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selecttraveler.com 27 J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 7 I T'S A TRAVEL BARGAIN. The dollar in exchange for Thai bahts is a remarkable value. A gourmet meal for two with drinks, dessert and tip runs well under $100. Hand-painted umbrellas sell for $5. A one- hour foot massage costs $10. Take $100 to a night market, and you'll be there all night. IT'S FOR FOODIES. I had soups in Thailand with fl avors I've never tasted before. What they do with opposing infl uences is an art form. It's diffi cult to characterize what they create using lemongrass, basil, Thai curries and other spices, but the results are distinctly Thai. IT'S FRIENDLY. Thailand is a Buddhist culture. Buddhists believe that what you give to others comes back to you and how you treat others determines where your life will lead. Their culture is gracious, and there is no language barrier. IT'S TRENDING. Ritz Tours alone is taking 1,000 Ameri- cans a month to Thailand. From expats who move there to beachgoers who crash there, Thailand has a siren call that travelers are hearing. Thailand T A K E A W A Y S M Y By Max Chew for the Chinese delicacy, bird's nest soup. Back at the hotel, I made a quick change to join John and other guests for a reception he hosts on Wednesday evenings. He sent me up to the roof to catch the last traces of a beautiful sunset before it disappeared. When I returned, he had a cold beer waiting for me. "You need to come back for Songkran, Thailand's New Year Festival in early April," he said. "It's a water festival and everyone celebrates with water guns and water cannons. It takes place all over the country. This lobby literally stands in water. It's an amazing time to be in Thailand." Songkran represents Thais' way of cleansing impurities from the old year and ushering in the new. That's where the water comes in. They splash it on monks as a means of blessing them and drench each other as well. Kim and I dined al fresco on the hotel roof that evening. The moon was full, and Kamala Bay was iridescent. On our last day in Phuket, Kim got up early to swim beneath the stars in our rooftop pool. ELEPHANT CAMPS AND ELEPHANT PANTS Our fi rst evening in Chiang Mai, our guide, Pan, took us to a tradition- al Lanna Khantoke dinner show at the Old Chiangmai Cultural Center, where dancers interpret historic Thai cultures. Pan told us that night that Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej was gravely ill. The following day, he confi rmed the king had died. Our hotel, Le Meridien Chiang Mai, immediately assembled a tribute bearing his likeness in its lobby. Hill tribe kids are hard to resist in Chiang Mai. Wat Chalong is a Phuket landmark.