Monday, December 19, 2011

Editor's Choice: Bangkok to Koh Samui, Thailand's got the love

Muse Hotel - Bangkok

We've just had our two editors - Tanya Joslin and Rhonda Bannister - return from another fantastic trip to Thailand. They've come home all refreshed with that post-Thailand glow ... and after hearing all about the amazing places they visited and stayed at, we know why!

Rhonda Bannister starts off the tales of their whirlwind visit in one of her favourite cities in the world - bustling, crazy exciting Bangkok. Great to hear this great city is well on the way to a full recovery after the shut down of tourism due to the recent floods ... 

Bangkok is back in business!

Rhonda says: "From shopping extravaganzas in the city's ubiquitous markets and glamorous shopping malls to marvellous cultural experiences - Bangkok has the lot and it's open for business and waiting for you to return - there is no water in the city at all - never has been - so come on, start planning your next trip to the Land of Smiles.

We started our visit to Bangkok with a surprise stop at the Qantas First Class Lounge at Sydney's international terminal and I've got to say it was - well, first class in every way. For instance Veuve Cliquot and Bollinger are the Champagnes on offer and the restaurant quality menu created by Neil Perry is almost like dining at Rockpool Restaurant. And then there's the dedicated spa where you can pop in for a massage or facial ... oh to be a Gold or Platinum Frequent Flyer member.

Mind you our business class flight was fabulous with the best food and wine served by friendly and highly professional staff offering the sort of service that has made Qantas an Australian icon - surely it couldn't be that much better in first class (although I'll probably never know!). 

Bangkok is a bold and exciting city of chaotic sights and sounds that assault the senses and send the mind reeling and you'll either love it or hate it - I love everything about it but only because I get out and enjoy as much as I can on every trip and now there's a skytrain, getting around is simple - although taxis are really cheap and the traffic is not so bad outside of peak hours - just like any major city really. 

On the streets you'll find sleek, sophisticated shopping malls and department stores, small shops brimming over with bargain fashion buys and some wonderful bustling street markets. Then there's the gi-normous Chatuchak weekend market which takes up entire blocks and is so big you couldn't even get around it all in two days - but we gave it our best shot on one day and bought some amazing things - even a fish tank. Now think about getting that home as excess baggage! 

After shopping all day we'd pop in to a spa just down the road from our hotel and for the princely sum of $10 enjoy an hour-long leg and foot massage. These spas are all over the city so make sure you indulge at least once a day because it really leaves you feeling on top of the world and ready to face the shopping excursion again that night.

The bar and dining scene in Bangkok is amazing with quite a few bars and restaurants perched at dizzying heights on top of skyscrapers. We've been to a few on previous visits but on this trip we splurged and took ourselves off to Mezzaluna Restaurant at The Dome at Lebua to enjoy both the sparkling view from the 64th floor and the exquisite tastes of the six-course chef's tasting menu prepared by the very talented brotherly cooking duo, Mathias and Thomas Suhring. This is without doubt the BEST meal I have ever had and I now understand the whole 'foodie' thing. The wines were a perfect match and it was interesting to note how the right wine can enhance the taste of a particular food. Don't miss this fabulous dining event - it's expensive but worth every cent! Little wonder that Mezzaluna picked up the coveted 'Restaurant of the Year (The Best in Asia)' award at the recent Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards 2011- 2012 - as well as three platinum awards including 'Thailand's Best Restaurant', 'Most Unique F&B Concept' and 'Most Exquisite Dining Experience, Western Cuisine'. Pretty impressive, wouldn't you say?!

