The Authentic Asia
Sailing in Koh Samui and Ang Thong
To discover Thailand it necessary two words: seduction and refinement, a country of contrast in the southeast of Asia. An adventure filled with uncertainty. Cruising through peaceful temples, beautiful mountains, and spectacular islands with paradise beaches, traditional living and modern cosmos. In that journey we select the essentials to visit, and how to appreciate “the big islands, of the smiling country”. This is what we present to you.
We landed in Samui Island, in the Golf of Siam, an Eden of abundant vegetation and white sand beaches, tasted by jaded color sea.
The towns are despaired around the island dominated by mountains, restaurants, and hotels that welcome people from all over the planet, creating an unusual international place. The Thai people observe these new “Melting Pot”, where foreigners from other horizons sit next to them on the terraces of the coffee shop, where the cultural exchanges are fascinating, nightclubs are amusing and the beaches are tempting to relax.
We lodged in the marvelous Four Seasons located in a peninsula dominated by the sea. Our luxurious Thai–villa, hidden in the jungle, with its own pool and its fabulous terrace. The restaurant located in one of the highest points of the peninsula served exquisite typical dishes and it had an impressive sightseeing with the most beautiful sunsets.
Our boat waited for us in the small dock of Na Thong, which also welcomes ferries and fishermen. We sailed around the island comprised of 21 km of with and 25 km of length. A dense tropical jungle surrounded the mountains where cascades flow, palm trees decorated the beaches and where people visits the small towns.
We passed the peninsula of the Four Seasons to observe the north beaches until we reached the small town of Bo Phut. The dock also welcomes ferries from the north and it is famous for its restaurants as well as its night life. The “need to make stop” was the Big Buda, an immense golden Buda statue situated on the island that attracts believers for a certain mystical feeling that the statue emanates.
We passed the small island of Som in order to change the course to the south. We discovered the east coast beginning with the beautiful beach of Choeng Mon, crystal clear water and many hotels. The small island of Matlang protects the small town of Chaweng with its restaurants and bars. Foreigners favorite this place. We continue to the town of Lamai.
We sailed through the southern part, a less visited, savaged and authentic places, with its fishermen huts, its immense white beaches surrounded by palm trees. It is a true forgotten paradise, almost intact. We anchored in the Phangka Bay to eat authentic seafood and fried fish in a humble restaurant. We admired the islands that raised in front of us, after sailing along the idealistic beaches of Hua Thanon, Bang Kao, Thong Krut. We cruised along other beaches like Taling Noam until reaching Na Thong and then returned to our sanctuary villa.
AngThong and it intriguing islands
From Na Thong we sailed towards the intriguing islands that are part of the AngThong National Park. The marine park consisted of 42 islands of gray limestone rocks covered by a moist jungle. It hid idealistic beaches of white sands and jaded color clear sea.
We stopped at Koh Mae Ko to enjoy the paradise beach, to ascend to the lookout point, discovering the interior salted lagoon, emerald color water (Thale Nai). We dived in Koh Sam to experience the amazing variety of colored fish and marine turtles. We observed monkeys, small varano type lizards and some eagles.
The landscape was a magnificent scenario of fairytales where nature creates its forms and moves it with the rhythm of the shades, where the sea caresses dangerous cliffs and sinks in the mysterious caves, where beaches invent paradise.
We departed AngThong National Park towards the north. We stopped at the small island where we paddled on kayaks and reached marine caves where we dived in pristine water. Isolated in those islands we felt that the marine fauna was our own paradise. We continued our voyage until Koh Tao, a small habited island in the route of the main ferries. We anchored in Ban Mae Hat accompanied by a sky that got fulfilled with purple and orange colors offering a mysterious sunset.
In the calm morning, we explored the coral reef of Koh Tao, one of the best places to dive. We started our return while visiting the mountainous island of Phangan with its deserted island and big towns of Chalok Lam in the north and Thong Sala in the South. We crossed the Chong Phangan to reach our starting point Koh Samui.
The seduction of Bangkok
Leaving our paradise, we flew over the gulf of Siam and out of the window discovered the Chao Phrava River with shrimp and rice farms. Bangkog awaited to captivate us, intrigued, and seduced us.
Before being bewitched by the big mysterious city, we retreated in the Bangkok Four Seasons. It is a luxurious hotel where the grace of the saloons and the rooms, the peace of the garden and fountains, the comfort of the pool and the spa, the elegance of the restaurants, protected you from all of the temptations of Bangkok.
The also known as the Venice of the orient, it doesn’t intimidate you, on the contrary it seduces you with great force. It possesses delicate gardens and beauty of the temples, traditional people with modern rhythm, the sizable tolerable traffic, the movement of the boats that make the Chao Phrava River vibrate the peace of the channels surrounded by houses and the air of the floating market.
In this big city, we enjoyed the monuments that surged from the past: the Royal Palace and its temples, a fascinating architectural collection built in 1782, watched by giants of stone, surrounded by fascinating paintings, mirrors, stupas, towers and gardens, with golden panels that shined with the sun and where we found the temple of the emerald Buda; Wat Pho, that secures the laying 45 meter long Buda.
We visited Wat Arun that dominates the sizzling river life, the business district, the financial sector are very attractive as well as the shopping centers. Pat Pong or the gangster neighborhood, The National Museum that conveys Thailand’s history and showed unique pieces, the Marble Temple, Dusit and Vimanmek Palace, the Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chiang Rai and Tented Camp
We landed in Chiang Rai in the middle of the northern rice fields surrounded by mountains, in the Golden Triangle that had a luxurious Land Rover waiting us. After an hour drive, the vehicle took a road surrounded by bamboos until we arrived to a sanctuary cabin on the side of a river, a perfect exotic retreat. It was the reception of the Four Seasons Tented Camp, a “palapa” with bar, made of wood and completely open to the four winds.
