*with apologies and all due tribute to the late, great David Foster Wallace
I am writing this from the comfort of my living room sofa, just a few days after our return from Thailand via 20 hours of flight time. The jetlag is all-encompassing – otherworldly. Although it is not quite noon here in New York, my body is unfortunately craving dinner and bedtime. So it seems like the perfect time to reflect and reconjure mental memories of our two weeks in Asia, in all its heat, beauty, and charm.
I have been covered from sternum to ankle in elephant snot. I have eaten crispy duck from my fingers while seated on an upside-down bucket in a restaurant with walls encased in bathroom tile. I have positioned my hands in prayer pose, undertaken a small bow and uttered “Kap Khun Ka” at least 140 times. I have enjoyed a Michelin-starred meal followed by being offered a dessert that appeared to be fried beetles, but our guide advised were “insect bugs.” I have strolled night markets, Sunday markets, floating markets, and flower markets – and seen the same knockoff Gucci bag offered at each, at price points between $30-$3000 USD depending on the location. I’ve clung to the back of a teenager on a Vespa as we flew through the back alleys of Chiang Mai in search of a local band covering 1980s glam rock. I have been measured for, fitted, and upsold a bespoke custom-made dress in less than an hour (said dress has been delivered to our home already and is absolutely gorgeous, by the way). I’ve stared at sunset vistas so unspeakably hypnotic that they felt like a waking dream and been awakened from slumber by elephants trumpeting outside my bed while we slept in a geodesic dome.
To regroup… every year, we are privileged in that our son has a two-week school vacation for spring break. This unusually long period of time enables us to travel together to far-flung destinations and really immerse ourselves in the experience of another culture. This year we opted to spend the time visiting Thailand.
We are always fans of making the journey more than just getting from point A to point B, so for this trip, we chose to fly with Turkish Airlines and enjoy a two-night layover in Istanbul at the brand new and ultra-luxurious Peninsula Istanbul. The hotel is situated in a historic building that was formerly the home of the Ottoman Bank and offers guests stunning views of the waterway and the city with a super convenient location near the city’s top sightseeing attractions.
One of our favorite cities, Istanbul always charms with cosmopolitan dining options, rich historical and cultural sightseeing opportunities, and unrivaled opportunities for shopping. We enjoyed visiting Hagia Sophia – a former church turned mosque turned museum dating back to the 6th century with cavernous ceilings bedecked in brilliant mosaics. Visiting Topkapi Palace (the former residence of the Ottoman sultans) and strolling the lush gardens and ornate courtyards offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the ruling class. We spent quite a bit of time in the harem building, fascinated by our guide’s insight into the way the women and families lived. We couldn’t get enough of the rich flavors and fresh local ingredients at every meal. On our last evening, we enjoyed a private luxury yacht experience on the Bosphorus (a narrow strait separating the continents of Europe and Asia) offering us the opportunity to sneak peeks at the palaces and mansions that were former summer residences of many Ottoman sultans.
I can’t conclude any review of a trip to Istanbul without raving about the shopping opportunities galore. The Grand Bazaar, in all its multicolor glory – lamps, rugs and textiles, and of course, its underground warren of crazy “secret deals” – IYKYK. Enough said.
And now, a word on Turkish Airlines. If you have the opportunity to experience their service-oriented business class cabin with lay-flat suite-style beds and featuring the only candlelit dinner in the sky, I highly recommend it. In addition to giving you a chance to explore Istanbul and its culinary, cultural, and commercial offerings, it’s a totally decadent way to fly – and connects more cities than any other airline globally!
We arrived in Bangkok fresh from our days in Turkiye and checked into the Anantara Bangkok – a palatial hotel with a great pool, fabulous spa, and an impressive array of restaurants in a variety of cuisines. We met up with our tour guide and hit the ground running.
Bangkok is home to some of the most stunning temples in the world, and no trip to the city is complete without a visit to at least a few of them. While we visited several, our favorite was Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This temple features a massive statue of the Buddha lying down, which is 46 meters long and covered in gold leaf. Upon approaching the temple we were taught the correct way to open a lotus flower for meditative prayer, and then were instructed in the correct way to make an offering in front of the Buddha – the whole thing was incredibly moving and there’s no possible way to do it justice in a blog post. It felt, at the time, transformative and like it lightened my soul.
