School holidays are over… so it’s clearly time for us to think about booking another family holiday to escape the heat and humidity in Dubai. My husband and I enjoy a bit of luxury so we decided to splurge on our Thailand trip by booking one of the best properties in the Laguna in Phuket – Banyan Tree!
We booked the Singapore Airline stopover flight so our route for this trip was Dubai-Phuket-Bangkok-Singapore-Dubai.
As I always say there are so many beautiful places to see in this world, I would rather not visit the same country but I would definitely make an exception for Thailand. It is by far my favorite holiday destination in the world!
A vibrant blend of cultures and breathtaking natural scenery and, understandably, the country becomes one of the most popular holiday destination in South East Asia. Thailand is great value for money, and can be done on a range of budgets.
Bangkok is known around the world for its chaotic, crowded streets, cheap prices, wild nightlife, and never ending traffic. Energetic, cosmopolitan Bangkok combines the feel of a modern Asian city with reminders of the past, whilst contrasting dramatically with the serenity of the country’s ancient temples, tranquil villages and miles of picturesque coastline.
Phuket is the biggest destination for tourism in Thailand. With great beaches and amazing activities on this island, if you stay away from Patong Beach, you can avoid most of the over-development and crowds – which is exactly what we did by staying in the Laguna.
Day 1: We took the Singapore Airline flight departing Dubai early am and reaching Phuket around late afternoon. After completing the “visa on arrival” formality (Indian passport holders) at Phuket International Airport, we proceeded to the Laguna Lounge for our airport transport which was pre-booked by Banyan Tree. We were greeted by bright smiles at the counter and within minutes we were escorted to our car and our friendly driver. The 45-minute ride to the resort was comfortable.
It was drizzling when we left the airport. The weather got me all excited. There is something about the smell of wet mud, the patter of rain against the windowpane which appeals to my senses. I acknowledge it as the most peaceful sound in the world and anyone who loves the rains will understand this! Secondly, I live in Dubai where the climate is dominated by sunshine and humidity. Hmmmm…I seriously think sunshine is a bit overrated 😉
So overall, weather wise we had 80% good weather during our stay and the little rain that fell never stopped us from doing anything!
Upon arrival at the resort, we were greeted by the Banyan Tree staff who welcomed us with garlands and we were immediately whisked off to the check in area. Icy cold herbal drinks and towels doused with peppermint essence oil were presented to us. All we needed to do was to chill and enjoy the view while the Banyan Tree host took care of all the necessary check-in procedures!
The host gave us an overview of the facilities available at Banyan Tree before driving us in a buggy to our villa. It was still drizzling when we left the lobby to go to our room which was ~5 mins away from the main reception.
As we drove in the buggy my impression of this property – a tropical fairytale! This was Thai architecture at it’s best complemented with every modern amenity imaginable. Landscaped with palms, trees and scented flowering frangipani trees, we just lost ourselves in sublime bliss!
The resort is located within Laguna Phuket’s exclusive community that includes 7 different hotels, 3 km of sandy shores and is home to more than 30 restaurants and bars (with free use of inter-resort transportation by shuttle vehicle or lagoon boat).
We had booked their signature 2 bedroom Deluxe Double Pool Villa. The pool villa is designed in a contemporary style with a traditional Thai twist. This was indeed an epitome of luxury living! And a moment of truth that hereon we would stay at Banyan Tree properties, wherever available, whatever the cost!
Looking out onto the pool and softly lit lotus ponds, the villa has an understated dining and living area with a fully equipped kitchenette. We would have fresh bowls of exotic local fruits placed in our room daily.
The villa has two elegantly furnished bedrooms (1 with 2 single beds & the another with a king size bed) and en-suite bathrooms.
The bathrooms consist of Banyan Tree brand toiletries (body lotion, liquid soap, shampoo and hair conditioner) his & her signature batik-print bedroom slippers, bathrobes and toiletries pouches in the wardrobe/ vanity area. The bedroom slippers were too pretty to be worn there so I brought the pouches and the bedroom slippers home just as a memento of our stay here 🙂
The master bedroom also has a spacious vanity area with the ‘his’ and ‘her’ sinks and the outdoor showering area which we thoroughly enjoyed.
There is absolute privacy to enjoy intimate and peaceful moments by the 3.5m X 9m pool and shower outdoor in total seclusion within the villa’s exquisitely vibrant garden along with a large poolside terrace and personal meditation sala. The boys just couldn’t wait any longer to get into the pool!
We then took a stroll around the resort to take a look at the facilities and activities on the property.
A highlight of the experience was bike riding around the resort, it really added to the carefree energetic feel of the holiday since our family loves cycling!
The resort also has a Spa and Fitness Centre with a range of activities and classes to restore balance of body, mind and spirit.
With all that cycling, walking, exploring we had built an appetite and decided to dine at Chaba restaurant on the recommendation of the reception desk. We were looking for something quick to eat and this was the perfect place. The restaurant was nicely placed within the Laguna and had a large outdoor seating area with a lake view. We enjoyed the food and the quite ambience since the restaurant was not busy.
