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Where's Frankie D ...                 Thailand

 



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Amazing Thailand
Discover the delights of Bangkok and the beauty of Koh Samui.
By Francis DiScala Jr.

Elephants and palm trees, sunny beaches and beautiful, smiling people. This is all part of the magical, faraway place called Thailand. A confession: Despite my lack of first-hand experience with travel in Asia, the window from which I initially viewed the Far East was secretly tinted by the movie The Deer Hunter and songs with lyrics like Me so horny. Sad. But not necessarily a unique American perspective. In spite of my very privately guarded ignorance, I was ready to keep an open mind about Thailand. I was prepared to block concerns of propositions by exotic erotic women reaching for me at seedy night markets and simultaneously oddly enchanted and willing to bargain with street hawkers; ready to thwart pushy throngs and willing to defend myself against platoons of old ladies pushing carts full of caged squawking animals. This is what I expected. And just as I suspected, once I arrived in Bangkok, I was shocked by just how wrong and ignorant I was.

AMAZING THAILAND
In Thailand, itís not too late to feel like an explorer yet at the same time, itís not so newly opened to the moneyed western world Ė with our appetites for comfort -- so you can easily find phenomenal luxury at reasonable prices. The big city of Bangkok has night markets and luxury hotels, is thriving with business, tourists and is, perhaps, one of the international hubs of Asia. Yet at the same time, despite being a thriving urban metropolis, even this grand city in Thailand feels gentle. No wonder itís called ďthe land of smiling faces.Ē Forget about airport sieges and government unrest. Go to Thailand, now! Thailand is a safe and fun place to go and relax.



GETTING THERE: THAI AIRWAYS
I love to bash the airlines. I always seem to attract the bitter flight attendant whose dream of retiring into the first-class lap of a public companyís CEO died about the same time Cherry Coke was pulled from the shelves. Not only do I seem to attract their scorn, but its always seems like I remind them of said CEO, so I am generally the recipient of an emotional package delivered to the wrong address. Who knows? Maybe itís just me. Regardless, even the reputed best airlines, the venerable and old, long-standing commanders of our airspace, usually become open season for my biting pen. And strangely, it seems the longer an airline has been in business, the cockier they become, just like Rome near the end, near its collapse.

I must have reminded the attendants on Thai Airways of a movie star because I got royal service. But then I noticed, so did everyone else within earshot. My conclusion: Thai Airways gets you there in style and comfort. Maybe the employees genuinely feel lucky to have the privilege to work. Itís old-time courtesy.

Sadly, Thai Airways has closed its New York office and discontinued the nonstop service to Bangkok from JFK.

BUSINESS CLASS TO ASIA ON THAI AIRWAYS
I had my own bed seat. Not as big as the bed in the first class 747 but spacious and extremely adjustable. So many different settings itís hard not to find a comfort zone. The staff understands old world hospitality like no other airline staff I can recall. Constantly patrolling the aisles, silently attending to most of my needs, removing empty water bottles, replacing them full, bring course after course of food. I began to wonder if I was being fattened up like Hansel and Gretel to become food myself. Or stuffed like a goose for foie gras, half expecting a funnel to be placed into my mouth when I fell asleep. (Chilean sea bass: superb; tirimasu: outstanding; Thai noodles: delicious; wine and wine and salad Ö I was living in a 15-hour CAFO Ė Confined Animal Feeding Operation, and I loved it!)

The aircraft lavatories were spotless and evidently constantly cleaned throughout the flight. And not a bump on our over-Arctic route from JFK to BKK. Thai Airways knows what travelers need: good food and a place to relax. They also know food, being proprietors of an enormous food service that boasts more than 50,000 prepared meals a day. Having toured the facility in our white scrubs, it is hard not to be impressed by the immaculate cleanliness of the gigantic facility. Every worker was dressed in sterile scrubs from head to toe. Evidently, even more sterile than the surgical suite I had the pleasure of enduring at the famous Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York Ė there, the operating room staff had scrubs only from the pants up; they wore street shoes in the sterile room! When I mentioned this to the surgeon, Dr. William Kuhel, he replied, ďThe sterile field in an operating room extends to just below the knees.Ē It would have been more sterile in the Thai catering facility!

