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Last year, severe floods put many of Thailand’s most ancient heritage sites under several feet of water, including its former capital — Ayutthaya. While the flooding was some of the worst in decades, the country and Ayutthaya have been restored and are welcoming visitors.
Triggered by a landfall caused by Tropical Storm Nock-ten, the flooding began at the end of July and slowly spread through the provinces of Northern, Northeastern and Central Thailand as well as along the Mekong and Chao Phraya river basins. In October, floodwaters reached the Chao Phraya River and inundated parts of the capital city of Bangkok. Flooding even persisted in some areas until mid-January of this year.
Ayutthaya, a hub for tourists, drew attention when its magnificent temples and ruins were submerged by water.
It was once considered the most spectacular city on earth. As the capital of Thailand, the city was known as one of the biggest cities in Southeast Asia and remained a regional power for 417 years. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya reached its apex in terms of sovereignty, military might, wealth, culture and international commerce during the 16th century, when its territory extended into and beyond present-day Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Ayutthaya had diplomatic relations with Louis XIV of France and was also courted by Dutch, Portuguese, English, Chinese and Japanese merchants.
Today, the ruins of the capital of the Kingdom Ayutthaya are a major tourist attraction, easily accessible from Bangkok by car, train or boat either as a daytrip or an overnight excursion. In 2010, Ayutthaya welcomed 2.3 million visitors, comprising 2.1 million one-day trippers and 200,000 who stayed overnight. Visitors can explore and learn about Thai history by visiting the temples and ruins concentrated in and around the city, which is located upon an “island” surrounded by the Chao Phraya, Pa Sak and Lopburi rivers. Although there are numerous attractions, the Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya Historical Park in the heart of Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful parts of the city.
When waters began to recede, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) held the Ayutthaya Cleaning Day event as part of its “Beautiful Thailand” campaign aimed to restore Thai tourism following the flooding. Thousands of volunteers visited Ayutthaya to lend a hand in cleaning up and relandscaping the city, with strong support from both the public and private sectors in the tourism industry.
The Ayutthaya Cleaning Day was one of many initiatives to ensure that the city was ready to welcome back visitors. After the clean up, visitors were able to explore almost all of the World Heritage Site and the other ancient ruins spread throughout the city. All transportation services were restored and most services and activities for tourists were available, such as bicycling, elephant rides, guided tours, restaurants and accommodations.
“Tourism plays an important role in the livelihood of Ayutthaya. Other than Wat Chai Wattanaram, which is still being carefully drained, all tourist attractions in Ayutthaya are open to visitors. We are confident that tourists who travel to Ayutthaya, about an hour’s drive from Bangkok, will find it as charming and authentic as ever,” said TAT governor Suraphon Svetasreni.
According to the Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department, most of Ayutthaya’s ancient ruins remain strong and intact. The restoration of historical sites affected by the flood is in progress under the guidance of UNESCO, which recommended slowly pumping water out of some of the ruins, such as Wat Chai Wattanaram, in order to preserve their structural integrity.
New & Noteworthy:
TAT Launches Fast Deals WebsiteThe Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently launched ThailandFastDeals.com, its newest online tool to help travelers and travel agents find deals on travel to Thailand. The deals, selected from a list of partners, ensure that travelers feel safe and secure when booking a hotel, tour or activity.
ThailandFastDeals.com provides deals on many different aspects of Thai culture, including gourmet cuisine, shopping, spas, honeymoon activities and LGBT-friendly options around the country. The site also offers travel tips and advice. www.thailandfastdeals.com
Phi Phi Islands PackageOutrigger Hotels and Resorts has launched a three-day, two-night package at Phi Phi Island Village Resort and Spa in southern Thailand called Paradise Discovered.
Package rates for three days start at $585 for a Superior Bungalow. The promotion is valid through October. www.outrigger.com
Friendly Planet Combines Bangkok and DubaiTour operator Friendly Planet Travel is now offering the Dazzling Dubai and Bangkok tour, combining epicenters of modern-day luxury in one nine-day itinerary.
“Dubai and Bangkok are two of the most popular destinations in all of Asia,” said Peggy Golman, president of Friendly Planet Travel. “We are thrilled to be one of the first tour operators to be offering this unique and innovative combination of destinations at a price that simply cannot be matched.”
