Thailand’s second city is a great choice to avoid the teeming herd of tourists, and yet still quenches the thirst for culture, cuisine and shopping.
From the air, Chiang Mai is a vast valley surrounded by hills and mountains. Upon closer look, the Ping River appears, gracefully snaking up and down the endless landscape. Much like what the Nile does in Egypt, the Ping River feeds the farmland, and is the lifeline of the medieval Lanna kingdom, the northern domain of which Chiang Mai was the capital.
Arriving in November, a week before the Loi Krathong festival, one of the two major events in the Thai calendar, we found the city in a festive mood. Loi Krathong is traditionally held during the full moon of November, and is celebrated to honor the Goddess of Water at sunset with thousands of floating banana leaves decorated with candles and flowers in the Ping River, and hundreds of paper lanterns launched in the air.
The airport was relatively uncomplicated, we were in and out in ten minutes, and shortly thereafter, driving across the river to an elaborately carved wooden gate and entering the enclave of a magnificent ancient kingdom. Or so it seemed. There is no better way to appreciate the façade of the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi than in the dramatic hues of dusk. The first sight of multiple ornamented roof tiers can easily take your breath away, while the impressive dark wood and the warm welcoming staff in the reception area was a promising start to our four-day stay.
Designed by the local architect Rachen Intawong, the sprawling resort took seven years to build and was created to fulfill the heritage passion of a Thai tycoon. Set in sixty acres of rural farmland, the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is a small village of its own, and our quarters for the duration of our stay was a villa overlooking the rice paddies and carabaos. Staying true to traditional Lanna architectural style, the teakwood two-story villas provided all the modern amenities mixed with artwork, artifacts and luxurious silks and textiles weaved in the neighboring hilltop tribes. In all, the complex houses 64 villas and 54 colonial suites overlooking a large pool, and an expansive array of dining choices – French at Farang Ses, Chinese at Fujian, buffet breakfast and lunch at Akaligo, an English teahouse at the shopping village called The Oriental Shop, as well as an impressive room service menu that can be served in the room or at any of the public places. For the best taste of Northern cuisine, locals and visitors go to the Le Grand Lanna where the chef uses only the freshest ingredients for a meal fit for royalty.
But the heart of the resort is the luxurious Dheva Spa, a palace on its own with 18 treatment rooms and five residences with a thick menu for pampering.
For retail therapy, Chiang Mai is a haven. The night market on Saturday is a good precursor to the more extensive one the following day. Hard- core bargain hunters won’t let both chances slip by. The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi thoughtfully provides a shuttle for their guests to the city center, a short 15-minute drive away. And if the schedule doesn’t fit, cabs are available at very reasonable rates.
The weekend night market comes alive at dusk, when wheeled carts are set up to line the streets. On Saturday, it stretches a good kilometer at Wu Lai Road, where vendors compete with existing shops in this busy commercial road known for its silverware.
The Sunday market is much bigger and located close by, at the center of the old walled city, starting at the Tha Phae Gate. Shoppers are bombarded with a huge selection of the usual knockoff T-shirts, athletic shoes, clothes, pirated CDs and DVDs; and cheap woodwork. If you haggle, you’re likely to find prices cheaper than those in Bangkok. Food stalls and fruit vendors selling kluk (a local delicacy of fresh strawberries tossed with salt and sugar) pepper the whole scene. The Sunday market is also more interesting as it showcases the art and craftsmanship of the northern tribal villages. Many of the stall vendors make and sell their own products mostly cotton and handwoven fabrics, as well as pottery, wood- carvings and metal works. To add to the festive mood, strings of colored lights and lanterns are hung all over, while musicians and puppeteers perform in the middle of the road.
For culture, Chiang Mai’s temples are much older than the ones in Bangkok, some as old as the city itself, which celebrated its 700 years in 1996. We visited the mountaintop Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an important pilgrimage temple with a full monastery. The 800-year-old temple is famous for its gold domed rooftops overlooking the city, and a short hop to various hill tribe villages.
