Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
Certainly there are many areas around the world that travelers will find exotic and fascinating. Personally, I am most enchanted by locations that afford natural beauty, while at the same time are rich in culture and uniquely atmospheric. Such South Sea Islands as Bora Bora, Moorea, Fiji, the Seychelles and Maldives immediately come to mind. However, Southeast Asia is also blessed with a plethora of charismatic cities and villages that meet my criteria.
During the winter of 2012, we embarked upon an adventure visitingsome of nature’s most exotic locals and interesting cultures while luxuriating in some of the world’s most famous resorts and hotels. Our travels beganin Indonesia on the enchanting island of Bali, followed by an exploration cruise through the jungles and rivers of both the Indonesian and Malaysian regions of Borneo, a little R and R in Singapore, and then on to bustling Bangkok, winding up in the most unusual resort in the world in Chang Mai, Thailand. (Each of the three resorts we were to visit in Bali and the two in Thailand were among the very top rated in the 2011 Conde Nast “Best in the World” and Travel & Leisure “Gold” Lists;and, most importantly,featured in “Stern’s Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World.”
(Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay)
After a grueling 33-hour, multi-craft flight to Bali (in knee-crunching coach---we didn’t have enough miles for business or first class), we were met at the Denpasar airport in Bali by our driver from the Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay. On arrival at the resort, our senses were immediately stimulated by the 35 acres of terraced hillside ,tropical landscaped gardens, and Balinese structuresoverlooking the sandy beaches of Jimbaran Bay.
We stayed in one of the 147 luxuriously appointed villas with our own privateplunge pool, outdoor floral garden, open-air-semi-protected living/dining room, air-conditioned bed room with a vaulted ceiling, ceiling fan, a king-size, canopy bed, refrigerated mini-bar, private wall safe, TV/DVD/compact disc music system, separate wardrobe/dressing area, oversized soaking tub, double vanity, both indoor and outdoor showers, robes, slippers, internet access and numerous other amenities.
After breakfast in the dining area of our private villa, followed by a dip in our lovely plunge pool that overlooked the bay, we ventured out to explore the resort. We found one flood-lit tennis court, a fully equipped exercise facility ,aspa offering a variety of massage, body and beauty treatments, bicycles, a swimming pool that appears to spill over the terrace into a free-form, tropically gardened soaking pool below, and a three-mile expanse of sandy beach. Complimentary windsurfing, sailing, and snorkeling were available.
Guests had five dining venues to choose from. We opted for lunch at Warung Mie, a specialty restaurant that featured a variety of Indonesian creations. It being Valentine’s Day, the resort offered a special, multi-course lovers dinner by candlelight in a private Balinese-style cabana on the beach.After dinner, we took a taxi to a nearby village to watch a Balinese dance performance. Three of the most popular dances (each depicting a Balinese legend) are the Barong (good vs. evil), the Legong (classical dance that recounts a mythical story) and the Kechak (the monkey dance).
(Four Seasons Sayan)
The next day, the resort provided transportation to the other Four Seasons property atSayan.On the way we visited the artist villages at Mas and Ubud known for excellent art and craft galleries, boutiques and antiques shops. Here we purchased several exquisite Balinese wood sculptures which we had to ship back to the states because of our limited baggage allowance. We also passed by several ornate temples and typical Balinese villages.
Four Seasons Resort at Sayan is set on 18 acres of verdant, rolling hillside nestled in the central highlands, overlooking dense palm forests and terraced rice fields rising from the rushing currents of the sacred Ayung River. The breathtaking entrance to the property took us across a teak and steel suspension bridge that spanned the river gorge and opened onto an infinity-edged elliptical lotus pond that sits atop the roof of the main three-level futuristic hotel building. Paths meander through the valley immediately beneath this structure bringing guests to the 42 private, free-standing villas disbursed throughout the grounds, each with its private plunge pool, outdoor shower and large sun deck/dining lounge area.In the alternative, guests can opt for one of the 18 spacious suites in the main enclave.
We enteredour one-bedroom villa from a deck surrounded by lily ponds. We then descended a stone staircase to an entry way that opened up onto a semi-open air protected sitting area with a couch, chairs, stocked mini-bar and dining table adjoining the large sun deck and plunge pool. Inside the villa was a large bedroom with a TV and C/D player, dressing room, and a bathroom with double vanities, a soaking tub, a separate glass-in shower, an outdoor shower, robes, slippers and many upscale amenities.
