Enjoy sun, culture, shopping and more in Thailand's capital and then, jet off to the country's most luxurious island.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
The great thing about Bangkok is that, unlike other major destinations in Asia like Singapore or Hong Kong, real estate is very cheap. As a result, you'd be hard pressed to find a standard hotel room priced at over $250 even in the city's top hotels (though, if you're in the market, there are plenty of four figure suites). Better yet, you can expect most moderate to luxury hotels to greet you with exotic fruits and flower garlands intended to decorate Buddhas.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
For a top of the line luxury hotel, opt for The Plaza Athenee. The rooms are spacious, the service is gracious, the food offerings are ample and they have arguably the nicest pool of any of the luxury hotels. They also have an outdoor track for running. For Japan by way of Thailand, check out the The Okura Prestige Bangkok and for a boutique NYC/Miami feel, there's the W Bangkok. The Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok is one of the newest additions to the scene and offers a number of amenities at a very reasonable price.
Transportation in Bangkok
Traffic in Bangkok is awful. No matter the time of day, expect to get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, meaning that the best way to get around is the Bangkok Transit System (BTS) — a skytrain. Unfortunately, if you're looking to see many of the city's main cultural attractions, you'll most likely also have to travel by boat and tuk-tuk (basically a motorized rickshaw). For the less adventurous, any of the major hotels can arrange for a driver and/or guide to take you by car.
Temples in Bangkok
Unlike many of Asia's other major cities, Bangkok doesn't have much in the way of art, musuems or concerts — locals don't seem to care about these cultural undertakings, which is why you'll rarely hear of any notable perfomers stopping in Thailand's capital. That said, they have a host of must-see temples and Buddhas, many of which are in walking distance from one another. The most notable are the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Arun and Wat Po. Around these you'll also find plenty of street food and vendors selling tchotchkes.
Spas in Bangkok
What the Thai may lack in art and music, they more than make up for in spas. While there are plenty of go-at-your-own risk places for Thai massages and treatments around the city, The Plaza Athenee, The Okura and the W Hotel are all known for offering some of the most lavish treatments and amenities. Of particular note is the Plaza Athenee's blood type treatment where treatments vary according to a person's blood type and Okura's facials, which are often touted as the city's best.
Shopping in Bangkok
While you can easily step into one of the city's malls and find your run-of-the-mill Gucci and Louis Vuitton, for a unique experience head to Asiatique The Riverfront, the first and the largest riverfront themed retail area. It also boasts a number of restaurants, nightspots and spa treatment areas where the daring can indulge in a fish pedicure. Also worth singling out is O.P. Place where you'll find dozen of stores stocking Asian antiques, artifacts, handicrafts, home décor items, hand-woven silk, custom-made furniture and more. Nearby, O.P. Garden stocks home décor, collectible art and jewelry shops along with restaurants (check out Mango Tree for authentic Thai fare).
Beverages in Bangkok
While coconut water has become commonplace stateside, it can't compare to the coconut water you'll find in Bangkok. Order it at least once — you can get it at nearly every restaurant.
Where to Eat in Bangkok
The restaurant options are innumerable. The not to be missed, however, include Elements (amazing views and continental cuisine), Yamazato (located in the Okura Hotel it's widely considered the best Japanese restaurant in Thailand), Utage and Kacho are both great for lunch, Mango Tree and Somtum Der for authentic Thai food and for market-driven food head to Quince. Of course, there's street food everywhere you go, but you'll want to eat that — including the fruit — at your own risk.
Where to Stay in Koh Samui
You'd be remiss to not go to at least one Thai island while in Bangkok. A mere 50 minutes away by plane, Koh Samui is known as the most luxurious, and the most high-end resort to stay at is Banyan Tree. With just around 80 villas, each with their own infinity pool, you can expect every imaginable amenity, including a butler at your 24/7 call. Also luxe, but a bit more affordable is Vana Belle.
Traditions in Koh Samui
When you arrive at your hotel, expect to begin your stay with a traditional welcoming ceremony that may include fragranced waters and flowers.
When paying four figures a night to stay on a luxury island, no detail is overlooked, including monogrammed bathrobes.
For an idea of the unparalleled service... this image was taken at Vana Belle spa.
You'll want to sample a lot of the fruit in Koh Samui. While they have many fruits we commonly find in the west like oranges and bananas, they have a host of ones you'd be hard pressed to find outside of the island.
Spas in Koh Samui
The two best spas on the island are at Banyan Tree and Vana Belle and their therapists put most of the luxury spas in Manhattan to shame. Expect elaborate treatment rooms complete with in-room showers, bathrooms and/or changing areas and in some cases even a stand alone outdoor soaking tub. Between and after treatments you can expect a beautifully presented tray of tea and, by request, fruit, cookies or pretty much anything your stomach desires.
What to Do in Koh Samui
Ask your hotel to organize a driver to take you to ride an elephant. $20 will buy you about 30 minutes on an elephant and bananas to feed them afterwards.
What to Do: Yoga
Most of the top hotels can organize yoga for you and Banyan Tree also offers group classes. Yoga in Thailand tends to be more of the meditative variety than the fast-paced vinyasa style Westerners may be used to.
Where to Eat in Koh Samui
The food in Koh Samui is incredible. Whether you're a vegetarian or steak obsessed, you can't go wrong at any of the restaurants at Banyan Tree. Of particular note is Saffran, which offers fantastic Thai cuisine. Also worth singling out are their elaborate breakfasts where you can find everything from egg white omelets and bacon, to sushi and dumplings, to Swiss Muesli.
Where to Eat in Koh Samui
Vana Belle and Banyan Tree are about a 10-minute car drive apart and they boast equally worthy dining destinations. At Vana Belle, the most noteworthy are Panalli, an Italian restaurant right by the beach (who knew you could find amazing Italian food in Thailand!), and Kiree a more traditional Thai restaurant with equally stunning views and outdoor seating.
When your butler calls to tell you the hotel will be putting on fireworks in honor of your last night, you know that Banyan Tree is a one-of-a-kind place.