home to the 72-room Angkhang Nature Resort, run by Amari hotels. 
Lebua at State Tower
Visitors can’t spend more than an hour in Bangkok before a local will point out Lebua and State Tower. This all-suite, luxury property offers dramatic views of the city and the Chao Praya River from every room. Bvlgari amenities are included in suites, and in-suite chefs are available upon request. The property offers a number of open-air, roof-top restaurants and bars, and its newest addition, Breeze, is one Asia’s highest-elevated seafood restaurants. 

Destination Resources

Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts 
Bumrungrad Hospital 
Chiva Som 
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok 
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai 
The Sarojin Thailand 
Thailand Vacation Tour 
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) 


Sept. 23-30: Bangkok International Film Festival. The World-class Bangkok International Film Festival Returns To Thailand, Jointly Organized By The Tourism Authority Of Thailand And The Federation Of National Film Associations Of Thailand. The Festival Plays Host To More Than 100 Short And Feature Films From Around The World.

Sept. 29-oct. 7: Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Thais Of Chinese Ancestry Have Passed Down This Annual Vegetarian Festival For The Purposes Of Spiritual Cleansing And Merit Making. Religious Processions And Ceremonies Lead Up To An Exorcism Held In Order To Banish Ill Fortune.

Oct. 9-15: Illuminated Boat Procession. Originally Created As A Way To Pay Respect To Buddha, The Festival Now Includes Illuminated Boats That Add Plenty Of Color. Now, Private And Public Sector Organizations, Including Buddhist Temples, Enter Brightly Lit Boats That Sail Down The Mekong River For The Public’s Enjoyment.

Nov. 7-12: Loy Krathong. One Of Thailand’s Most Famous Festivals, Loy Krathong Is Celebrated Annually When Thailand’s Waterways Swell. The Floating Of A Krathong — A Banana–leaf Cup — Is Intended To Float Away Ill Fortune As Well As Being A Way Of Thanking The River Goddess For The Use Of Her Waters.

Nov. 23: Surin Elephant Round Up. In Thailand, Elephants Are Considered Almost Part Of The Family. The Nation’s Long-standing Commitment To The Pachyderm Is Celebrated In November At The
Surin Elephant Round Up, Made Up Of Elephant Pageantry, Sporting Events And Other Entertainment.

Nov. 29-dec. 6: Phuket King’s Cup Regatta. Now In Its 21st Year, The Phuket King’s Cup Regatta — Asia’s Largest And Most Popular Regatta — Was Inaugurated In 1987 To Celebrate The King’s 60th Birthday. More Than 100 Boats Enter The Week-long Event, Which Is Made Up Of Sailing, Parties And Cultural Events.

Dec. 5: H.m. The King’s Birthday. Morning Buddhist Ceremonies Will Be Followed By A Giant Music Festival In Honor Of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 81st Birthday. A Jazz Enthusiast, The King Has Composed And Performed Numerous Jazz Pieces.

Great Escapes to Asia

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With the release of "Bangkok Dangerous," movie goers may be reminded of Thailand’s long-standing relationship with Hollywood. "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith," "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," "Rambo" and "American Gangster" were all filmed — at least partially — in Thailand.

The very same tourism infrastructure that wins Thailand countless awards every year also serves as a favorable environment for the film industry. Competitive pricing, exotic locations, service-oriented people and the occasional elephant "actor" all have Hollywood heading to this Southeast Asia destination.

The swimming pool at The Sarojin Thailand beckons travelers with a taste for the high life.  // (c) Banyan Tree
The swimming pool at The Sarojin Thailand beckons travelers with a taste for the high life. 

And, whether travel agents are serving Hollywood’s A-listers, elite business travelers or individual travelers who want to experience the high life, Thailand’s luxury offerings will leave their clients begging for more of the country’s white-glove service. From gleaming hotels with impeccable assistance to personal chefs, private yachts and customized helicopters, Thailand is well-equipped to handle audiences with the most elite tastes.

For luxury accommodations, Bangkok’s Oriental Hotel has been setting the standard for more than 130 years. Part of the property’s attention to detail comes from the longevity of its staff members. When A-list clients are greeted by name, they are likely being welcomed by a staff member that’s been with the property for an average of 15 years. Set in a stunning riverside location, the Bangkok Oriental focuses on the details. Guests’ personal preferences — from food and beverage favorites to even their favored bed linens — are all part of the service here.

The property’s sister facility, Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai, is also highly esteemed with luxury travelers. The property recently introduced a Luxury Picnic excursion where guests are driven by limousine to their choice of scenic locations in Chiang Mai. A picnic basket filled with favored delicacies, including the obligatory bottle of champagne, is delivered by the staff. Guests do no more than sit on traditional woven mats as they enjoy nature unfolding before them.

Banyan Tree Bangkok, the tallest, all-suite luxury hotel in the city, is another property that often finds its way onto many of the world’s most elite "best of" lists. Clients who want to achieve the high life, but can’t quite afford it, can check out Banyan Tree’s Moon Bar, the highest al fresco bar in the Asia Pacific. Here, stunning nightscapes are served up with premium drinks in a one-of-a-kind setting.

Banyan Tree’s properties in Bangkok and Phuket both offer exclusive spa suites that come with their own spa treatment rooms with customized, daily programs that are adapted to each guests’ needs.

In a country known for its service, one hotel that stands out from the rest is The Sarojin Thailand in Khao Lak. Here, personnel take pride in the property because every one of its 56 rooms bears the name of a loyal staff member. Originally set to open in late 2004, the property was severely damaged during the tsunami and staff members who’d been hired for the hotel’s opening stayed to help rebuild the property, until it finally opened seven months later.

The Sarojin Thailand has its own private, luxury boat, the Lady Sarojin, which can be booked for individual excursions that include equipment, guides, towels, cuisine and a day-long, open bar. Expert, personal guides help clients navigate the jungles, mountain bike trails, elephant treks and mangrove canals.

It should also come as no surprise that Thailand’s spas also provide luxury services for elite travelers. Hua Hin’s Chiva Som is often the yardstick by which all other spas are measured. Founded in the 1990s, the spa offers more than 120 treatments, ranging from fitness programs to body and medical therapies. A team of private consultants, trainers, advisors and medical personnel are on-hand to customize individual requests. The resort’s extensive spa menu features organically grown products and the talented chefs prove that healthy doesn’t always mean flavorless.

As more eyes turn to Thailand’s burgeoning medical tourism infrastructure, the nation’s hospitals are also developing high-end services for their most elite patients. Bumrungrad Hospital operates its own desk in the arrivals area of Bangkok’s new airport, so patients can be met and transported directly to the hospital. The hospital’s Royal Suite includes a private marble bathroom, a separate
living room, a dining room with a granite table for eight, a granite-lined kitchen with a full bar and even an optional guestroom.

Despite doubts about the state of the U.S. economy, there’s no stopping the number of Thailand’s elite offerings for a true luxury escape this fall and well into next year.

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