It was difficult to leave our one-of-a-kind hedonistic accommodations, but we did venture out to visit the attractive spa with its well-equipped exercise facility, three soaking pools (at varying temperatures), massage and treatment rooms, beauty salon, steam, saunas, and showers. Also, at the edge of the river there was a small café situated above a kidney-shaped swimming pool.
In the evening before dinner, we enjoyed cocktails and a Balinese dance performance in the lounge next to the main lobby which sits atop the Ayung Terrace Restaurant. Our al fresco dinner by candlelight here, with a 180- degree panoramic view of the valley and river and sunset was spectacular. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that one of the dinner options was a traditional Indonesian risjtaffel (dozens of typical native dishes with rice accompaniment). This was served in multiple courses by several lovely Balinese girls. This goes down best with the local beers to neutralize the spicy seasonings.
Four Seasons at Sayan was a not-to-be-missed pleasure palace ideal for honeymooners and loving couples who can appreciate how man has combined his imagination with nature’s wonders.
(Ayana Resort Jimbaran Bay)
For our third and last night in Bali, we returned to the Jimbaran Bay area for a visit to the highly lauded Ayana Resort (formerly the Ritz Carlton-Bali) set on 190 acres of richly vegetated bluff overlooking the Indian Ocean. Here, two hundred ninety air-conditioned Balinese-design-influenced guest rooms and suites, each with a generous-sized balcony looking out to the ocean, are spread over two four-story wings connected by protected walkways. Seventy-seven of these accommodations are on theClub Floor where, for an additional charge guests enjoy club privileges.
However, for the ultimate in hedonistic splendor, we enjoyed one of the resort’s 78 free-standing private villas.Our 2,000 sq. ft., one-bedroom villa featured an oversized, private plunge pool with a sun deck and a panoramic outdoor gazebo for massage treatments, dining or just watching sunsets, a courtyard, a separate living room with an additional television and CD player, an elegant Indonesian-style bedroom with a canopy-four-poster bed, vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans, an ultra-posh marble bathroom with an oversized soaking tub and both an indoor and outdoor garden shower, a lily pond and many other amenities. Exceptional butler service was another big plus.
The resort offered numerous romantic dining venues and bars serving a wide range of cuisines and beverages. We had breakfast at Padi, an open-air, pavilion restaurant that appears to float in lily ponds. We had lunch at the sand floor Kisik Bar, half-way down to the beach, set on a cliff overlooking the ocean, featuring grilled sea food on banana leaves. Before dinner we made our way to the award-winning Rock Bar which opened in 2009. Accessed by a short rail ride from atop a cliff going down to the sea, this chic spot is popular with residents and travelers to Bali, as well as resort guests. This is the glamour spot to see and be seen at sunset while imbibing a vast array of imaginative cocktails, wines, tapas and desserts. Above the bar are lounge couches and cocktail tables ideal for inhaling this most panoramic and unique locale. The indoor/outdoor elegant, fine dining venue, Dava serving Continental cuisine was our choice for dinner.
In the center of the resort complex is an imaginative two-level outdoor pool, adorned with limestone statuary where the upper level infinity edge spills over to the lower level with a waterfall affect. Also in the area are children’s pools with a 30-meter water slide, whirlpools, open-air massage areas, an aquarium and, of course, many comfortable lounges. Most guests seemed to prefer the pool area over the beach which was located at the bottom of a steep hill assessable by 184 steep steps. Also, we discovered an 18-hole putting course, three lighted tennis courts, bicycles, a full-facility spa with a gym, locker/shower rooms, sauna, steam, aerobic rooms and indoor/outdoor massage and body treatment rooms, villas and suites. Considering the extreme beauty and comfort of our lavish villa, we opted to spend most of our day just luxuriating.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit all of the interesting sites around the island. One could easily spend several weeks here to do the island justice.`
(Orion II Cruise)
The fourth day of our trip we boarded Orion II, to commence our 10 day adventure to exotic stops atIndonesian and Malaysian regions in Borneo. The 4077-ton, 100-passenger ship originally entered service in 1991 as Renaissance IV for the now defunct Renaissance Cruise Line. We had sailed on her back in the 90s. The ship was re-launched in 2009 following an extensive refit. The staterooms range in size from 225 square feet to 285 square feet and all have flat-screen TVs, a DVD/CD player, internet connectivity, personal safes, hairdryers, mini-bars stocked with complimentary bottled water, and small sitting areas. We were assigned to stateroom 427 which was quite comfortable but was not one of the 12 staterooms that included balconies. Of course, having spent the previous three days in lavish villas, we had to make an adjustment.