From the darkness of the cabin, I lived in my own world of videos, computer access, no WiFi but a nice selection of current and classic movies; imagine watching Ferris Buellerís Day Off on the way to Bangkok! Perfectly content and multi-positioned, I waited in style and comfort for my arrival in a new world, aboard the second to longest flight in the world.

LEBUA AT STATE TOWER HOTEL
A great place to stay in Bangkok: Lebua at State Tower Hotel. Sixty-plus stories emerged from the relatively modest surrounding of the sprawling city. Clean with an ultra-modern interior with Romanesque balconies, this place capitalized on the open-air experience. The dramatic placement of the top floor outdoor eating experience can only be captured in a video, which I was not allowed to take. Beg forgiveness before asking permission. View here. Delicious dessert table at the Dome Restaurant on top of Asia is an experience worth doing more than once.

ANOTHER NICE THING ABOUT THE TOWER
If your jetlag tosses you from your slumber at 4am, look out on the balcony and catch an unforgettable view of Bangkok and then, if you love adventure, walk down the stairs and hit the hotel fitness facility. Itís perfectly complete with free weights, pool hot tub, cardio deck and others who seem unable to sleep.

BA NAI COOKING CLASS
The class is held on a covered roof terrace. Authentic, well-organized chefs give you hands-on experience with four delicious Thai delicacies. Ever wonder how Thai food is cooked? Come here and you will be the cook. Not only is the food prepared in front of you but also, you get to make it yourself and treat yourself to the secrets of delicious Thai cooking. This is a must-do for anyone lingering in Bangkok and for anyone who loves to eat or cook. We made all four dishes, my favorite the pummelo Thai salad. Spicy and delicious.

NIGHT CRAWLING
Nighttime Bangkok has plenty to offer. For some authentic PG Thai entertainment, the show in the authentic transported village is family fun. Donít expect a quality performance, but there is some interesting Thai history being told through a dramatic presentation full of noise and energy, fighting and elephants, water and elaborate sets spread out on an enormous stage. Our guide tells us this is the interpretive handiwork of a young man. I especially liked the costumed dancers. (VIDEO)

NIGHT MARKET
What is Bangkok without the night market? Like a flea market, part food, part trinkets, part clothing and gift shop, it is indoors and outdoors, complete with a stage and entertainment. Definitely worth the stroll, if not for the merchandise and food, then for the sites.

BOAT TOUR DOWN THE RIVER CHO PIAYA
Donít miss the river. If you want to experience some old Thai river living, then get on one of the many open long tail boats and cruise the river. Interspersed with the ancient river shacks are the warehouses and small factories and Buddhist temples, some as old as the 7th century restoration. Ancient Chinese manuscripts tell the story as the Thai did not like to write according.

ROYAL BARGE MUSEUM
The Royal Barge Museum is a water garage for the royal barges, some as old as 1785, some damaged from the bombs dropped by the American and British. Carved and gilded, these long graceful and slender boats reflect a love of dragons and lore.

GRAND PALACE
There is always time for the king! Be sure to get here. Once the kingís residence and now used only for major ceremonies, this is Thailandís version of a real Disney World. Awe-inspiring if not for our temperance by theme parks. Youíll see more gold here than in the teeth of some of the guys walking around Queens, New York. Even some of the roof shingles are covered in gold. Na Pra La Road, near Sanam Luang, 02-222-0094, Open: 8:30am to 4pm.

WAR PHEA KAEW: TEMPLE OF THE EMERALD BUDDHA
Discovered in 1434 during a lightning strike in Chiang Rai, the tiny Emerald Buddha is Thailandís most sacred relic and is housed in an amazing temple. Go slowly through the temple because youíll see other fine examples of mural art far more impressive in appearance than the little Buddha.

WAT PHO: TEMPLE OF THE RECLINING BUDDHA
This is my personal favorite. Said to be capturing Buddhaís last posture as he entered Nirvana, it is an enormous piece of work inspiring whispers and the sounds of coins dropped into the mediation jugs. Take off your shoes and check out the mother of pearl toenails. If it was his last posture, then he was cool to the end. Let it be. Wat Pho: Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Chetupho/Thaiwong Road, 02-226-0369, Open daily 8am to noon, 1pm to 5pm.

