Thailand varies in its context depending on the viewpoint of the perceiver or, at times, the property. Journeying into the heat for the texture of the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, Anantara Resorts, whose Golden Triangle property ranks among some of the best around, highlighted their Hua Hin property where the event was held as well as two key hotels in Bangkok: Riverside and Sathorn.
Arriving in the darkness of night, the Anatara Riverside lurks on the shores of the river, its breath occurring wavingly. The brightness of the morning shows its reprieve as The Market incurs one of the most wonderful traditions of Southeast Asia that sometimes gets lost in America: breakfast.
The interrations of soups specifically make this undeniable, specially an aspect of congee and chicken with a bare amount of soy and sugar. Chiles are readily available but as many as Thai chefs will specify, certain dishes are made for spice and some are not.
Taking a tour through the back canals of Bangkok, the inversion of drinking from coconuts as kids jump from bridges shows the degree of playfulness still prevalent in the city. The floods of last year still leave their marks that can be seen along the banks and the influx of a newly seen large lizard (not unlike the neighboring komodo — although this one has no venom and only eats fish) shows that nature takes it own back.
Reciting into the night, the Manohra dinner cruise (offered as a package from the Riverside aboard a rice barge) highlights the brightness of the river energy. Offered within a multi-course meal, the appetizer plate mixing wonton, satays and spring rolls waxed fantastic while the soft shell soup reveled in its chunky demeanor.
Heading two hours east to the coast, the Anantara Hua Hin welcomes all with its beachfront serenity as the tides move back and forth. The arriving area ushers in with a sense of old school wonder while the rooms paint themselves chill in a very rustic demeanor.
The intensiveness of the pitch itself at a nearby military base served as the focal point for the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. Different teams battled back and forth with distinction blending competitiveness with a sense of the greater. As shown by the elephant fruit buffet which occurred twice during the four-day event, it is literally about these majestic animals and raising awareness of their survival and well being while also having a bit of fun.
The charity dinner at the center of the 4-day festivities was held black-tie style underneath a tent on the Anantara Hua Hin property and raised money to help care for the animals with a distinctive differential of bids on items ranging from paintings and getaways in the Maldives and Bali to one-of-kind watches valued at over $40,000.
The food itself also belayed itself with a texture of the grand. While the jumbo prawns and vestiges of curry made their way in balance with the smoothness of Ketel One shots, it was the full lobsters flown in from Maine at full texture that truly highlighted the night.
Returning post-Tournament, the Anantara Sathorn in Central Bangkok functions contemporary in comparison to Hua Hin’s more spread-out estate mechanism. As the thunderstorms of the afternoon blaze through the steel jungle of downtown, the spacious suite at the hotel boasts a full kitchen, sunken tub and an inviting bed balanced by wonderful balconies that encompass the beauty of the city.
Sathorn’s signature restaurant 100 Degrees East angles to international cuisine but the inclusion of its requisite Thai dishes resounds the necessity of its calling, Beginning with the necessary springs rolls, the tradition of Tom Kah Gai mixing galangal, lemograss and coconut milk with chicken dumplings truly hit the spot.
Pizza also figures into the process with a stone-visioned oven set into the kitchen allowing for a new approach in the Thai Minced Chicken which included red onion, mint and pomodora sauce. However the Teao Wan Phad Hoi Shell mixing local and visually interesting scallops with green beans and oyster sauce ravished with an experience of true originality.
In experiencing the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament through the vision of Anantara Resorts encompassing their three properties of Hua Hin as well as Riverside and Sathorn in Bangkok, the possibilities of Thailand continue to wax both prevalent and intensive.
Watching the textural possibilities of a “Hangover” sequel, the thought that comes to mind is how do you capitalize on the notion of lightning trapped in a bottle. With Las Vegas and committing to that experience that everyone has had at one time or another, where do you go that pushes the envelope even farther.
Bangkok is indeed the perfect spot, added to the fact that many people have heard its stories but few have been there. Interesting enough in researching and placing together this idea, writer/director Todd Phillips knows enough about the area and its intensity to both highlight, tempt and resolutely disgust at the same time. What is exceptional is that what comes through at times, which was there in the last one, and upon first viewing, very much so in this one, is simply the character tones inherent in all of the participants.
Zach Galifianakis as Alan accessorizes this notion of a man child who feels truly alive when he is around these friends. Ed Helms as Stu is stuck in his own world of trying to live up to notions of being a man but only releases his demon upon said blowouts. Bradley Cooper as Phil simply goes with the flow although his chastising of Alan shows a very human perception of Zach. It works because they are so disimilar. One never feels as if they don’t get each other. Alan just doesn’t understand what he is doing.