You'll find all the top name hotel chains in Bangkok and believe me, some of these places are seriously gorgeous - all sleek marble and crystal chandeliers but for this trip we stayed at a brand new, boutique hotel which is part of the MGallery Collection of unique hotels.  Hotel Muse is located on prestigious Langsuan Road, a quiet residential part of this sprawling city, just around the corner from the American Embassy and Lumpini Park, Bangkok's oldest and largest park gifted by King Rama VI in 1920 to his people. Elegant, seductive and leading-edge interior design makes this hotel a very hip place to stay - check out the images and you'll see what I mean. The bedrooms are spacious and beautifully furnished, the service is fast and efficient and the ambience is - well quite frankly - sensual - with moody, opulent interiors throughout, including the restaurants and bars . And if your favourite cuisines include traditional Italian and Thai, this will be your temple to taste sensations - check out the their two great restaurants and the exclusive The Speakeasy bar occupying the entire 24th and 25th level of Hotel Muse ... truly sensational!

Heading south from Bangkok to the island escape of Koh Samui, it was time to get a dose of tropical luxe in the Gulf of Thailand. Tongsai Bay has been a favourite place to escape to when we are on the island, and our editor Tanya Joslin says this charming resort remains as beautiful and stunning as ever! 

Tongsai Bay - Koh Samui

Tanya says: "We recently returned to one of our favourite islands in South East Asia - Koh Samui.  Samui first captured the attention of young backpackers twenty or so years ago, but today it is the perfect blend of international sophistication and the real Thailand. We're yet to meet somebody not charmed by Samui, and while the island has seen a swarm of international brand hotels set up shop here, one of the original luxury getaways still holds a special place in the collective heart of the Holidays for Couples team. 

Tongsai Bay - they advertise themselves as Samui's most romantic retreat, we'll tell you a bit about it and then you can do your own research to decide if you agree. Us? We were sold on Tongsai Bay around 10 years ago, and having recently returned, we are pleased to say some things don't change!

Flanked by pristine tropical jungle with the turquoise waters of a private bay lapping its shores, Tongsai Bay Resort  is sheer honeymoon bliss - although, to be honest, you don't have to be on honeymoon to bliss out here - take it from us, we were 'working' (somebody has to research these places!) and managed to slip away to a state of absolute relaxation within about ten minutes of checking into our Grand Villa. It is partly the connection to nature you feel while here - the whole resort has been sensitively designed to respect and preserve the surrounding wilderness – without skimping on five-star luxuries – Tongsai Bay is committed to both the natural environment and the pleasure and comfort of its pampered guests. 

Back to those villas. Tucked discreetly away on a hillside, the indulgent Grand Villas and Pool Villas are the ideal honeymoon choices with features like outdoor spa baths, sweeping decks, relaxing day beds and private plunge pools. There are some that even boast their own private pool, our pool had views to die for!  The sense of privacy extends beyond the villas though - and this is one of the beautiful things about Tongsai Bay, the fact that you're tucked away in this enclave, surrounded by two headland peaks (so while it is not actually legal to say you have a private beach on Samui, one would have to go to a great effort to get to Tongsai's beach!), enjoying a serene enviornment where nature dominates the view regardless of which way you look, with only resort guests or the few outside visitors who come to enjoy the incredible restaurant. sharing this privileged space.

Active honeymooners can head into the buzzy Koh Samui township of Chaweng, just a ten or fifteen minute drive away, to shop, dine and party. Or you can easily enjoy a day trip to one of the picturesque neighbouring islands like Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

Chef Choms serves authentic Thai cuisine and the fabulous Po-Lad, situated on the beach and boasting a new chef that is creating a bit of a stir on the Samui dining scene (and believe us, the island may be laid back but the dining is world-class!), is the perfect place to enjoy a casual lunch or a gorgeous candle-lit dinner. And don't miss the Prana Spa which offers a range of decadent treatments including a romantic 'Return to Prana' couples experience. 

However, from our experience there's really no need to leave the peaceful confines of the resort. That’s if you don’t mind the idea of spending your days lazing on the beach, swimming in the gorgeous bay, dining on fresh Thai cuisine and surrendering to yet more spa indulgence! It's the perfect place to fall in love all over again. 

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