Atop ship was a small spa pool, lounge area and an outdoor café offering buffet breakfasts and lunches and alfresco dinners on warm evenings. The attractive three-meal-a-day main restaurant was located on the bottom deck. The lounge on Deck 3 was the location for lectures, parties and orientation talks; whereas, the club lounge/library/bar on Deck 4 was an ideal gathering place for continental breakfasts, afternoon tea ,before dinner cocktails and evening entertainment.
The zodiacs used for explorations were boarded from a marina platform at the stern of the ship.
Of course, the main reason passengers cruise with Orion Expeditions is for the daily exploration trips to interesting areas of the world not accessible by larger cruise ships.We boarded in the afternoon in Bali and within hourswe had a lifeboat drill followed bya most informative orientation talk.
The first day we anchored near Pulau Maselembo, a small Indonesian island between Bali and Borneo. The ship’s expedition team conducted a reconnaissance to determine if the beach would be desirable for swimming and snorkeling. The decision was that it wasn’t; and the substitute program was taking passengers in zodiacs out to snorkel off the coast.That evening, was the Captain’s cocktail party, As on most ships, guests got to take a picture with the captain and enjoy complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. We had dinner that night with Captain Ravanat, who had formerly been with Regent Seven Seas and several other cruise lines. He proved to be a very interesting dinner companion.After dinner, Glen O‘Neil, a piano player/singer/performer mesmerized passengers with his vocal renditions in the club lounge.
Most of the second day was spent at sea en route to Tanjung Putting National Park, Kalimantan in the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo. Our destination was Camp Leaky, a research station for the preservation of Orangutans. Also found here are proboscis monkeys, other primate species and over 220 species of birds.
Before I describe the itinerary for the next two days, I must preface my remarks with the statement that almost every passenger was absolutely delighted with these excursions, and that these tours were the raison d’être for their booking this particular cruise. However, for the sake of painful clarity, I will objectively describe exactly what the program consisted of.
The main thrust was to view Orangutans and learn more about their habits in a natural environment. By way of background, Camp Leakey was established in 1971 to support research efforts of dozens of scientists and students into the behavior of Orangutans, proboscis monkeys and other primates. It is an active research facility that allows visitors. The Orangutan Foundation International established a care center in central Kalimantan Borneo near Camp Leakey to give medical care and shelter for abandoned Orangutans preparing them for release back into the wild.
Now for our two-day exploration. On the first day, we boarded zodiacs off the ship for a two-hour ride down an authentic jungle river where we could catch occasional glimpses of Proboscis monkeys and birds in the surrounding forest. Having arrived at the first feeding station in Tanjung Putting National Park, we disembarked the zodiacs and took a two-mile walk over jungle paths inundated with tree roots and branches which rendered the going a bit tricky.The weather was extremely muggy, the temperature was in the nineties, but personally my greatest concern was the mosquitoes and bugs. Therefore we kept ourselves well covered and stinking from bug spray.
When we finally arrived at the feeding station, we sat on rickety, rotted benches patiently waiting to be graced with the presence of Orangtans who were being enticed with bushels of bananas. After 30 minutes of great anticipation, one did show up and rewarded our patience by stuffing bananas in his face and then departing without thanking his host or the guests. We then retraced our two mile journey back to the river to board a Borneo-style motor craft (straight out of the African Queen), for a two-hour cruise further down the river. Our cruise ship had provided box lunches and soft drinks for the journey.
At Camp Leakey we had another two-mile hike through swampy forest, partially on mud paths and partially on rotted wood planks, to one of the camp’s feeding stations. Happily when we arrived, a mother Orangutan and her offspring were already munching on bananas and drinking milk out of a bowl, affording our first real photo op. We then hiked back on the same primitive path except now the temperature was approaching 100. Although the swamp was reputed to house pythons and cobras, we failed to encounter any; nor did we encounter any crocodiles on the river.
After leaving the camp, we had a four-hour boat ride back to our cruise ship. As an aside, the bathrooms were not desirable; however, on a 12-hour excursion, nature calls. The highlight of our ride home came an hour before arrival when a zodiac from the Orion pulled up and presented us with chilled wine, beer and soft drinks, as well as sushi and guacamole. Two of the Brits we were traveling with were disappointed that they were going to miss their gin and tonic.
