Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and his wife Jane having a drink in Bangkok, with Wat Arun aglow in the background.

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and wife Jane in Bangkok, with Wat Arun aglow in the background.

Despite having visited all the surrounding countries, for some reason we have never got beyond Bangkok airport! A two-day board meeting in Bangkok gave us the opportunity to combine this with a two-week trip to Thailand. The beginning of May is not peak tourist season and was hot. However, we lucked out as a bit of rain up north reduced the air pollution levels and the real rains started just after we left. We worked with Dan to figure out where to go and what we liked and did not like, and decided to start with Bangkok and then spend time in Northern Thailand at Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

The key to a personalized trip like this is the guides. We had two exceptional guides, Kob in Bangkok and Berm in Northern Thailand. Both were extremely flexible, very knowledgeable and took us to all sorts of interesting restaurants to try all the different Thai cuisines. In Bangkok on Day 1 we toured the creative district (Jane got two dresses made using a contact from a friend) and explored the waterways of Bangkok with a private longboat. Day 2 we explored all the key sites in Bangkok and on Day 3 we drove out to Ayutthaya, the ancient Siamese capital. Other highlights of Bangkok were a foodie’s tour around Chinatown, a cooking experience for Jane while I was in meetings and dining at two of the top 50 restaurants in the world, Gaggan Annand and Le Du.

We then flew up in the evening to Chiang Mai and stayed at the wonderful 137 Pillars House. On our first day we went up Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, and explored the temples around there. The weather had cleared as a result of rains and we actually had great views. In the evening we drove around Chiang Mai in an electric Tuk Tuk and ate local specialties in the night market. We had specifically requested to learn about some of the textile weavings for which Northern Thailand is famous. Dan arranged for us to go to Studio Naena to meet Patricia Cheeseman, a renowned textile expert and author, where we had hands-on experience with tie-dying with natural indigo dye. The next day took us north of Chiang Mai for hiking and bamboo rafting down the Mae Tang river.

Our road trip to Chiang Rai was no ordinary road trip as we skirted the Myanmar border, stopping at various points including cooking lunch in bamboo containers with the Lahu hill tribe. In Chiang Rai we stayed at Pa Sak Tong (at very off-season rates!) where we had a whole 3-bedroom villa to ourselves complete with exercise room, steam room, private pool etc. To look after our every need, we had two excellent cooks, Nid and Kwanjai, and three outstanding butlers, Tai, Benny and Pleaw, all this on 28 acres looked after by 13 gardeners and overseen by the estate manager, John Dunbar! Needless to say, we tried to maximize our stay on the villa, although we did make a day trip to the Golden Triangle where we set foot in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand all on the same day. Another bonus for this location is that the dining experience at Native Food Lab is a short walk from the Villa. All in all, an amazing trip and thank you to Dan and his staff for organizing everything.

Exceeded Expectations. This is why I go through Wendy’s WOW List.

Communication was immediate and efficient. Dan and Raphael asked lots of questions and listened, really listened to what we were looking for in this trip to Thailand. Then Raphael put together this amazing well-paced itinerary. His friendliness, knowledge and attention to detail helped ease the process. He had arranged for the VIP service at the airport, which avoided the long line up at immigration. Car and driver were waiting with cold towels and refreshments in the car, and we were whisked away into…Bangkok traffic.

Hotels were first class and Raphael’s recommendation of The Siam was spot on. What a lovely boutique hotel. An oasis in Bangkok. Excellent service and beautiful rooms.

It was our guide Mr. Yo and driver Mr. Pop that made our trip fun and seamless. Friendly, kind, knowledgeable, attentive and very patient. They were with us from the beginning to the end of our trip. Mr. Pop had a stash of coconuts in the trunk every day and we had a fresh one every time we returned from an outing. He learnt quickly how much my husband loved them. They would stop along the way at different roadside stands and suggest we try something we would not know to ask for. Delicious Thai snacks or ingredients like Tamarind…what a revelation! Spotted some monkeys and they turned the car around, picked up some food for them and patiently waited for them to clamber down from the trees and take it from our hands. It felt very local and special.

