Article and photography by Ilona Kauremszky
With a shovel in hand on an island once covered in coconut groves there I was digging a hole for one lonely coconut whose mission it will be to grow to maturity and bear fruit.
In one of Asia’s most enchanting destinations, the Kingdom of Thailand beckons and hits all the high notes for those seeking authentic experiences.
Not only was I proclaiming my coconut love (yes I admit I have a weakness for coconuts) on the day of the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 65th birthday in a community initiative to restore coconut groves on Koh Samui but I was on my own personal quest to seek out first-hand experiences.
By Studio Naenna in Chiang Mai indigo tie-dye queen Patricia Cheesman alongside daughter Lamorna are busy prodding instructions in my indigo tie-dye making class. Patricia a tie-dye maverick with 40 years under her belt that includes authoring countless books and reviving over 100 traditional designs smirks then whispers, “Meet the Goddess of Indigo,” an affectionate nickname she uses describing her ageless indigo dye as our hands dip deep into the bubbling blue vat.
The Studio specializes in fair trade practices using natural products and offers hands-on tie-dye making workshops (advanced reservations are needed). Set amongst an exotic tropical foliage backdrop some of the plants are used to create the natural dyes. On any given day visitors can experience first-hand weaving techniques in this women’s group known as “Weavers For the Environment.” Patricia alongside her head weaver train and offer satisfying life sustaining work and skills to young women in their own villages which promotes self-esteem and is an alternative to migrating to the city to find work.
WFE members weave in their homes in provinces across Thailand, and the Studio is the only outlet for their magnificent creations.
White elephants are sacred royal animals in Thailand. In some north eastern areas of Thailand villagers even include Asian elephants in their family unit as pets.
Travelers also can participate in an elephant trainer programme at places like the Patara Elephant Farm. Located 45 minutes south from the northwestern city of Chiang Mia near the Hang Dong valley there I was channeling a Mahout spirit (that’s Thai for caretaker) in a knee deep stream scrubbing an elephant under the spell of a hot Thailand sun.
Since 2001 the Patara Elephant Farm cares for Asian elephants, a species that is smaller than the larger African cousins. The farm combines conservation through its breeding programme along with education and limited tourism. Visitors receive instructions on elephant behaviour and feeding then learn about elephant care from dirt removal to elephant bathing and brushing which culminates in an optional elephant trek if desired. A traditional Thai picnic lunch by a streamside thatched hut is also included.
In Thailand you can’t escape the floral extravaganza. From garlands to phuang malaise the largely Buddhist country embraces all forms of fleeting florals. One of the nicest haunts is the Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok. The morning of my visit I bumped into the Baron of Blossoms or the Wizard of Flowers a.k.a Sakul Intakul who leads me into his floral parade, which now has me rethinking orchids, and the use of bouquets.
“Flowers are life,” he whimsically gestures fluttering his trademark purple fan before him.
A small hidden treasure located in a restored century-old teak mansion in the residential area of Dusit, the museum offers guided tours, garland making workshops, and has a tea salon of specialty fragrant teas including a new edible flower menu at the on-site Midnight Moon restaurant.
In Thailand, the country is synonymous with the spa and has a virtual lock on the market. Find truly affordable luxury and one of the few destinations where 1-hour massages can start as low as $8.
Thailand also has its own specialty: the yoga-moving, ligament pulling, elbow needling Thai Massage. Now that might not sound like a pretty picture but the results I assure you have their own rewards. You feel nimble as if you can touch your toes.
For me, there was a secret obsession to find a daily Thai massage fix as I trekked off-the-beaten path in sometimes not the most delightful places but the searching never took long. Within 5-minutes there’s bound to pop up a massage spa of your liking.
Another time, after a morning of bling bazaar shopping in Bangkok, the Elemis Spa at the St. Regis Bangkok had just the antidote: a full Thai massage. The spa is Southeast Asia’s first Elemis facility. Guests enjoy herbal-infused teas, dried fruit and nut nibblies including a hot and cold plunge pool in an interior of cool neutral tones.
Ever imagine indulging in a chocolate body wrap? One day that was my go-to spa fix after my elephant encounter. At the Anantara Chiang Mia, my spa experience starts with a healthy herbal drink and a relaxing foot bath in preparation for a Lanna Ritual which ended in a decadent chocolate body wrap. It was the perfect bookend to the outdoor elephant experience earlier in the day.
No wonder Thailand is revered as The Land of Smiles. The warm Thai hospitality is evident as the locals keep the surprises coming.
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