Bangkok is a food lover’s paradise, with countless street vendors, markets, and restaurants offering a wide variety of dishes. While we were privileged to enjoy a couple of truly exceptional Michelin-starred meals, our favorites were actually eaten at really local spots, including one that was so low-key it was hard to tell where the kitchen ended and the restaurant began. The flavors and aromas of the street food in Bangkok are a unique and unforgettable experience – every block is lined with pushcarts and street wagons offering a variety of fresh fruits, drinks, snacks, and takeout meals.
Bangkok is well-known for its textile production and tailoring – our guide was kind enough to bring us to a local suit shop where we were all fitted (on the spot) for custom dresses and suits. At night, the city comes alive with a vibrant nightlife scene. I visited the rooftop bars at Mahanakhan, where we experienced the insanity that is the skywalk – wandering on a glass floor 78 feet above the city? Sure… maybe with a cocktail or two first! The views of the city skyline at night were breathtaking.
We flew from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, where we were privileged to stay at the incomparable Anantara Golden Triangle in their Jungle Bubble. This was such a singular and special experience that it has its own write-up linked here: We Had an Elephant Slumber Party
On another afternoon, we hiked a narrow path up through a hill covered in trees until we reached the Forest Temple where I spent a blissful twenty minutes meditating in front of a Buddha hidden behind a cave.
Chiang Mai gives the food scene in Bangkok a run for its money, with its own unique take on traditional Thai cuisine. We enjoyed mango sticky rice and Thai iced tea on the daily during our time in the city – we couldn’t get enough. Chiang Mai has several night markets that offer a unique shopping and dining experience. One of the most famous is the Sunday Night Market, which takes place in the Old City and features hundreds of stalls selling everything from handcrafted souvenirs to street food. The atmosphere is lively and colorful, with live music and street performers adding to the festive vibe. We enjoyed our last night on a tour of the city by Vespa, ending at a rooftop bar where a local band performed “Crazy Train” while we drank ice-cold beers and watched the moon rise. Simply incredible.
We are big fans of ending our vacations with some leisure time – and a trip this big called for two: Krabi and Yao Noi. Krabi is well known for its white sand beaches, limestone cliffs, and crystal clear waters, located on the Andaman Sea coast studded by numerous small islands that can be easily visited by speedboat. We spent a leisurely, sun-soaked afternoon traveling from beach to beach, snorkeling, and enjoying local fare along with the breathtaking scenery on several of them. We stayed at the Ritz Reserve Phulay Bay.
The Ritz-Carlton Phulay Bay, one of their exclusive Reserve portfolio resorts, is nestled amongst lush tropical gardens and surrounded by towering cliffs, offering a stunning and tranquil retreat with sunset views that were almost incomprehensible to behold. Our private pool pavilion was a total knockout – a luxurious, way oversized king bed, soaring ceilings, and a bathroom that was in and of itself the size of a spa.
We ended our trip with an incredible and restorative stay at the Six Senses Yao Noi. Located cliffside, but in the middle of the jungle, offering sweeping views from its infinity pool that were nothing short of jaw-dropping – this eco-friendly ultra-luxury resort was like nothing we had ever seen or experienced. Our two-bedroom villa with a private pool felt like the most upscale version possible of a Swiss Family Robinson treehouse – our family couldn’t get enough of spending time together hanging out in the pool. The breakfast spread was outrageous – room upon room of various offerings; and the spa and services offered were similarly top drawer.
This is by far the longest trip report I’ve ever written, but our two-week trip to Thailand and Istanbul is deserving of all the words!!! It was a journey of a lifetime. From the historic landmarks of Istanbul to the stunning temples of Chiang Mai, we were able to immerse ourselves in the cultures of two remarkable countries. We experienced a range of culinary delights, from local street food to luxury fine dining, and explored bustling markets filled with colorful goods. Flying with Turkish Airlines made the journey all the more luxurious and memorable. We will forever cherish the memories of our adventures and look forward to our next trip abroad.