By the end of our Bangkok sightseeing, I feel as if we’d seen and done so much on what is only my first trip to Asia. Yet, I’m not fatigued. Maybe it’s all the fresh fruit, the daily foot massages, the sunny weather, or the smiling locals, but Thailand’s famous sense of wellness and balance has silently crept into my suitcase. Bangkok has exceeded all my expectations and I can’t shake the sense as we board our flight north, that I’m leaving a better person.
Even an early wake-up hasn’t dented my excitement. All I can think about on the plane is our destination, Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort in Chiang Rai. Our first glimpse of Anantara pays off any sleep deprivation in spades. Alongside the Mekong River, it offers stunning views over the borders of Myanmar and Laos. Those who want to perfect their Thai cooking skills can learn from Anantara’s master chef, and of course, the spa invites guests to soak away their worries with some pampering. But Anantara is also an award-winning elephant rescue camp. You can dine out on the terrace while watching the elephants play, and even join the resident caretakers on an unforgettable non-contact walk with these giants. Staying in a Jungle Bubble room allows us to watch the elephants by day, and feast our eyes on the stars at night.
But it’s the human smiles of North Thailand that really win us over. The long drive up a winding road to Hioyo Village takes us to the Akha hill tribes. Our walk to the community takes us past tea and coffee plants, neatly fenced homes with robust vegetable gardens, and what at first appears to be a row of laundry hampers along our path. In fact, it’s the community’s recycling program.
I round the next corner and find a local woman wearing Akha Hill tribe traditional clothing at the one and only souvenir ‘shop.’ A quick chat with this lovely person and a fair payment later, I come away with a beautiful trinket that now has pride of place in my home.
As we reach our host’s multi-generation home, the local dogs greet us with tails wagging. I’m in heaven. We enter the home, and like all good hosts, he asks what we’d like to drink. From behind a state-of-the-art coffee machine that wouldn’t look out of place at your local Starbucks, he whips us up espresso, lattes, and flat whites. It’s remote travel with style, and the outstanding coffee is an unexpected treat.
The kitchen area is filled with fresh ingredients to make any food stylist envious. As we lend a hand preparing lunch, we learn about the community’s history and desires for the future. Fresh mountain air cuts through the kitchen’s mouth-watering aromas, and my group and I waste no time returning to the café seating area. We linger over lunch and local fresh fruit while the family matriarch and her grandchild teach us traditional beading techniques. After creating our own bracelets, we are invited to take one home as a highly fashionable lasting memory.
We spend the afternoon watching daily life in this community. From creating meals to raising children, getting laundry done, sorting recycling, and checking in with the wider world on smartphones, it all feels so familiar. Even searching to learn about a different community’s way of life, I’m struck instead by our similarities as we wave, hug, and bow our goodbyes.
Now, I suspect I know how my love affair with Thailand started with food. So many aspects of the country are akin to its cuisine. Tantalizing, sensory, and with a new flavour or sensation around every corner that leaves you eager to return.
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