While the first “Hangover” had some cinematic moments, the one that truly stands out here is not the pictures (which are still funnier than hell at the end) but rather Stu singing a new version of a Billy Joel song called “Alan-Town”. It is very unassuming as the three of them travel down a waterway on a longboat. It just seems so effortless and yet almost real. Plus the song’s rewritten lyrics encapsulate the movie at that moment. You get that the actors sense it too.
Moving back from that sense of the movie (which I never quite thought at times Todd Philips would do ten years ago) the simple laugh-out loud possibilities are there in terms of physical comedy but it is Mr. Chow (played with unrepentant energy by Ken Jeong) along with Monkey that truly steals the show. Jeong was good in the last one but now that we know what he is capable of, it is just like music. He and Monkey could do a movie on their own.
Even the car chase through old Bangkok which could have been old hat works because of the set up. The plot importance is there but Chow keeps it like he is going to the store to pick up bread. When he utters the line, when they are almost done with the deal, “maybe get bump”, the whole theater cracked up. From then until the end of the chase, it is bedlam like the old screwball comedies with the Wolfpack simply along along for the wild ride with Chow.
The resolution at the end keeps the structure open and brings the characters back from the brink without too much damage. Again, also showing that Philips knows his landmarks or, at least his location scout connections are killer in Thailand, alot of the third act takes place on top of the LeBua Hotel At State Tower which is one of the coolest hotels in Bangkok which has a Roman temple on top of it with an open air roof that looks like something out of Sodom & Gomorrah. Alot of the high Bangkok shots are shot there as well as some fly by helicopter bits but the place, having been and stayed there, is dope beyond measure.
Thailand, despite any shall we say alternative elements, is painted as beautiful with the opening shots capturing what the country is capable of and is. The first “Hangover” was a postcard of Las Vegas as it really is in all its glory and motivated many people to come back (even in harder economic times) to Sin City. “The Hangover Part II” does the same for Bangkok. Having been there it shows the real side of the city but also the beauty and fun of what makes it a jewel in Asia.
“The Hangover Part II” lived up to the original for me because it took what made the first one exceptional, didn’t lose any of the possibilities and proceeded on. People are who they are and the Wolfpack are no different. No matter what they do, they will end up in these situations again and again. That is what makes them relatable. It’s because their fallible and not dumb, just party animals who happened to hit odd luck twice. Like this movie.
And stay for the pictures again. It is just makes the whole thing funnier.
The textures and sub-tropical essence of the jungles fade into the distance as the temples rise into infinity and the imagination takes hold in the vision of Thailand, complete in its trinity of flavor. From the hidden province that is Isan in the northeast to the wonder of the elephant rainforests south of Phuket to the magic that is Samui, an island hidden off the peninsulan coast, this country paints of picture of diversity and adventure.
Gliding in the evergreen comfort of Premium Laurel on Eva Air connecting from Los Angeles to Bangkok through Taipei, the expanse of the capital city spreads out below, the 17-hour journey spoiling in its whirl of exceptional lounges, signatures cocktails (such as plum liqueur) and attentive flight attendants. Inside the urban sprawl, the Four Seasons Bangkokprovides an oasis from which to launch our trek. After a relaxing siesta at the pool, a refreshment of champagne, prosciutto and delicious spinach and cheese pizza at Biscotti lead to our main course at the Madison Room with a sizzling rib-eye which ushers us into dreamland.
After a filling breakfast of Kao Tom mixing boiled rice, pork and egg, the ornate spires and carvings at The Grand Palace stretch out inside the intricately carved visages as soldiers stand guard, statues in the midst of the piety of the Emerald Buddha. Walking to a dock along the Chao Phraya River, a longtail boat coasts across the busy channel as a sea craft filled with faith chanting followers leads us through a lock into the back canals of Bangkok. Arriving at the hidden abode of Amita’s, a Thai cooking lesson commences teaching the spicy and filling crest of a savory creamy chicken curry over rice and a luscious papaya salad pinnacled with coconut milk and bananas.
Our carriage of air conditioned caravan bliss heads away from the bustle towards Pak Chong in the vicinity of Nakon Ratchasima. Chok Chai Farm swirls in the sustainable agro element where ice cream tickles the tongue and Thai Cowboys wrangle. After a soothing in-room Thai Massage at Khao Yai Fah Sai Resort at the base of a reaching mountain, the Thai Western of lore reveals itself at the outdoor Thong Somboon Club. Pork and local Singha drafts lead to cowgirls celebrating as dancing on the line with buckle holding enthusiasm greets the cheers of the night.
The Dan Kwian Village sprawls out as dogs and toads bask in their freedom while, within the workshops, the artisan of clay sculpting unfolds in real time. Walking through the different styles and streets, the etched brilliance makes itself known as small constructed treasures appear before the eyes, priceless in their nature.
