In Thailand, the coconut palm is called the “tree of life” because every part is valued; it’s at once an agricultural resource and a national treasure. The fruit’s oil and the sugar extracted from its flowers’ sap, for example, are essential culinary ingredients. Though skyscrapers may now outnumber palms in Bangkok, there’s still a similar reverence for all things great and small. The city’s burgeoning industry, Buddhist tradition and loyalty to the king all coexist. This seamless integration of future, past and present is what gives the bustling epicenter its rich flavor. Or perhaps it’s the chili, sweet basil and coconut milk.
While the Southeast Asian capital of sugar, spice and everything iced has suffered a number of blows over the past decade — most recently 2011’s floods, which the World Bank ranked the fourth costliest global natural disaster in history — it remains vibrant. Since December, flood waters have receded and business looks to rebound. “We are a nation of resilience,” says William Heinecke, CEO of Minor International, owner of Thailand’s premier hotel franchise, Anantara. Booking a holiday now benefits visitors and nationals alike: tourism not only boosts the economy, but room rates and airfare are also inevitably cheaper and more widely available.
If that’s not enticing, Metro offers this itinerary to nourish your mind, body and spirit.
Hail a tuk-tuk — a motorized rickshaw that audaciously weaves through traffic — to the Grand Palace complex where inside pristine white walls are gold-leafed architectural marvels. Get lost trailing 800 meters of murals depicting the Hindu epic Ramayana. At the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, cover shoulders and knees, respectfully bow your head and take a mental picture of its wealth of beauty. In walking distance, Wat Pho’s red ceramic rooftops house more than 1,000 Buddha statues as well as a Thai massage school for an affordable indulgence.
Thailand’s notoriously humid climate justifies bathing at least twice daily, but so do the Metropolitan Hotel’s limestone showers and COMO Shambala eucalyptus, mint and lavender spa products. In suites overlooking Bangkok’s upscale Sathorn district, Eastern teak Ming-style chairs compliment modern European platform beds and streamlined decor. In addition to its staff’s unmatched hospitality, the boutique hotel boasts a wellness center, two restaurants, an exclusive bar-cum-nightclub and an outdoor lap pool. www.metropolitan.bangkok.como.bz
While 7-11 is Bangkok’s most omnipresent pit stop to get your Thai iced-coffee fix, for quality bites, discover The Deck on Chinatown’s waterfront. Sure, pad Thai is a safe lunchtime bet, but don’t skip their deep-fried garlic and cilantro soft-shell crab and save room for sweet black sticky rice with sliced mango. For dinner, nahm offers a feast for all senses. Chef David Thompson’s classic Thai canapés served on traditional pottery match the atmosphere’s authenticity. A dining tip: contrary to popular belief in the States, Thais primarily eat with a fork and spoon, not chopsticks.
A royal retreat
Trade traffic jams for a tranquil weekend jaunt in Hua Hin, a developing coastal city just 2.5 hours from Bangkok and home to the first of Anantara’s 30 properties nationwide.
Stay: Anantara Hua Hin
Canals encircle bungalows, wild branches weave into stairwells and terra-cotta fish heads illuminate landscaped pathways in this organic oasis. Beachside, spy fishing boats along the horizon. Lagoon-side, wade to the gentle hum of fluted bamboo fountains where an infinity pool meets a lily-blanketed pond. Find nature even indoors — orchids and well wishes written in gold ink on banana leaves rest on your pillow each night. The royal treatment continues at the resort’s spa, three restaurants and cooking school. www.huahin.anantara.com
Dine: Night market
Among handicrafts and souvenirs is a street food paradise. Buy a Singha beer cozy for an ice cold one, pick up a plate of dried shredded pork or fried mussels with bean sprouts and pour on the Sriracha sauce.
Drink: Hua Hin Hills Vineyard
Ascend winding roads through lush terrain to a vineyard guarded by elephant topiaries. At its Sala bistro, stain your lips sampling wines that compliment the spicy national cuisine with fruity aromas. Take home Monsoon Valley’s signature White Shiraz made from grapes harvested there. www.huahinhillsvineyard.com
Do: Mrigadayavan Palace of King Rama VI
Honor a strict dress code at the hallowed “palace of love and hope,” constructed in 1923 as the Royal Family’s summer home. Take respite from the heat on a barefoot walk down the teak corridors of its oceanfront pavilions. Guests are warned not to smell the garden’s hand-pruned flowers; their fragrance is an offering to Buddha.
Founded in 1948, the textile factory and store produces traditional Thai screen-printed cotton. Measure out a yard of its gold handprint design for dressmaking. Drool over contemporary home linens that eclipse IKEA, like playing card and lobster printed pillowcases.