For first time visitors, Chiang Mai is a place to escape to, where the sights and sounds are to be appreciated and to partake as needed, especially if you choose a luxe resort. There is no sense of urgency visitors usually get from a Thai vacation in Bangkok or Phuket. Chiang Mai is best taken with a long massage in the afternoon and night shopping. Just as the doctor ordered.
- by Eva Gullas
Club Serena: A ‘Serene Luxury’ Experience in the Heart of Cebu’s Diving Mecca
photography by GPA Art and Photography
A three-hour drive, or more, depending on traffic, the fishing town of Moalboal in the southwest of Cebu Island is an extremely popular destination for divers and weekenders who love the white sand and pink sunsets. It is also a favorite place to stay for expats looking for a laid-back life of endless coffees or cocktails.
Thankfully, the big chain resorts haven’t discovered it and places to stay are mostly small family-run resorts. But if pampering is what you are looking for, there is only one hotel to book in Moalboal. Club Serena Resort is a 1.7-hectare beachfront property perched above coral rocks, presenting a unique union of luxurious accommodations and a host of activities to be enjoyed. This hidden gem is reached through a dirt road away from the main highway. Fronting a wide swath of white sand beach, it is an easy walk past several smaller resorts to reach the main town.
Recently renovated by noted architect James Jao, the new Club Serena has 17 rooms, three swimming pools, a restaurant, and a beachfront event space, all designed with modern Filipino aesthetic. On the drawing board are more rooms to be added, an expansion of their modern dive shop, and their popular Kids’ Club program. Their food outlet, Mira, offers all-day dining, favorite among visitors and locals, as well as the growing expat community that has settled in Moalboal.
Club Serena offers diving courses for adults and kids by their resident operator, Seven Seas Aquanauts Phil. Corp, a PADI 5 accredited diving facility operating since 1988. For a complete list of the courses and their rates, please call (+63) 917.872.6367 or (+63) 905.459.5307.
The resort encourages above-water activities as well, and they have several paddle boards and kayaks available for guests to use.
For rates and more information, visit www.clubserenaresort.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or (+63) 917.872.6367 or (+63) 905.459.5307. You can also visit their Facebook page for updates.
This is How the M.I.C.E. Alliance Initiative will Lift Boracay to New Heights
Leveling up Boracay in more ways than one
by Ryan Daniel R. Dablo
Saying the name “Boracay” instantly casts a spell, taking the listener to a daydream of immaculate, pale beaches, swaying palm trees, the music of breaking waves, and the vacation of a lifetime. The tropical island Eden is storied and renowned – a difficult enchantment to lift from any wayward tourist’s mind. But what if we were to tell you that Boracay is so much more? Can you build upon perfection? Yes, and this, ladies and gentlemen, is how.
After the difficulties of the past few years, the stage is finally set for a massive Boracay reboot. The creative gears turn once more, and this time they will catapult our favorite beach capital to new heights. The cornerstone of this renaissance is the M.I.C.E. Alliance initiative, short for meetings, incentives, conferences and conventions, and events and exhibitions. The establishment of the Boracay M.I.C.E. Alliance will allow focused efforts in creating sustainable and eco-sensitive tourism development projects while synergizing with stakeholders to create long-term solutions and opportunities for all partners. The alliance is set to drive awareness, readiness, and expansion of product offerings that will be crucial in making the island competitive with other M.I.C.E. destinations. Working closely with the Department of Tourism Region VI and the Tourism Promotions Board, the alliance is primed to provide support to the areas that are involved in this major undertaking.
