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JAN-FEB 2017

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24 J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 7 An Exotic Escape I f you're up for traveling halfway across the world, consider going to a place where your palate runs off with a chef, a land where night markets ooze silver and silk, and mountains rise out of the sea. Think about seeing Thailand. My wife, Kim, and I went in October. We fl ew Louisville to Chicago, Chicago to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Bangkok. It was worth every in- fl ight movie we watched to get there. Our itinerary was created for us by Ritz Tours, a California-based travel company that specializes in Southeast Asia. They sent us to two "must do" cities on a fi rst trip to Thailand — Bangkok and Chiang Mai — plus an area for which I placed a special request — the beaches and islands surrounding Phuket. "Americans do like the exotic nature of Thailand," Max Chew of Ritz Tours told me. "There is a mysteriousness there that fascinates them. Being far away has something to do with it. There has been a proliferation of Thai restaurants in the United States that feeds that curiosity. In those places, Americans have tasted Thai hospitality and cuisine. Consequently, they are drawn to Thailand." A SPICY, SULTRY BEGINNING We were greeted in Bangkok by our guide for three days, Patty. Like our guide in Chiang Mai, she used a single Americanized name with us. She took us immediately to the city's magnifi cent Grand Palace. Home to the country's royal family since 1782, the Grand Palace is a massive complex from which Bangkok has sprung over the centuries. We joined hundreds of Thais and travelers in removing our shoes to en- ter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, where Buddhists pray before a brilliant green statue seated in the traditional yoga position. The Emerald Buddha fi gurine is made of jasper and is only a little more than two feet tall, but commands the most sacred temple in the palace. It was discovered in the 15th century in northern Thailand after being encased in stucco for safekeeping. In the temple court, a dozen or so adherents sat on steps and chanted. "They wear white to show purity of soul before the Buddha," said Patty. We stayed at the Pullman Bangkok Hotel G in the heart of the city's Silom fi nancial district. The Pullman caters to millennials, and we shared a Chang beer and spring rolls with a few in its streetside 25 Degrees Burger Bar during our stay. When the sun sets, Bangkok teems with people seeking restaurants, bars and street food. This is one of the world's edgiest cities, and when darkness falls, it pounds like a nightclub, earthy and delightful. Patty took us away to a landmark restaurant, Methavalai Sorndaeng, where many Thai families celebrate special occasions. We had a wonder- ful view of King's Avenue and Democracy Monument while musicians performed traditional Thai music. Democracy Monument is a city land- mark that was built in 1939 to celebrate Thailand's new constitutional monarchy. Patty ordered and made sure our dishes didn't overwhelm us. Most Americans have to work their way up to real Thai. "I recommend eating early in the evening so you can digest our dish- es before you try to sleep," she said with a laugh. We had deep-fried shrimp patties, spicy and sour sliced garoupa (grouper) soup, spicy seafood salad, fried chicken wrapped in herb leaves and pad Thai with shrimp. Patty barely ate as she explained the nuance of each dish. The four s's characterize confl icting fl avors built into many Thai dishes: sweet, sour, salty and spicy. We topped the evening off with fresh sliced mango and sticky rice, a favorite Thai dessert. The next morning, we drove southwest from Bangkok to enjoy the Damnoen Saduak fl oating market. We passed industrial complexes for technology companies and fi elds carved into fi sh farms. Opposite page: James Bond Island is a speed boat trip from Phuket. BY MAC LACY E M B R A C E T H E M Y S T E R Y A N D M A G I C O F

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