Day 2 – It rained all night and was still drizzling in the morning. Boys were excited to swim so after spending an hour or so we were ready for breakfast. Since it was raining we decided to walk to the breakfast area which was located in the main building, instead of taking our cycles.
The food and beverage selection at the Banyan Tree is enormous and very well presented. There was a wide selection of food and assortment of baked breads alongside a mouth watering selection of pastries and of course my favorite – sticky rice and mango! For the health conscious there were lots of cereals, yoghurt and fruits to choose from. The food presented catered to every nationality staying at the Banyan Tree. The options were endless. I have definitely not seen a better presented buffet breakfast than this!
We booked all our excursions through the hotel so after a leisurely breakfast we embarked on our half-day 4-in-1 Safari (with Lunch) Tour. It is touristy but in a good, well-managed way. We were picked up from our hotel and transported to the Elephant camp on top of a mountain at Chalong Highlands. The great thing about this tour was that it gave us the chance to learn more about Thai culture and rural life in the villages. And first up, the importance of coconuts to the Thai people.
Our trip started with sampling some Thai coffee and tea accompanied with some delicious coconut pancakes in a sheltered area.
And while we were sipping our drinks and chomping on pancakes, we were treated to the sight of a water buffalo ploughing rice back in the good old days.
My boys were actually captivated by the fact that they were able to ride on a wooden cart pulled by a buffalo.
My boys, for the first time, saw how coconut was de-husked and then cracked opened with a spear. The coconut ‘meat’ was then grated out of the coconut and squeezed to make coconut milk. We got to take a few sips of coconut water from a freshly de-husked coconut.
Moving on, we were shown a demonstration of how coconut milk was processed.
After boiling it for few hours, coconut oil is formed. The oil is then siphoned away while the brownish coconut residue is dried and used in Thai desserts.
The husk and shell is used to make several items as displayed on their shelves. Nothing goes in waste!
Considering that the main food staple of the Thai people is rice, it was apt that our next station featured how rice was processed. We were escorted to a hut where a huge contraption that looked like a see saw with a leg-driven mortar and pestle. This was the machine that was used to separate the husk from the rice in the olden days and as my son Brandon will tell you, it was hard work 🙂
Just imagine a person pumping the pestle for a good 30 minutes, before using a pan to separate the husked rice from the naked rice.
A Thai curry cooking demonstration was next. We were shown the actual ingredients that go into a Thai curry paste and they passed a few ingredients for us to smell, while preparing the dish. And what was a cooking demonstration without sampling? So we were all given a small portion of curry (with rice) which was just delicious!
As we trekked deeper into the forest, we noticed a huge area was planted with rubber trees, which was the premise of our next stop. We were given a demonstration on how rubber tree tapping is done. Did you know the best time to harvest the rubber sap is from 2 am onwards? And the rubber tappers have to do it quickly before the sun rises because it will be too hot by then and the sap dries up. Definitely tough work, phew! We also got to see first-hand how the rubber sap flowed out when the tree bark was cut. Plus the process that it undergoes in order to be made into the material we know as rubber.
We then moved on to the baby elephants where we were given a glimpse on how they were trained. The baby elephant start their learning journey by obeying commands. Commands like picking up objects with their trunks, kicking a ball, painting pictures and even playing the harmonica!
And the paintings that the baby elephants churn out show after show are also available for purchase from the shop. A percentage from every painting goes directly to elephant conservation work. So the young elephants actually do their bit for other elephants too!
And for 100 baht, the boys got to feed them a basket of fruits.
After feeding the elephants they were then taken to the wash basin to wash your hands.
And of course, a photo opportunity with the 2 adorable baby elephants was a must-do.
Then, it was time for the main highlight of the tour – elephant trekking. Before our elephant trekking commenced we were given a short briefing on how to mount and dismount from an elephant, and the rules to observe while riding on one. And then we were off!
The high point of the trek was when we arrived at a spot for an unobstructed view of Chalong Bay.
Our tour ended with a delicious Thai buffet lunch!
We then hopped onto a tractor which took us back to the tour bus carpark.
We thoroughly enjoyed the three hour safari tour at Siam Safari, with the highlight obviously being the elephant trek. But I believe for the boys especially, they have taken away much more than the element of fun. Coming from a modern city like Dubai, it was their first time witnessing demonstrations of coconut processing, rice farming and rubber tapping up close.
The boys were tired and decided to relax in the hotel so the two of us decided to watch Simon Cabaret, the lady boy entertainment show.
We were entertained by a group of glamorous performers that wore stylish, elegant and some extravagant costumes before the show started. This group of performers even persuaded all the audiences, including us to take photos together which comes at an additional cost!
Overall, the show was extremely entertaining and mesmerizing especially with the detailed and amazing decorated backdrop settings and stage displays. All the performers wore glittering and great costumes throughout the show and it was really hard for us to believe that all of these performances were performed by males.