In that hill the rooms were despaired. Luxurious tents with all the commodities and a lavish terrace that had a river view. The restaurant was amazing next to the pool. Every morning while breakfast, a small heard of six baby elephants appeared so we could feed them bananas.
One morning, we were trained to be a mahout (or Kao-Chang), person that guides elephants. It was an extraordinary experience. We were taught key words that the animals responded to, to go up and down, how to maneuver and guide it. We got in the water while on top of the elephant to refresh both them as us. It was a stirring sensation when you touched the skin or guided them with words, press the back of their ears with our feet, caress it and reward it. What a fabulous and intense moment!
It was the 2008 Kings Cup Elephant Polo Tournament and we went to those intriguing games where men saddled on top of those powerful animals and battled for a ball with long sticks that had the tips in shape of a hammer, making the elephants run until they scored a goal. The mahout maneuvers the elephant while the player’s searched and pushed the ball.
We sailed by the Ruak river that borders between Thailand and Myanmar until we reached Mekong, that great river that crosses southeast Asia and divides Thailand from Laos.
The Golden Triangle
We were in the center of the Golden Triangle, famous for its harvest, and opium trafficking of the 20th century. Even though the harvest of opium has been banned in Thailand, Myanmar as well as Afghanistan still continues to be one of the mayor producers and distributors of a grand portion of heroin sold worldwide.
A casino has been built in Myanmar and another one in Laos to attract the Thai clients. It is a magical place, between the cliffs, with that fantastic Mekong that ends in the Saigon region of Vietnam.
An extraordinary museum of opium surged that takes you across time, telling the consumption and the trafficking history, truly adventurous but dirty quests. We visited the towns of Ban Sop Ruak and Chiang Saen with its temples, its markets where they sold fish from the Mekong, orchids next to authentic local fruits and vegetables, as well as with the charming people.
It was difficult to leave the Four Seasons Tented Camp, where we were pampered with an essence of luxury and the elegance, sharing every moment with elephants. Before we leaved we crossed the lands were the wheat fields moved their tips by the rhythm of the breeze. We visited the white temple decorated by shapes of warriors, gods or dragons, filled with small mirrors. We strolled thru hills filled by trees, sulfurous waters, and traditional small towns before arriving to Chiang Mai.
Located next to the Ping River, Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of the north, on the foothills of the mountains. Founded in 1296 by the King Mengrai, it was a strategic pint for the Lanna Kingdom in the commerce route which had a great wall and pit. It suffered Birmanian and Thais invasions; however thanks to its important temples it maintained being famous and height now becoming the second favorite city for travelers after Bangkok.
We visited some of the 300 temples: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep; Wat Chiang Man, the most ancient with two venerated statues of Buda and one stupa adorned by elephants; Wat Phra Singh that dates back to 1345; Wat Chedi Luang with its immense and elegant stupa or Chedi damaged by the 21st century earthquake; Wat Suan Dok, etc. Each one has its own beauty, holy and valuable figures that represent Buda in different postures, the spectacular detailed decorations of golden leafs, the inclined ceiling add elegance and peace that lures the visitors to meditate.
We wondered through the night bazaar were we found objects that were more relevant to the local and authentic artistry. We visited antique shops were old magnificent Buda’s waited to be taken to occident.
The porcelain and the noticeable celadon is marvelous, string puppets, teak wood furniture, the wood ornaments that adorn the small stores, the food places are abundant, the typical dances brightens the ambiance, the tuktuk (tricycle motor taxis) banged the ambience with its firework sounds. The bars hosted foreigners that went to have fun; intriguing loving and friendship relations established an atmosphere of everlasting party that adorned a city that never sleeps.
We visited the town of Padaungs, known by the “giraffe women”, their beauty is measured by the amount of bronze rings that are around their necks, inserted since they are very young, adding more and more throughout the years to lengthen their necks. It is considered as an element of beauty, but when the woman is unfaithful, the rings are taken away leaving a possible fracture of the spine that may lead to death. In that calm town where the houses rose above the rice farms, the women threaded with strings by their hips, they sale the wicker crafts and necklaces.
The greenhouses of orchids that offered a great variety of their kind, colors of plants cultivated to perfection due to the excellent warm and humid weather.
Farewell Exotic Country
Finally, to enjoy the weather conditions, to relax from the journeys and the markets, we enjoyed the Four Seasons Chiang Mai hotel. An enchanting refuge of peace built in the middle of holy rice fields nurtured by farmers. The luxurious rooms with its open terraces to the breeze, allowed us to appreciate the rice field and its own life. The pools were located in the middle of the rice fields with a view of a small lake adorned with palms trees where they serve romantic dinners. The restaurant dominated the scenario, serving the best of Thailand cuisine while enjoying a typical evening in one of the most beautiful and peaceful places of the world.
That is how we finished our trip to Thailand, wanting to return once again and discover the small and remote corners, more touristy places like Phuket and its surroundings, historical cities like Ayutthava.
It was a marvelous experience: sailing through the gulf of Thailand to enjoy the peace of the temples, the overwhelming serenity that invaded your body by the marvelous and famous Thai massages, enjoy its beaches and the wonderful nature.
Thailand preserves their traditions in the middle of a perpetual moving world. It is intriguing place of leisure, culture, landscapes that knows how to seduce the refinement.
Text: Patrick Monney ± Photo: Patrick Monney, Four Seasons Koh Sumai, Four Seasons Tented Camp