DINNER CRUISE ON THE CHAO PHRAYA
East West Siam, a well-established tour operator, took us on a nice dinner cruise upriver past the lit temples and lights of Bangkok. Itís a good way to see the city at night and a better way to get acquainted with the 80-year-old converted rice transport, which could be your home for a weekend, offering nine staterooms and full on yacht luxury. Dinner cruise aboard the amazing fully-restored rice barge. Nine staterooms feature queen bed and lower bed down below, and an all-teak private bath. Boats are available for charter and overnight trips in the backcountry.

KOH SAMUI
While in Thailand, youíre going to want to hit the exotic beaches and islands and thereís probably no better way to start than the short flight to Koh Samui, a well-developed friendly island and about an hour flight from Bangkok. Thai Airwaysí service and food again impressed us. New planes and super-polite staff deposited us into the island of warm water and warm people.

SIX SENSES HIDEAWAY SAMUI
Our digs? Six Senses Hideaway Samui is a spoiler. From the natural magnificent surroundings to the superbly trained staff, Six Senses does it like no other accommodation Iíve ever seen. Every detail is considered. From the furniture to the quality of the building materials, thereís not a single evidence of compromise. We were treated to our own villas, complete with pool, huge tub, outdoor shower, windows with panoramic views of the Bay of Thailand and the islands beyond. My bedroom suite, approximately 20x20, contained a king-sized bed with mosquito nets suspended above, roman shades of organic canvas, a day bed, two desks, a flat screen TV and a stairwell that went to the bathroom suite four feet below. The bathroom suite is bigger than most bedrooms, 10x20 with an oversized tub on one end, an outdoor shower on the other and shutters all around, no glass except on the mirror. Thereís no paint here. The structure is entirely natural and the roof is made of native palm fronds.

Teak is no longer killed in Thailand yet another form of responsibly and sustainably harvested hardwood is. It looks like mahogany and is rich and the people at Six Senses merely apply an organic oil to keep it fresh looking.

Luckily the room is air-conditioned because Koh Samui is a hot and humid place. But the outdoor shower and the pool only make the weather more ideal for washing away worries.

MONKEY SCHOOL
Why we left the grounds of the Six Senses to see the monkey school is beyond me. Witness the incredibly cute caged animals with big teeth reach for bananas and if you go, pass the cute ones in the front and go visit the neglected old ones at the end of the row. Iím sure they donít get out much and it feels like you are visiting a nursing home. They look poorly attended and their cages stink. But they are still alive and someone must pay to feed them. If youíre into watching animals do things you canít do like dunk a basketball, do a back flip, juggle fire and accurately count numbers under stress (compared to reciting the alphabet backwards at a roadside sobriety stop on New Yearís Eve) and all things that you would expect from a monkey, see it here. And know that monkeys still pull down most of the coconuts that hit the supermarkets when you walk through Whole Foods. They learn the trade right here at the monkey school.

SNORKELING AND BOAT RIDING
If you miss the monkey school, donít miss the natural beauty of the many islands that seem to erupt from the floor of the bay. Take the snorkel trip to a cozy island and see this natural beauty up close. The cost is minimal and group trips can be arranged.

NEXT WEEK
Join me next week as we continue this Thai adventure and travel to Chiang Rai in the northern part of the country.




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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
International Recreation Expert. Francis J. DiScala (Frankie D) was born to do it differently. On his first camping trip at 10 years old he was sequestered from his group for talking and forced to sleep in an open field away from the safety of the tents. He immediately realized that the moon was much clearer out under the stars and has been "out there" ever since. Never one to say no, Frank has been to Mountains of Montana, Idaho, Arizona bow hunting and sleeping outdoors, fishing off-shore amongst the whales for giant tuna, skiing and snowboarding almost every major mountain in North America, racing motorcycles on international racetracks in New Hampshire, and scuba diving reefs from Australia to the Red Sea in Jordan. fun and games are often interrupted and trips cut short by his need to return to his beautiful wife and to his legal career. He hasn't stopped talking and often can be seen and heard giving strange opinions on television shows including CNN'S Headline News/Nancy Grace and Court TV. Despite a hectic schedule, Frank has also found time to travel and write and in recent years has become an enthusiastic contributor to JohnnyJet.com, one of the most comprehensive travel resources online.



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