Meera Dattani accompanies agents on a Thai Airways and Tourism Authority of Thailand fam
I’d visited the sea caves off Thailand’s west coast many times but this was a first – by moonlight and with six agents in tow. The Andaman Sea is quiet, bar the soft paddling of our guides’ oars and murmurs of appreciation as torches highlight the limestone caves while plankton sparkle in the water.
Sea canoeing was just one highlight of this fam trip, hosted by Thai Airways to mark its 40th anniversary of flying to London. Sunanta Trai-Ukos, the airline’s sales manager for the UK and Ireland, said: “To celebrate, we hosted four fam trips to Thailand, Bali and Malaysia with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Trips like these are important to give agents first-hand knowledge.”
It was certainly action-packed. Chris Lee, TAT’s trade marketing manager, said: “We were delighted to join Thai Airways in hosting so many UK agents for what was the most exhausting trip I’ve ever been on!
“The secret of Thailand’s success has always relied heavily on the love the UK trade has for the country – this trip certainly reminded me of that.”
And despite political troubles in Bangkok (box, page 51), visitors are still flocking here, with UK arrivals in January up more than 10% on last year.
First we headed for Chiang Mai, northern Thailand’s main hub. A favourite with first-timers, it also lures back repeat visitors with its weekend markets, colourful temples and countryside. Hotel choice is excellent, with options such as the modern Kantary Hills and the super-luxury heritage property 137 Pillars.
Two nights at the peaceful RatiLanna luxury boutique hotel on Chiang Mai’s Ping River proved a success. Decorated in the local Lanna style, it has 56 Deluxe Rooms, 17 Deluxe Suite Rooms with private balcony and a Pool Suite and a Garden Suite that convert into one duplex. Agents appreciated the hotel’s unusual offerings such as check-in by scorpion-tailed river cruise, Chiang Mai’s first and only Churrascaria Brazilian BBQ and the RatiLanna Spa’s Crystal Lanna Oil Massage. Virgin Holidays’ Senya Preston said: “I loved the traditional Thai decor and the food was amazing. I tasted the most succulent spiced chicken I’ve ever had.”
There’s plenty of sightseeing in the area, including the Lampang Elephant Conservation Centre, which looks after about 50 Asian elephants. The Co-operative Travel’s Naomi Webb described it as “a fantastic experience”, adding: “I loved feeding the elephants and the elephant hospital was wonderful. We went trekking through the jungle. It’s something I’ll rave about to my customers.”
The scenery of this region is glorious: hot springs, centuries-old temples, mountains and valleys. In the Mae Chan region, visitors can see traditional Yao and Akha hill-tribe villages, while Mae Sai is the northernmost trading border town between Thailand and Myanmar. Another popular stop is the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. “It is an exceptional view,” said Alison Leeke of Virgin Holidays, “so have your camera ready.”
This region is temple-packed too, from Doi Suthep’s panoramic city views of Chiang Mai to the unusual White Temple designed by artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat outside Chiang Rai. Described as modern Thai Buddhist art, even Spiderman and Harry Potter feature on the murals.
PHUKET AND SEE
It was time to head south to Phuket. Famous for its lively nightlife and beaches, the quieter southern part at Cape Panwa offered a different perspective. TAT’s Chris Lee said: ‘There’s a Phuket for everyone. For nightlife, there’s Patong. For tranquillity, there are spots like Cape Panwa.”
Home for three nights was Cape Panwa Hotel, a stunning colonial hotel also home to Cape Panwa House, a former residence-turned-restaurant serving delicious Thai cuisine. The hotel’s southwest facing beach looks over the southern part of Phang Nga Bay’s limestone karsts, sea caves and lagoons.
Probably the best way to enjoy this landscape is with Phuket’s longest-standing sea-canoeing outfit, John Gray’s Sea Canoe, and its acclaimed Hong by Starlight tour. Ben Machell, manager of Flight Centre, Glasgow, said: “It was great to leave the resorts behind and enter a lost world of water caves, limestone cliffs and macaque monkeys.”
Agents also enjoyed the Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort with its beachfront bar, pools, Angsana Spa, sailing, tennis centre and three restaurants. Part of the 1,000-acre Laguna Phuket, the hotel’s complimentary trolley buses and ferries take guests to its 30 restaurants and bars, shopping village and golf club.
“It’s a great family property,” said STA Travel’s Anna Biesty. “I loved the batik painting lesson and cookery class. I’ll be trying out pad Thai at home while wearing my Outrigger Laguna chef’s hat and apron!”
Image credit: Travel Indochina
OUT WITH A BANG
Bangkok was the last stop, with a two-night stay at the Grande Centre Point at Ratchadamri, a recommended option for its easy access to Bangkok’s Skytrain, spacious suites, impressive lobby and excellent restaurant.
The four fam trip groups reunited in Bangkok. In between shopping at buzzing Chatuchak Market and on lively Sukhumvit Road, the teams got together at Bangkok’s Banyan Tree hotel to share their experiences.
The groups’ short presentations, followed by rooftop drinks and dinner overlooking Bangkok’s skyline, provided yet another memory to add to the collection.
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