Timeless, Traditional Thailand
The moment you step into the thick, fragrant air of Thailand, time seems to lengthen and stretch. Hours blend into days and you find yourself leaving your watch behind. With a warm, humid climate often characterized by its monsoons, Thailand is a lush, languid land full of white sands, temperate waters and sweet tropical fruits. It is a source of pride among its citizens that Thailand has never been colonized by a European power – the only country in Southeast Asia to escape such a fate. A feeling of freedom and good karma permeates its cities. Whether you’re feeding baby elephants, enjoying an hour-long massage on the beach, or simply sipping from a fresh coconut by the pool, you can’t help but let go of your cares and sink into Thailand’s welcoming embrace.
First-time travelers to Asia, and to Thailand in particular, can benefit from a partner in adventure. Daniel Fraser and Scott Coates are the founders of Smiling Albino, a unique, boutique travel company that can turn an ordinary trip to into a one-of-a-kind experience. Dan and Scott have lived in Thailand for over a decade, cultivating the insider relationships you crave. In countries throughout Southeast Asia, Smiling Albino can help you charter a private helicopter for an intimate encounter with hill tribes and monks, schedule the perfect day of spas and snorkeling, or take a luxury motorcycle excursion to remote outposts and hidden gems—just to name a few. So when Jetset Extra hit the scene in Phuket, Thailand, Smiling Albino knew exactly what we needed to make our trip unforgettable.
There are a few standards you will want to experience on your first trip to Phuket. Take a speedboat tour of the nearby limestone islands in Phang Nga Bay and the Andaman Sea. Must-see stops include the Phi Phi Islands and James Bond Island (made famous by the 1974 Bond flick The Man With The Golden Gun). A trip through Patong’s sunbaked streets means rubbing elbows with vacationing Aussies, browsing numerous outdoor markets, or enjoying the wild nightlife. Animal lovers will enjoy a morning spent elephant trekking and feeding baby elephants with Siam Safari.
For our Thailand adventure we sought out truly memorable experiences. One of the best ways to spend a day is in the capable hands of John Gray’s Sea Canoe. The Hong By Starlight Tour begins as you board a boat leaving Phuket for Phang Nga Bay. Peek into the galley and you’ll find the friendly staff hard at work cooking up a meal using fresh ingredients.
An hour later, after a lunch of spring rolls, noodles, salad and fruit, you’ll arrive at the islands you’ve seen floating on the horizon. These ancient limestone islands hold a secret. Eroded from the centers of some are hidden lagoons accessible only by helicopter, or for a select few, through small sea caves when the tide is at its lowest. Swim in the refreshing waters off the boat, or paddle yourself lazily in and out of the island chain.
When the time is right, you meet up with your naturalist guide, who deftly paddles you into a shadowy cave. He instructs you to lie back in the canoe in order to fit through an opening at the end. You feel you are moving between two worlds as mollusk-encrusted rock slides by just inches above your head. Suddenly it is bright once more as you pop out into a richly scented lagoon. The limestone cliffs of the lagoon, or hong, block out the sounds of the sea, leaving only the sound of hushed animal and insect noises and your own murmurs.
Next you board the boat and motor to the famous Bat Cave, where you rejoin your guide in the canoe. Steering mainly by instinct and experience, your guide paddles you through the long, black cave. Listen to the sounds of bats clinging to the cave roof high above, or seek them out with the beam of your flashlight. Waiting for you at the other end is a massive hong with mangrove trees rooted in thick, fragrant mud.
Back on the boat once more, you are treated to a dinner feast of soup, rice, tender fish, stir-fry, fresh pineapple and more. Watch a vibrant pink-and-scarlet sunset color the sky above shadowy islands while you eat. Let your guide instruct you in the making of a kratong, a banana-leaf-and-flower offering traditionally constructed for the Loi Kratong water festival. After dark, seat yourself in your canoe, kratong in hand. You’ll light incense and candles before sending up your wishes and prayers as you place the kratong in the water. When the candles are blown out (kratongs are taken back to the boat as part of the program’s commitment to eco-friendly tourism), you’ll paddle away from the lights of the boat. Here in the dark, let your hand glide through the water to see bioluminescent algae. These specks of light are like stardust streaming from your hands—pure magic.
Just as the Hong By Starlight Tour is full of unforgettable sights, a cooking class at Mom Tri’s Villa Royale is filled with unforgettable tastes. The popular restaurant at this boutique resort in Kata Noi, Phuket hosts cooking classes led by visiting chef Tummanoon Punchun, an expert in Thai cooking with over 20 years of experience. In this one-of-a-kind class, Chef Tummanoon shares the secrets of creating the perfect balance of authentic Thai flavor in any dish, and gives you a hands-on lesson in creating his own original recipes. Your lesson begins with a trip to the local market, where Chef Tummanoon describes what to look for in spices, fresh produce, meats and more. After he selects a few fresh ingredients for class, you’ll return to the restaurant, where things really get cooking. Learn to make classics like Spicy Thai Beef Salad, Tom Yum Soup, and Green Curry, plus surprising recipes like Steamed Lemongrass Custard in Young Coconut. Each student takes a turn at the stove, and everyone tastes each step of the process—a key component in understanding the basics of Thai flavor. Chef Tummanoon’s winning personality makes every dish approachable and successful, even for beginning cooks. His basic primer on Thai herbs and sauces gives you the knowledge you need to continue cooking at home and experiment with new ingredients.
After class, enjoy the fruits of your labor on the breezy balcony of Mom Tri’s Kitchen, overlooking Kata Noi Beach. You’ll be joined by Mom Tri’s esteemed wine director, Georges Ciret, who provides recommendations for light wines to complement your food and regales you with tales of his favorite and most coveted bottles. Taste his generous pours as you take in both the meal and the view of Kata Noi Beach. When your trip is over, and you’re longing for the sunny days and tongue-tingling flavors of Phuket, prepare one of Chef Tummanoon’s recipes in your own kitchen. You’ll enjoy a taste of Thailand for years to come.
More than any souvenir you can buy, it’s the sensations of Thailand that will linger with you. The feel of the sea breeze as you make your way to far off islands, the scent of fresh Thai basil and lemongrass wafting up from your plate, the heat of the baking sun as you lounge on a secluded beach. These sensations are eternally Thailand—timeless, authentic, and waiting for you to visit again.
MORE INFORMATION AND DETAILS:
info @ smilingalbino.com
45 Chao Far Road, Chalong, Phuket
John Gray’s Sea Canoe
info.web @ johngray-seacanoe.com
Mom Tri’s Villa Royale Phuket
12 Kata Noi Road, Kata Noi Beach, Phuket