Walking through the streets of Korat in the approaching dusk, the stores of gold shine. After miso, sushi and cream of the curry give credence at the Dusit Princess Hotel, the night market within walking distance beckons. There the local flavor permeates as the delicacies of grub, cricket and frog, marinated, grilled and simmering with spice, greet the palette with expectant and unknown anticipation highlighted by a touch of mint. Late night continues as the Coyote Bar rages with a Thai rock band fronted by an excellent guitarist shredding the fantastic as bottled Singha pours and cracked necks increase the resolve with the rhythm of dancing. The race back in pedi-cabs provides exceptional thrill as the speed throttles.
Phimai Temple rises in the pink hues of sunset as the full moon crests over the ruins of this thousand year old site. Standing on the stone, looking up at the ancient spires, the dances begin and food stretches into the night as the tales swirl with sticky rice.
After enjoying the local cuisine replete with chicken, sliced corn, mushrooms and asparagus, the cool and brisk bus of lore arrives at Suvarnabhumi Airport signaling the journey to the South aboard Bangkok Airways. Landing in the darkness of Phuket, the Royal Marina bursts with activity as local culinary treats highlighted by filling sushi mixed with pulsating music promote the dancing of Travolta heating up the light. The Sarojin Resort beckoned us with a spirited ride to Khao Lak an hour away on the Gulf Of Siam. The Lady Sarojin Suite, beautified in its reception and expansive silken organic essence, welcomes with open arms. After a luscious dinner with a spicy curry touch, paper lanterns, a tradition here in the South, were lit and offered to the sky, visible and viable to extreme heights. Offshore at 2am, thunder rumbled in the Andaman Sea as the moon glowed the water.
After a soothing morning stretch on the white beach as trawlers swayed, the transfer to Elephant Hills set the adventure forth. The majesty of Surat Thani, encompassed in the Khao Sok National Park, is a wonder. After checking into our luxury tents, open air and enraptured with the sounds of the surrounding jungle, we venture to the elephant base camp via wind blown transport. The elephants stroll into view with their Mahout handlers on top of their backs. These intelligent creatures line up as we begin chopping their supper of pumpkin, cucumber, corn and pineapple via machete before picking one to feed. Hop Ma, the one I chose, ate with fervor, his trunk grasping the food peppered with sugar cane as pats encouraged goodwill. After climbing aboard bareback with his Mahout Ta Da and riding to the back of the compound, washing commenced with your humble narrator scrubbing this wonderfully gentle animal behind the ears as well as on the back and snout with coconut and soap before rinsing her off in the glimpse of the melting essence of the spire-like mountains.
A longtail boat heads out onto the mythic lake of Cheow Lan as the limestone mountain cliffs rise up straight from the water like gigantic scepters disappearing into the distance. After a lunch of grilled fish aboard a floating raft platform, elephant trekking back at the Hills commenced aboard Poke, the happy elephant, who loved going off on his own to the chagrin of his Mahout while pulling down branches as fellow riders in mounted seats cheered in support. This experience is not to be missed.
Canoeing down the Sok River at the cusp of the tent camp continued the fervor before the bus boarded for the Samui Ferry. Located off the Eastern coast of the Thai Peninsula, the paradise of Samui welcomes with the colors of the mist. The Four Seasons Koh Samui is a miracle in earthly form, its property stretching like Eden from its pinnacle point. The villa, replete with long private pool, vaulted bedroom, private deck and soaking tub, is the height of luxury and worth the trip alone. After a dinner mixing rich Thai salads and prawns that delighted the soul along with a welcome and paradoxical spinach ravioli, the late night welcomed the neon at Chaweng Beach where the music pounded in unison from the open air cocktails of C to My Friend to Me Me as a Havana cigar is lit and the Singha, cold and torrent, paints the boulevard.
After touring the island and changing the visage to truly local via rock stone formations and the overture of the Buddha, the return to the Four Seasons welcomes The Spa, almost treehouse like in its layout, with private villas for soothing of the chi. The 90-minute Siam Fusion, smooth with both medium and gentle pressure, provide a relief of unrelenting bliss. A late afternoon cocktail class highlighted the signature of the creamy coconut Kalalae as an early evening beach soiree kissed the sky while a full moon, burning, crested above the islands.
After an early morning 18 holes at Santiburi, barely 15 minutes away, where the back nine stretches out with angelic views of the ocean and angling increases for strategic play especially on Hole 11 & 17, the rain gently cleanses the land with love and care. Such is the truth of Thailand where diversity reigns supreme. As the plane lifts off from Samui and the blue green heaven sifts below the clouds, the greatness of this experience holds true as the trumpeting of an elephant echoes away.