In the morning of the second day, we were bused to the Orangutan Foundation’s care facility where we had ample opportunities to view Orangutans frolicking and swinging in the trees, as well as a chance to go to the nursery where dozens of babies romped around giving hugs, grabbing at jewelry, watches and eyeglasses, and occasionally, Baptizing onlookers with a monkey shower. This was a far more rewarding opportunity to get up close and personal to the primates and interact. However, we still had to endure several miles of swampy trails and rickety, rotted planks to arrive at our destination.
So much for our initiation to the jungle and we were relieved to learn that the next day was to be a relaxing day at sea.During the morning, Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas, the founder of Camp Leakey gave a two-hour lecture on Orangutans and her project.That evening, the customary repeaters’ party was held before the chef’s degustation dinner (tasting menu). After dinner was a celebration on deck as we passed the equator heading into the Northern Hemisphere.
The following day, about 5 p.m., we arrived in Kuching, Sarawak, in the Malaysian section of Borneo. The passengers were taken to the Sarawak Cultural Village to observe traditional ethnic customs before dining on a Malaysian banquet accompanied by a cultural performance. The banquet was outstanding and personnel from Orion supervised the occasion and provided wine and beer. Upon returning to the ship, the chef had prepared crepes suzettes for our late night snack.
The next morning, we had a choice to visit the Semengoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Center or a Kuching City Highlights Tour with visits to the Sarawak Museum, waterfront bazaars, China Town, mosques and the Palace of the governor of Sarawak. We opted for the City Tour, having maxed out our tolerance for Rehabilitation Centers earlier in the week. That afternoon, zodiacs transported us to the Baku National Park for alternative walks in the forested area. For the more hearty, there was a two-hour trek up a forested trail; whereas for us wimps, there was a milder excursion along a Mangrove boardwalk. In the evening we enjoyed an Asian barbeque on deck followed by dancing under the stars.
The next two days we explored the Riau Islands Province, Indonesian Islands midway between Borneo and Singapore. On the first morning we visited a small Indonesian Village to view native houses and be entertained by adorable children performing traditional dances. That afternoon, zodiacs transported us to a pristine, uninhabited island beach for swimming, snorkeling and a lavish beach barbeque. On the second day we again took zodiacs to another pristine beach for additional swimming and snorkeling.
Being our final night aboard, it was celebrated by a farewell reception and dinner. Throughout the cruise, the crew continued to provide us with unexpected special treats and celebrations with free champagne, beer, wine and snacks. . It was now time to pack and prepare for our upcoming six nights visiting resorts in Singapore, Bangkok and Chang Mai. Overall, we were delighted with our Orion II cruise highlighted by outstanding dining, concerned service, and an unique itinerary and excursions.
(Shangri-La Hotel Singapore)
We disembarked in Singapore and took a taxi to the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore which sits on 15 acres of choice private real estate accented with tropical gardens, foliage, pools, streams, waterfalls and the fragrance of gardenias and jasmine. Here, three high-rise wings connected by protected walkways surround the floral gardens, large free-form swimming pool, Jacuzzi, putting green, tropical waterfalls, tennis courts and Koi fishponds. With all of this exclusive splendor we were still only a ten-minute walk from Orchard Road and the center of the shopping district.
The rooms and suites in all three buildings are elegantly furnished in a blend of Asian and European styles and included refrigerators, mini-bars, coffee- and tea- making facilities, irons and ironing boards, high-speed internet connections via a wireless key board, CNN News, safes, scales, alarm clocks, hair dryers, telephones in the room and bathroom, terry robes and slippers, kamonos, and morning newspapers. We occupied a room in the exclusive Valley Wing where guests enjoy free alcoholic beverages, wines, Champagne, soft drinks, specialty coffees and teas, a continental breakfast, snacks throughout the day and evening, as well as around the clock concierge service.
The diverse choice of dining venues included the gourmet Blue Bar and Restaurant on the 24th floor with panoramic views of the city and jazz entertainment, an ornate Chinese palace-style restaurant, a Japanese restaurant with tatami rooms, sushi and tempura bars, and teppanyaki grills, a three-meal-a-day casual restaurant which also serves outdoors by the terrace and pool specializing in six different culinary styles, and 24-hour room service.