Day 3 – Post breakfast we left for the ATV ride which we had booked the previous day through the hotel’s activity desk. Post registration at the welcome camp we were given all our gears and after attending a pre-ride safety briefing and program orientation given by the instructor we were all set to take off. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the dirt and muddy areas, going through moderate bumpy trails. I almost fell off the vehicle on one of the dense forest turn but quickly got back into action 🙂
We then left for Jungceylon shopping mall, the largest mall in Patong Beach.
Enjoyed some fresh fast food, right in the middle of the shopping centre.
For massage addicts, like us, we were in for a treat! The mall had some really cheap massage parlours so the boys too were excited to pamper themselves!
Some crazy stuff in the stores 🙂
After spending a couple of hours in the Mall we headed towards Patong beach. We didn’t spend much time on the beach, merely snapping a few photographs, having some street food before we cruised off.
Day 4 – We managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Phuket Pearl Factory on our way to the airport. The Factory gives you a basic idea on how pearls are cultivated. The pearl jewelry here will literally blow you away. Tried but couldn’t resist the temptation so eventually landed up picking a pair of earrings, pendant and bracelet!
We had a Phuketastic trip!
Our Air Asia flight from Phuket to Bangkok which was our next stop!
Upon arrival at Bangkok airport we were greeted by the Anantara Riverside airport rep who coordinated our transfer service to the resort.
Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort lies on the west bank of Chao Phraya River with convenient boat access to the top tourist sights in Bangkok. Where many Bangkok hotels reach up towards the sky, Anantara Riverside spreads out along the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
The rooms and suites form a u-shape around the generous sized pool, with riverside rooms offering a direct view over the water.
We booked all the excursions through Anantara. The first activity on our agenda were all the temple visits. Because Thailand is Buddhist country, they are everywhere. And they are beautiful! We commenced our visit with Wat Traimit, also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha. The name comes from the massive seated golden Buddha statue, which is actually the largest of its kind in the entire world.
We then ventured to the Grand Palace. The palace was built over the course of three years at the end of the 18th century by King Rama I and is the official residence of the current monarch (though he doesn’t live there any more, it is just used for ceremonies). There is a strict dress code and we had to “rent” a trouser for my younger son to cover up. Inside, there are many things to see, but the emerald buddha is the biggest attraction and probably Thailand’s most sacred site.
Wat Pho – one of the Bangkok’s oldest temple and classified as the highest grade of the first class Royal temple. The temple houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha.
There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor representing the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. We had to purchase a bowl of coins at the entrance of the hall and drop the coins in the bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and it also helps the monks to maintain the Wat.
In the evening we decided to do something cultural so booked tickets for Siam Niramit. Prior to the show we visited the cultural village where there were performances, dancing and stalls. We enjoyed the ambience of this place.
Unfortunately we did not have much time to explore since we had to go for dinner in their buffet hall before heading to the theatre. The show was spectacular cruising through the history of Thailand. The effects and props were very well done and it was colourful and entertaining. It was our boys’ first time experiencing a show like this and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
Door gift, a framed picture of the boys at Siam Niramit.
Day 5 – Since we had a lot to do today we woke up bright and early, filled ourselves with the extensive buffet at the Market restaurant in the Anantara. With extensive, I mean they have more options than you can physically sample with spreads both inside and out of the restaurant.
Post breakfast we took the free shuttle boat service from the hotel to town. While waiting for the boat to arrive we decided to bring some food and feed the fishes in the river.
Our first stop was Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. The market is like the Venice of Asia with canals and waterways. The shops are right beside the canal with vendors selling goods and souvenirs from their boats and the others selling Thai dishes as they paddled their boats on the river. It was quite a nice experience sitting in a boat while traversing the waterways of Damnoen Saduak floating market giving us a good feel of Thailand’s rural life. Whenever we wanted to buy something the driver would stop so we could complete our purchase.
We then took a taxi to visit the original fake bag store which was recommended by one of the tourist police. Picked up a few items there and returned to the hotel late afternoon. We then went for a traditional thai massage at a centre located next to our hotel. A leisurely shower, some hot coffee + light bites and we were ready to take the boat ride to Asiatique night market which was located directly across the water from the Anantara Riverside Resort.
Day 6 – Everything in Thailand is cheap. Dirt cheap. Street food (which is amazing), long distance cab rides, shopping and the most amazing cheap thing you can get in Thailand – Massages! Post breakfast we decided to spend the day driving around the city finally ending up at MBK Mall as we wanted to see local designs as opposed to International brands.
I was keen to visit Chatuchak Weekend Market however owing to lack of time we were unable to fit this in our schedule… next time, for sure.
Day 7 – Post breakfast we left for the airport for our return flight to Dubai.
To conclude why I would want to visit Thailand again:
- The delicious food
- The friendly locals who welcome you with their warm hearts
- The post-card perfect locales
- The drivers in Bangkok very rarely use their horns – it’s insanely blissful considering the traffic is as busy as Mumbai… can we replicate this taboo in Mumbai please 😉
- This destination is so CHEAP!! ♥
Laaeo phohp gan mai – until we meet again!