WanderlustOdysseyRecovering Thailand

Recovering Thailand

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Where there was once tension and violence has now become a center of fun and entertainment.

InClover visited Thailand, exploring Hua Hin and Bangkok from 22-26 July, and discovered that Thailand has returned to normal after the political crises lasting from November 2013 to May 2014. It is once again a tourist haven.   

Creating Happiness & BFFs
Tourism is a major economic factor in Thailand. After the severe blow to the economy during the political crises, the Thai government has dug in its heels to restore tourism. Thailand’s biggest and merriest back-to-normal party was held from 25-26 July by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in cooperation with Thai Airways International and Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association. For two days, the primary business and shopping district of downtown Bangkok, previously a riot-prone area, hosted the ‘Happiness Street Festival’ featuring parades, pop-up markets, a grand shopping sale, fashion shows, concerts and culinary experiences.  Smiling faces filled the streets within the Ratchaprasong area as well as in Central World Square, Parc Paragon and The Platinum fashion mall as Thai beauty queens paraded and tens of thousands of balloons were released during the event. Festival goers went on a shopping spree at the pop-up stalls built along the streets. Meanwhile, famous Thai artists entertained the crowds with varied performances.  On a late afternoon on 25 July, a reception was held at the Bangkok Convention Centre at Central World to welcome over 900 journalists, bloggers and celebrities from 47 countries around the world. They were flown into Thailand by the TAT under ‘Thailand’s Best Friends Forever Mega Fam Trip’ program to experience the ‘Happiness Street Festival’ in particular and to see Thailand’s recovery firsthand. InClover was one of the media representatives from Indonesia, and here’s our play-by-play of our visit. 

Old Beauty of Hua Hin
About 200km south of Bangkok lies the beach resort town, Hua Hin. Foreign tourists may find the district is not as popular as other destinations such as Pattaya and Phuket; and while Hua Hin doesn’t have Pattaya’s wild nightlife or Phuket’s mesmerizing island beauty, it has potential. For over 100 years, Hua Hin has been a summer getaway destination for the Thai royal family and the local who’s who of high society. With its countless elegant seaside villas and old summer palaces, the locals perceive Hua Hin as a holiday destination for the elite. Today, Thai people head there on weekends to enjoy its old-world charm, stay at the sea-side five-star resorts and visit the recently popular themed shopping and attraction villages while on the way there from Bangkok. 

Glimpses of Europe
The Santorini Park Cha-Am, the Swiss Sheep Farm, the Venezia and the Pickadaily are themed shopping and attraction villages inspired by Europe’s top tourist destinations. The buildings within the village complexes adopt classic Greek, Swiss, Italian and English styles to create that unique ambience for visitors who come to eat, shop and play. These themed shopping and attraction villages are breakthrough ideas, presenting a new crop of one-stop shopping and entertainment venues – a more exciting option than the regular shopping plaza lined with the same select anchor tenants. 
The Santorini Park Cha-Am brings the picture-perfect Greek island to Phetchaburi Province, which is located to the north from Hua Hin. You can find all things Greek here, from the classic whitewashed buildings, colourful windows to the stone-paved paths. There’s something for everyone, from an extensive assortment of shops, restaurants and an amusement park featuring nerve-wracking rides including a reverse bungee and a giant swing. 
The Swiss Sheep Farm, which is also located in Cha-Am, Petchaburi, will undoubtedly charm the children. Feeding lambs, learning archery and horse riding are just a few of the activities they can do, while parents can take on the mechanical rodeo bull. It’s a great place to create lasting family memories.
The Venezia is the latest themed shopping and attraction village in Cha-Am. It’s an imitation of the Italian Venice, as its name suggests, complete with familiar attractions such as a gondola ride and water fountain. There’s a mini zoo inside the village complex where visitors can interact with the animals. 
Pickadaily which is located in Sukhumvit, Bangkok, is another popular themed shopping village where visitors can take pictures, shop, eat or just recline on the benches outside the buildings to enjoy its old-timey English town-like ambience. 

Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall
The Ananta Samakhom is arguably one of world’s most impressive museums. Built in 1907 and completed in 1915, the museum was previously a reception hall. In 2008, the King granted permission for the Queen of Sirikit Institute, Chitralada Villa to use the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall as a museum. Today it features an impressive collection of the kingdom’s finest arts, attracting arts and crafts enthusiasts everywhere the way Hansel and Gretel were lured to the candy house.  Non Thai-speaking visitors need not hire a guide; simply request an audio tour device that will explain every artifact and exhibit in English. Impressive must-sees include the incredibly large painting turned out to be an embroidered tapestry made using Thailand’s ancient embroidery technique called the pak soy, where the finest silk threads are used in overlapping stitches to create colorful images on a large silk screen.  The Ananta Samakhom, being one of 13 magnificent and impressive royal residences within the Dusit Palace complex stands majestically among other main edifices in the complex including the Vimanmek Mansion, the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall and the Chitralada Royal Villa. 

Must See and Do
During your visit to Thailand, make sure to also visit the Samphran Elephant Ground & Zoo, which is located in Samphran Nakhon Pathom to the west of Bangkok and an approximately one-hour drive from the Grand Palace. An especial must-see is the Elephant Show where the big animals dance, race, play football and act out a theatrical play depicting Thailand’s historical royal battle, incorporating what seemed to be real cannon and real fire. The crocodile wrestling show is not to be missed, too, if you can handle the thrill of watching men risk life and limb as they parry with these bestial creatures.  Apart from that, there’s the Thai Human Imagery Museum. If you loved Madame Tussauds, this place will impress you with its sculptures that look like preserved humans. You may get chills down your spine, but the whole experience is exciting. Exposing the dynamics of human facial expressions, the museum features over 100 life-like sculpted figures, each one sculpted from fiberglass. Details including skin texture and complexion such as blemishes to the implant of each hair strand were applied one by one, complete with penetrating eyes that give an uncannily realistic look. We learned a lot about Thai traditional life here that we wouldn’t see by visiting the modern-day attractions.

Where to Stay
We stayed in and visited some of Thailand’s greatest hotels. In Hua Hin, we enjoyed a couple of nights at the Hyatt Regency. The beach resort has direct access to the sea. In fact, Hyatt Regency Hua Hin boasts a beachfront over 200 metres long, the longest of all hotels in the district. As the cherry on the cake, the resort features an award-winning spa called The Barai famous for its iconic architecture.  On our journey to Bangkok, we visited the Dusit Thani Hua Hin hotel and enjoyed a splendid dinner there after witnessing one of the world’s best sunsets from the swimming pool area.  In Bangkok we spent a couple of nights at the Atrium, a busy hotel with guests thronging in and out each day. We were fond of the friendly staff and enjoyed the hotel’s old charm and elegance. 

How to Get There
Flying with Garuda Indonesia is the smart way, simply because it’s an airline recognized for its excellence. This year Garuda Indonesia received an international award from Skytrax for “The World’s Best Cabin Crew 2014”, following the airline’s previous awards: “The World’s Best Regional Airline 2012” and “The World’s Best Economy Class 2013”.  Our trip to Bangkok and back began in excitement and ended in contentment thanks to Garuda Indonesia who made sure we had an enjoyable time in the air as well as in the airline’s executive lounge. Buffet treats, free internet connection and sofas provided essential comforts that made the wait better than bearable. While in the air, a superb combination of good service and entertainment almost made us wish we could stay up in the sky longer.