Dazzling Dubai and Bangkok includes roundtrip airfare from LAX on Emirates, all ground transportation and transfers, deluxe hotel accommodations, a daily buffet breakfast, touring programs, English-speaking tour directors and local guides starting at $1,899 with departures on May 17 and Sept. 20. www.friendlyplanet.com
Where to Stay:
Eternity Wedding Package at Banyan TreeLocated in the heart of Bangkok, couples can experience the Banyan Tree, Bangkok with the Eternal Wedding Package. The package includes VIP airport transfers, a guide and immigration assistance, customs and escort limousine transfer, a half-day cruise along the Chao Phraya River or a half-day Bangkok city tour, a special dinner with a bottle of wine at Bai Yun or Saffron, a private, traditional wedding ceremony in Thai costume and a romantic dinner with a bottle of champagne at Vertigo rooftop restaurant. Prices for the package start at $2,143 with a minimum four-night stay. www.banyantree.com/en/bangkok
Love at Asara Villa & SuiteClients can take advantage of the Always Love You package at the Asara Villa & Suite in the resort town of Hua Hin, Thailand. The four-day, three-night package includes a one-bedroom Pool Villa, a welcome drink upon arrival, daily complimentary champagne breakfast for two at Kampu by Design or en suite, a romantic candlelit dinner for two on the beach or at Kampu by Choice, a 90-minute couples massage at Asara Spa, a Kama Sutra turndown service and more. The package is priced per couple at $1,070 and is valid through Dec. 19. www.asaravillaandsuite.com
Free Night at Thara Patong BeachThe Thara Patong Beach Resort & Spa in Phuket, Thailand, is offering a bonus night for guests staying three nights at the hotels. Clients will receive a fourth night free and included breakfast from April 1 to Oct. 31 when booking three nights at the property. The package also includes free roundtrip airport transfers, free Wi-Fi Internet access, a complimentary, one-hour massage for each guest, a welcome drink and fruit basket upon arrival, late check-out on the fourth day and more. Travel agents should use code BNP-12 when booking. www.tharapatong.com
Anantara Golden TriangleGuests staying two or more nights at the Anantara Golden Triangle can take advantage of the Golden Triangle All Inclusive Package. The package allows guests to choose from four unique activities daily, including a visit to the Anantara Spa, a Thai cooking class, an elephant ride or a three-country tour excursion. In addition to daily activities, guests can also delve into the Golden Triangle’s infamous past with a visit to the world-class Hall of Opium Museum. Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as complimentary Internet access in rooms are included.
Rates for this package start at $1,097 for a Deluxe Three Country View Room; $1,320 for an Anantara Suite; and $1,353 for an Anantara Three Country View Suite. All rates are per night and based on double occupancy. www.anantara.com
Explore the Spa at Siam Kempinski HotelGuests of the Siam Kempinski Hotel can indulge in the Explore Spa package, which features a complimentary 90-minute spa experience for two people per stay. The package also includes daily buffet breakfast for two, complimentary beverages from the minibar, complimentary wireless Internet access, a 15 percent food and beverage discount, late checkout and more. Guests who stay more than three nights will receive an upgrade to a Premier Room. Rates start at $267 per room, per night. www.kempinski.com
Khao Sok National Parks Makes World’s Best ListThailand’s Khao Sok National Park has been included in this year’s Lonely Planet’s 1,000 Ultimate Experiences, as one of the top 10 best parks and preserves. Khao Sok, which is described as “something out of Jurassic Park” is home to the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia Kerrii, which can reach over 32 inches in diameter. Khao Sok is Thailand’s first protected preserve and part of the oldest rainforest in the world, featuring Thailand’s famous limestone mountains.
Four Seasons Offers Khantoke DinnerThe Cooking School at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai has long been renowned for introducing the secrets of Thai cuisine to its resort guests. Now, guests can step back in time with a traditional Khantoke Dinner. Created as a ceremony for highly honored guests, khantoke dining is designed to be a sociable affair, with dishes served family-style. Guests are seated on cushions around low rattan tables, and eat, drink and relax as they enjoy performances of traditional Thai dance, such as the forn phang (candle) dance and the forn jorng (umbrella) dance.
The new khantoke dinner menus are now available at the Cooking School at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, priced from $64 per person. www.fourseasons.com/chiangmai
Centara Villas Offers RelaxationCentara Villas Phuket was voted one of the “Top 25 Relaxation and Spa Hotels” in Thailand by Trip Advisor in the website’s Traveler’s Choice Best Hotels 2012 listings. Centara Villas, which was 15th on the list, won praise for its hillside setting, oceanview villas, breakfast buffet and friendly staff. The list was based on ratings awarded by travelers who have visited and stayed in the hotels chosen.
Centara Villas Phuket is set on a hill, surrounded by the iconic Phuket beaches. Each of the 72 spacious villas is sea-facing and some offer the option of a private pool or spa. The resort has two swimming pools, two restaurants and Spa Cenvaree. www.centarahotelsresorts.com
Sofitel Launches New Bangkok HotelSofitel Luxury Hotels announced the opening of its new Sofitel So Bangkok hotel, the second property to open under the Sofitel So brand. The new hotel overlooks Lumpini Park and is located in the center of both leisure and business districts of the city.
Thai architect Smith Obayawat and a team of five Thai interior designers worked with French fashion designer Christian Lacroix to create the theme of the 238-room property, which is inspired by five elements — water, earth, wood, metal and fire.
The hotel offers two restaurants, two bars and a chocolate boutique as well as So Fit and So Spa. Addtionally, there are four meeting rooms and a ballroom available for events. www.sofitel.com