Fostering sports tourism was also on the agenda. Thailand currently has several pro golf tournaments, more than 300 golf courses and 5,000 boxing gyms where visitors can learn the national sport, Muay Thai. The minister also highlighted new destinations for travelers. These hidden gems are smaller cities with niche offerings. Ms.Wattanavrangku further emphasized the importance of working with the Asean community. Growing cooperation and new infrastructure between the counties make it easier for Thailand to assist with travel arrangements for those wishing to continue on to Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia after their visit.
High-end tourism was featured as well. There’s no shortage of stunning 5-star resorts here. Mrs. Pataraporn Sithivanich, Executive Director for the Americas marketing division, spoke about the role of experiential luxury in Thailand. She explained that the warmth and hospitality of the people goes into every product, every service and amenity. Truly, whenever I visit this mostly Buddhist country, I am always moved by the gentleness of the people who put their hearts into everything they do.
When I asked about the ‘secret’ of the famed Thai massages, the Director explained that children learn this tradition from an early age when they massage their elderly grandparents. Mrs. Sithivanich said that this is an example of using the native wisdom in Thai products, whether in a 5-star hotel or a local spa. Authentic is the buzzword; we can expect new itineraries and activities involving locals, communities, culinary tours, cooking lessons, wellness and back to nature luxury experiences. Additionally, Thailand is promoting itself as a wedding and honeymoon destination.
After the forum, I experienced some of the remarkable amenities Thailand offers guests. These included a stay at the ultra luxurious Four Seasons, Chiang Mai while taking in the bustling night market, magnificent temples such as the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Wat Chedi Luang, artisanal craft shops and yummy Thai food at some of Chiang Mai’s many outdoor waterside eateries. Moving on to unique elephant experiences in Chiang Rai at the outstanding Anantara Golden Triangle was unforgettable. www.fourseasons.com/thailand
Next I headed to Trat, Thailand’s easternmost archipelago and one of its hidden gems. Soneva Kiri Resort on Koh Kood island attracts families and couples seeking an eco luxury beach experience far away from the crowds. Koh Kood is blessed with mangroves, waterfalls, jungle, sleepy fishing villages, sandy beaches and warm azure seas.
www.soneva.com/soneva-kiri Luxurious Soneva Kiri, which has its own plane, offers chic, gigantic villas with beach, cliff or bayviews, huge outdoor living spaces and large wrap around pools, plus your own electric buggy to get around the sprawling resort set in a rainforest. The Thai and international food offerings are fantastic; vegetables, fruits and herbs come from their organic garden. I especially liked the View Restaurant for spectacular sunsets paired with the stupendous cuisine.
The Six Senses Spa at the resort is a true temple of healing. Top practitioners perform holistic, Asian inspired and Ayurvedic treatments using local products in soothing thatched roof pavilions tucked away in the jungle foliage. Guests receive a complimentary wellness consultation with the resident practitioner, Dr. Amit, based on their dosha (body type) plus personalized lifestyle and nutrition advice. There’s yoga, pilates, Watsu and more for you to find your inner bliss. www.sixsenses.com
Cathay Pacific flies non stop from JFK to Hong Kong, connecting to their intra-Asia airline Dragonair to Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Guests enjoy outstanding service, easy connections and top amenities. www.cathaypacific.com