No one is more emphatic than M.I.C.E. Alliance chairperson Cleofe Albiso in describing how the different sectors of Boracay are pivoting from tourism to tourism plus. In brief, Boracay is challenging its own boundaries to become not just the pre-eminent tourist destination but also a corporate and business mecca. Turns out, if a venue is grand enough to host a wedding, wouldn’t it be just as grand to host a white-collar conference? Sky’s the limit for possibilities like this. At this moment, the island is abuzz with networking and making connections, training and empowering the hospitality services, polishing the infrastructure, revving up the transportation facilities, and all-around gearing up to go toe-to-toe with other M.I.C.E. hubs and be worthy of the tagline, “the best place for M.I.C.E. in a tropical paradise.” All hands are on deck and – after the extended global hiatus thanks to the pandemic – everyone is ready, nay, eager to meet and greet the guests. And, of course, we would be remiss not to point out that Boracay is more than halfway through completing such a tall order. The island is as well-oiled a machine as it could be, boasting 294 DOT-accredited hotels and resort, a staggering 4,500 seating capacity for meetings and conventions, and 12,400 room keys available in the island. Talk about volume! Plus, Boracay is already postcard-perfect, the very stuff that vacation dreams are made of. Why not turn the dial up to eleven and let it become a compass point for more than a summer getaway? This is the logical next step in realizing its vision of being not just a place to be, but the place to be.
So, yes, by all means think of the idyllic strolls on the beach, the luxurious caress of the ocean as you free-dive, the sheer delight of sand and surf while island-hopping, the adrenaline rush of aquasports, parasailing, cycling, or driving an ATV up Boracay’s foothills, the psychedelic glow of fire-dancing and party lights at night, the breathtaking sunsets, the larger-than-life adventures, or the hundred other ways it can lavish or reinvigorate your soul. Think of all of that, and then some. Because Boracay has its eyes on something greater: it is poised to become the premier starting point and last stop for tourism, entertainment, corporate gatherings, exhibits, and any other event the imagination can dream of.
Think of your company meeting. Now, think of your company meeting and the fun that’ll ensue right after. Picture that in the most scenic of vacation spots. Tempted already? Who wouldn’t be? You’re already in paradise. With business here and leisure literally just a stone’s throw away – heaven on earth, wouldn’t you say?
For Our Next Travel Destination, We Dream About Koh Samui in Thailand
Mayenne Carmona discovers the Four Seasons Resort in Koh Samui is a quiet oasis to recharge and rejuvenate…
What does one expect from a Four Seasons Resort? Everything! Firstly, it will definitely be ranked no less than a five-star hotel or resort. Most importantly, it would not fall short of all your expectations: excellent cuisine, topnotch comfort at your fingertips in a well-appointed villa, courteous staff who offer impeccable service, and every other detail you could possibly need—down to the last cotton bud. After all, a Four Seasons Resort is always designed by a top-rated architectural team and interior designers.
The moment I stepped into the Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui, I felt all my cares washed away by the soft waves of the bluest sea. The fresh air cleared my sinuses in no time, and the gentle breeze was a much needed caress to a tired mind and body. It was truly paradise regained for me and my friends. We were a motley group of career-oriented people who needed a much-awaited break from work, and this was the perfect choice for us.
Each Villa has a butler to cater to the guests’ every whim. The afternoon we arrived, we requested a sunset dinner by the beach, and much like a genie, our butler whipped up a romantically set candlelit dinner for six. A five-course delicious Thai dinner was prepared by their well-trained chef.
Our days were spent languishing by the beach, having daily massages, attending yoga classes, doing water sports and enjoying every bite of Thai cuisine. Golf carts transported us wherever we wanted to go within the resort. This vacation brought all my senses to another realm, and restored a weary soul to perfection.
Four Seasons Koh Samui, I look forward to seeing you again!
Koh Samui is the third largest island of Thailand in the scenic Gulf of Siam. It is a 45 minute flight from Bangkok. Sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and abundant tourist resources make it a popular holiday destination.
For more information on Four Seasons Resort, visit their website at https://www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui/
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s March 2016 Travel Issue, “Silent Sanctuaries” written by our columnist Mayenne Carmona for La Vie En Rose on pages 32-33.)