Discovering Thailand & Cambodia

By Henry and Elaine Levy

Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Siem Reap, Ayuthaya, Sukhothai... exotic names, exotic places, all waiting to be discovered. Thailand and Cambodia are the doorways to these and other exciting destinations to travelers searching for a glimpse of Southeast Asia's treasures.

Thailand is a country with many faces including the bustling big city, the colorful Hilltribe people in the north, the pervasive influence of Buddha, as well as new playgrounds for the rich and famous located in splendid resort areas. Cambodia has embarked on merchandising the wondrous and beautiful Angkor Wat, which has been referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, resulting in a plethora of new hotels. In fact, the mix of people, places and scenery, and the friendly and hospitable people in this region of Southeast Asia, make for an unforgettable experience.

Last October, we had the good fortune to visit this part of the world. Our journey began aboard Thai Airlines from Los Angeles to Bangkok. Thai Airlines was promoting business class travel - for every business trip ticket purchased, a companion travelled at no charge. Comfort, personal attention by the crew, an abundance of good food, hand-held audiovisual equipment for personal movie selections made the 19-l/2 hour flight a pleasant one.

When we finally arrived in Bangkok, a city of about ten million people, it was bustling with world class traffic jams, streets crowded with vendors and food stalls, a melding of new and old, of exotic and commonplace, all intermingled.

There are more than four hundred Buddhist temples in the city as more than ninety percent of the Thai people are Buddhists. The most famous temple area is the Grand Palace, a complex of temples, sculptures, extensive engravings of the Ramayana created in 1783, a former residence of the King, and the revered Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This entire complex is 62 acres, and is an exceptional visual treat. From the glittering gold leaf of the spires and jewel encrusted figures to the solemnity of the visitors and monks in prayer and silent contemplation one is exposed to a rich historical and religious experience.

Bangkok offers a wide variety of stores in which to shop - the indoor mall at the World Trade Center located at 4 Ratchadamri Road features tourist items, furniture and antiques. Just across the street is Narayama Phand, the government handicraft center - featuring a wide variety of Thai crafts. For those interested in Thai silks, the celebrated Jim Thompson's on 9 Suriwongse Road offers among the best quality available.

There are several five star hotels which are worth mentioning. The Westin Bayan Tree Hotel is centrally located, and, with 59 floors, is the tallest building in Thailand. There are 216 suites starting at $200 a night, and with wireless Internet services provided throughout the hotel, it is popular with business people. An unique service offered by the hotel is the "shopping companion service". The hotel will provide a shopping companion to advise the best places to shop, and to personally assist in bargaining for the best prices, all at no charge! This is one of several new ideas implemented by Ms. Hwee-Peng Yeo, the Marketing Manager of the hotel. Unfortunately, we did not have time to avail ourselves of this wonderful service. We would have relished the opportunity to have clothes custom made from the country's fine silks by one of its skilled tailors.

The Regent Bangkok and Oriental are other highly rated hotels. The Regent Bangkok, a Four Seasons Hotel, located in the heart of the city, has been voted the "Top Hotel in Asia" by Conde Nast Traveler. Music and tea in the lobby lounge each evening are reminiscent of the old Orient. We enjoyed the music of Cole Porter and other top American tunes while feasting on dinner.

The Oriental Hotel has a riverside location and superb service. A visit is a must even if it is only to have a drink on the river terrace. The Oriental is rich in history, and was frequented by such celebrities as Somerset Maughan and Joseph Conrad.

Our limited stay in Bangkok did not permit us to see all of the popular sites including the Floating Market, National Museum, Snake Farm, Chinatown and the famous Bridge on the River Kwai. If you enjoy the nightlife, there is a wide selection of pubs, jazz clubs, and discos.

After Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand via Bangkok Airlines, a very pleasant, efficient and punctual air carrier that covers all flights inside the country including new routes to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

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