During the day we visited the lovely botanical gardens that are within walking distance of the hotel, the Golden Hindu Temple, China Town, The House of Jade, the food stalls in the street markets, and, of course, the numerous shopping centers along Orchard Road.
(Rasa Sentosa-Sentosa Island)
The next day we moved to the sister hotel, Rasa Sentosa, located on nearby Sentosa Island accessible by a panoramic cable car ride from Mt. Fabor, by bus or by car over a short bridge near the Singapore Trade Center.
The main hotel rises 11 stories in a semi-circle above imaginative free-form pools and lush gardens leading to a white- sand, palm-studded beach with a protective cove lapped by calm, warm sea.This is an upscale, yet very casual beach resort proximate to the numerous family attractions found on Sentosa Island. The island is navigable by bus lines, taxis, a mono-rail, or by bicycle.
All accommodations have balconies with many of the same furnishings and amenities found at the Shangri-La. There is free shuttle service between the two hotels.
Attractions on Sentosa Island include: Underwater World,a sky ride for a panoramic view of the island, a revolving sky tower, Asia’s tallest observatory tower, cable car rides,Fountain Gardens, featuring local plants and flowers with integrated color, light and music performances, Vegas-style casinos a branch of Universal Studios for rides and attractions,a wave surfing simulator, cinema simulation rides, typical Asian food stalls, bicycle paths running through tropical forests and nature parks, two golf courses, and several miles of white-sand reclaimed beach.
(Mandarin Oriental Bangkok)
We had to rise at 4 a.m. to catch our 7 a.m. flight to Bangkok. When we arrived, we were met by a white-uniformed chauffeur in a Mercedes limo who drove us through the bustling town to the venerable, world famous Mandarin Oriental Bangkok which is set on the banks of the River of the Kings. Lauded by every travel magazine and travel writer for its sumptuous accommodations, superb cuisine, aristocratic charm, pampering service and enviable location, this is the hotel frequented by dignitaries, personalities and knowledgeable travelers—the place to see and be seen.
All accommodations have Bose stereo systems and C/D players, TVs with in-house movies, stocked mini-bars, refrigerators, hair dryers, dressing tables, writing desks, high-speed internet access, robes, slippers , complimentary morning newspapers, fresh fruit and flowers. The original Author’s Wing which includes the Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, James Michener and, Noel Coward Suites is known throughout the world and frequently depicted in magazines.
Between the hotel and river are colorful gardens, two swimming pools, and outdoor restaurants.
Immediately across the river (accessible by hotel barge) is one of the most luxurious exotic spa facilities in Asia. Guests can obtain treatments in one of ten elegant private suites with massage areas, private steam rooms and showers. Some also feature saunas and whirlpools. After you change and relax, expert (and beautiful) Thai masseuses come and administer fragrant oils and the treatment of your choice with hypnotic Oriental music in the background. After arriving the first morning, we indulged ourselves at the spa with a one-and-a-half hour couples massage.After the massage we went next door to Sala Rim Naan, the Thai specialty restaurant for a sumptuous Thai buffet. Also located on this side of the river near the spa are two tennis courts, a state of the art gym with changing facilities, a sauna, showers and two indoor squash courts. Outside this area is a ½ kilometer jogging track.
Dining is one of the highlights of the hotel. We could choose from an all-day, all-evening Verandah buffet restaurant, Lord Jim’s seafood specialty restaurant, Ciao, an outdoor Italian venue by the river, a nightly barbeque on the Riverside Terrace, the Thai specialty restaurant, and the gourmet Normandie, one of the finest French/Continental restaurants in Asia. On our second evening we dined here by candlelight accompanied by soft piano music, as we looked out at the illuminated water craft floating up and down the river. Before and after dinner, we were able to enjoy cocktails and nightly music at the Bamboo Bar.
On day two at the Oriental, we took time to visit the more important sights, including the early morning barge ride down the Klongs to view the floating markets and people living on the river, a must for everyone that visits this city. Conveniently, our barge departed from the front of the hotel. After the markets, we continued down the river to view Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), and then disembarked in order to visit the exquisite Royal Palace and the adjacent Wat Phra Keo, housing the famous Emerald Buddha.
In the afternoon we relaxed by the hotel pools and had lunch al fresco. After lunch we took a “putt putt” ride to several other sites. A putt putt is a small, open-air taxi that spews toxic fumes as it navigates the city faster than the autos by cutting in and out of traffic. Needless to say, Bangkok has beaucoup pollution and some of Asia’s worst traffic jams. Our explorations included the National Art Gallery, the National Museum, The Temple of the Golden Buddha and the shopping streets with knock-off merchandise, and Lumpini Park, the Central Park of Bangkok.
(Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi—Chang Mai)
These attractions include , Underwater World,a sky ride for a panoramic view of the island, a revolving sky tower, Asia’s tallest observatory tower, cable car rides,Fountain Gardens, featuring local plants and flowers with integrated color, light and music performances, Vegas-style casinos a branch of Universal Studios for rides and attractions,a wave surfing simulator, cinema simulation rides, typical Asian food stalls, bicycle paths running through tropical forests and nature parks, two golf courses, and several miles of white-sand reclaimed beach.
After two glorious days and nights of indulgence, the hotel chauffeured us back to the airport for our one-and-a-half hour flight to Chang Mai. Here we would have a two day sojourn at Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, one of the most unique resort villages in the world, and voted the best resort in the world by several travel magazines. Situated among 60 acres of verdant, tranquil landscaped gardens with lotus ponds and rice terraces, emulating a royal city of the 13th century Lanna Kingdom, Dhara Devi (Star Goddess) provides its guests a truly unique, cultural, yet hedonistic experience.
Accommodations scattered throughout the property include 144 suites, villas and pavilions constructed in 20 different styles ranging in size from 666 to 7,000 square feet. Each feature traditional Lana Period architecture, extensive museum-quality artifacts and antiques, as well as high-tech entertainment centers. Many include whirlpool tubs, an outdoor deck or terrace with a Thai
Sala and/or private pool. All include butler service, 24-hour in-room dining, internet access outlets, fax machines on request, two IDD telephones with voice mail, a TV, DVD player andBose C/D player both with extensive libraries, a spacious bathroom with a whirlpool tub, a separate walk-in shower, a hairdryer, a tea & coffee maker, an iron and ironing board, robes and slippers, exclusive bathroom amenities and daily fresh fruit and flowers.
We booked Villa 18, a palatial two-story structure in authentic Lana/Thai design. After we passed through our front gate and walked over a short bridge dividing two lilly ponds, we entered the vast ground level living area. Here there was a dining table, a parlor with a large TV, a piano, small kitchen with a refrigerator/freezer, microwave and stove, a full bathroom and a steam shower. To get to the second level, we ascended a wooden outdoor staircase to an ornate porch and entryway. To the right was the bedroom with another TV, a large lounging area, and a separate den/work area with a desk and internet connection, as well as a, stocked refrigerator and bar. To the left, was the bathroom/dressing area with a toilet compartment, large enclosed shower room, a Jacuzzi hot tub looking out to the back yard, a double vanity and several benches for our suitcases and a walk-in closet with multiple shelves, drawers and clothes racks. In the rear, outside the lower level, was a large hydrotherapy plunge pool and a massage bench for in-villa massages. On the upper level there was an “L-shaped” lounge patio leading to a covered dining sala.
For exercise there were two swimming pools, a 32,800 square-foot,palace-like holistic center offering a wide range of therapeutic treatments and spa services, and a state-of-the-art fitness center, twoair-conditioned squash courts, two outdoor tennis courts and a walking/jogging track. One afternoon we attended a Thai cooking class at the Thai Culinary Academy to learn the art of preparing Thai cuisine.
We had dinner the first night at Le Grand Lanna, featuring northern and classic Thai cuisine, both in an outdoor courtyard and in air-conditioned salons accompanied by live classical Thai entertainment. One day we had a dim sum lunch at Fujian specializing in Cantonese and contemporary Chinese fare.The second evening we enjoyed nouvelle and classic French cuisine at the dramatic Farang Ses Restaurant. We snatched an outdoor table on the terrace where we could enjoy a piano player while watching the sun set over rice paddies.
Chang Mai offers numerous places ofinterest including the National Park, orchid farms, waterfalls, natural caves, elephant camps, ornate temples and places to watch wood carvers basket weavers, and pottery makers. There are also excellent shopping centers. After so many days bouncing around Southeast Asia, we were just too tired to partake of any more sightseeing, and we were very happy just walking around the authentic, uniquely beautiful village at Dhara Devi.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. As the sun set over the pavilions, villas, temples and terraces of Dhara Devi, we bid our farewells and took our leave, not looking forward to a most arduous and unpleasant multi-flight journey home.