All the local restaurants were excellent and we were introduced to so much more than Pad Thai and Green curry. Another of Raphael’s gentle suggestions was the tasting dinner at the Baan Phraya (instead of the dinner cruise I asked for), it was (chef’s kiss) mind blowing. Market and Cooking class with Chef Poo was outstanding and we came away with lots of recipes and respect for the work she does in her community.

Another evening that stands out amongst so many stellar ones was when we visited the biggest flower market in Asia where we were introduced to many native varieties. Yo bought a bunch of lotus flowers and in the temple courtyard he patiently showed us how to fold the petals of the lotus flower three different ways as an offering at the temple. It was so serene and spiritual listening to the monks and locals chanting.

I cannot recommend Dan’s team enough!

Many thanks to the wonderful people who helped make this an incredible experience.

We just returned from an amazing 12 days in the far east, visiting both Thailand and Vietnam and including 5 cities total (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Hoi An and Saigon). From the moment we landed to the moment we departed our trip was flawless. The travel planner, Dan, and his team (shout out to Khun Ti!) were fantastic to work with before we left. They listened to and responded to all of our concerns and suggestions and came up with an itinerary that was right on spot. We greatly appreciated their suggestion to travel at the end of February as we avoided holidays, poor weather and the hazy season. The hotels we stayed in were truly some of the most luxurious hotels we have ever enjoyed and the service was top-notch. All of the hotels included breakfast and each one was beyond delicious, plentiful and authentic. The food everywhere was terrific, with a bit more spice in Thailand than Vietnam. We especially enjoyed “pho” for breakfast!

All of our local hosts were fluent in English, extremely knowledgeable and overly concerned with making sure we had everything we needed. It was so helpful to have them as we navigated each city, and they showed us all the local favorites, from the markets to stores to food and to the delicious egg and salt coffee that Vietnam is known for.

The highlight of our trip was a visit to the elephant rescue in Chiang Mai. Wow! The project was so well managed and allowed us to spend five hours with the four elephants that have been rescued, including a 6-year-old baby boy elephant. It was a surreal feeling to walk alongside an elephant while feeding them bananas out of our bag and ultimately joining them in a swim in their watering hole. Must do!

Having our trip planned by such a competent and on-the-ground team made for a perfect vacation. We felt safe and supported the entire time and cannot wait to travel back to this magical place again. The people, culture, food and vibe were so enjoyable, kind, and lovely! Thank you to Dan and his fantastic team!

Just back from our 3rd trip booked through one of Wendy’s fabulous travel arrangers. In this case we worked with Daniel Fraser’s office for a 3 ½-week itinerary that started and ended in Singapore with Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Saigon, Hue, Hoi An, and Hanoi in between.

Dan and the team did a great job attending to all of the details, especially the VIP arrival treatment in the many airports we traversed. The diversity of the trip was amazing, starting with a festive New Year’s Eve party at 137 Pillars in Chiang Mai. A great rock band interspersed with traditional Thai dances performed amazingly well. Other events included fabulous street-food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seat in Bangkok for Muay Thai boxing, a cruise on the Mekong River from Luang Prabang to the Pak Ou caves (with a stop at a whisky distillery whose bottles contained snakes and scorpions—a bit too much for my taste), sunrise at Angkor Wat, incredible acrobats at the Phare circus, thrilling rides in several cities on cyclos, tuk-tuks, and scooters, and various museums and places that are etched in memories of those of us that grew up in the Viet Nam war era. Lots of lessons to be learned from that time.

But perhaps the most interesting part of our visit involved a dinner and musical performance at the Ben Xuan Garden House. When we saw this on the agenda, we thought OK, that could be a nice evening. Well, the host, Camille Huyen, is 6 generations removed from the emperor and is an incredible artist. She designed the home using bricks from the rubble of the destroyed Imperial Palace area, has her paintings on display throughout the home and provided vocals alongside some fabulously talented musicians whom she personally selected and developed from the local university. After the performance we were treated to an amazing dinner and wonderful conversation with Camille and Ngo Truong Dinh, her husband and a former banker during their time in Switzerland. This evening was one of the more remarkable events of many years of travel around the world. If you make the trip to Viet Nam, this is a must-do!

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