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Elephant Hills, Island Magic & The Hidden Visage of Isan – The Diversity of Thailand – Feature

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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