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A Myriad Of Travel Experiences

Chiang Mai emerges as travel hub

Reinhard Hohler, eTN  Feb 12, 2010

Chiang Mai is quickly becoming a travel hub going east into Lao PDR, north to Myanmar, and south to the beaches of southern Thailand. Meeting the team of Khiri Travel during the recent ATF2010 in Brunei, I was told of a new travel product that can be easily done starting in Chiang Mai.

Khiri Travel has launched a "Tribes and Rivers of Northern Laos" tour. The luxury seven-day tour is part of the company's Khiri Gold collection of travel experiences. Khiri Gold tours are designed for discerning top-end travelers who require authentic travel without compromising comfort levels.

The tour explores the northern Lao UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang and its surrounding areas for two days. Then the focus moves to the exotic array of hill tribe minority villages available from the luxury boutique Muang La Resort in Udom Xay Province. The area is deep in the mountains of northern Laos on the way to the Chinese border.

From Muang La Resort, there are trips by 4WD and gentle hikes on foot to visit an Akha village perched on a 1,000 m high mountain top. In the village, the women folk wear colorful headdresses adorned with silver coins. Guests also explore Hmong, Lao Lum, and Khmu tribal villages.

Khiri Gold's "Tribes and Rivers of Northern Laos" trip includes five hours on a comfortable riverboat cruising on the Nam U River, where guests enjoy a picnic lunch on a secluded river beach amid some of the most dramatic scenery in southeast Asia.

"We are confident that discerning guests will love the Muang La Resort," said Marc Albert, country manager of Khiri Travel Laos. "The resort is surrounded by forests, rice fields, and hot water springs that are thousands of years old. A Buddhist temple on the valley side adds spirituality to a place that has changed very little throughout the years."

Muang La resort consists of three wooden villas of ethnic design. Local Laotian art in the rooms add to the experience. A unique feature of the resort is its candle-lit Lao sauna, where steam is scented with natural herbs and grass to create a truly relaxing experience. There is also a large spa plunge pool for guests to luxuriate in.

At the resort, guests can select where they would like their dining table placed in the gardens, which are lit by torchlight and candles in the evening. The Muang La Resort serves a fine selection of wines and champagne.

Guests also spend over two-and-a-half days exploring the attractions of Luang Prabang and the surrounding area. Highlights include walking tours and visits to textile galleries, weaving centers, museums, and temples. Early risers can witness the moving sight of long lines of bare-foot monks on their silent morning alms rounds. Visitors also get to inspect by boat the Pak U caves, which contain up to 3,000 wooden Buddha images, partly covered with gold.

According to Willem Niemeijer, co-founder of Khiri Travel, guests can now explore many culturally-rich corners of Indochina without compromising comfort levels, service standards, or food and beverage options. "Khiri Gold itineraries open a new world of possibilities to top-end travelers. It's a growth trend we see continuing, especially in source markets such as Europe, North America, Australia, and among expatriates in Asia." Please go to: .

Travel to Myanmar is getting easier by the day and tourism is surging there. According to Werner Rumpf, manager of Sunbird Tours in Yangon, Myanmar is actually the number one destination in ASEAN, at least what the potential of tourist destinations regards. Myanmar has everything to offer that a tourist wants. In 2009, some 762,547 tourists came to Myanmar, via the Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan entry points, and included 519,269 tourists at border areas (day return visitors).

Visa on Arrival is applicable only through licensed travel agencies registered in Myanmar. The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism in the new capital Nay Pyi Taw will endorse to the immigration authorities on a case-by-case basis. So far, it is only possible to arrive by air in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. Interesting to note is that 49 percent of the tourists are foreign independent Travelers (FIT).

Tourists, who have seen all the main attractions in and around Chiang Mai, tend to prolong their holidays on Thailand's beaches. One of the most important beach destination is Hua Hin and Cha Am. For almost a century, the Thai resort region of Hua Hin and Cha Am has attracted the country's most noble residents - for its white-sand beaches, for its mountainous backdrop, and for its proximity to Bangkok, the nation's capital.

Now the area's premier properties - including nine posh hotels, an award-winning golf club, and a singular vineyard - are teaming to take the destination to another level with a publicity campaign called "It's in Hua Hin."

Launched this month at , the initiative is aimed at promoting the world-class accommodations and activities available in and around the hundred-year-old city of Hua Hin and neighboring beach town of Cha Am, less than three hours south of Bangkok by car.

"Anyone who's been to Hua Hin and Cha Am knows this stretch of coastline has a lot to offer," said Boyd Barker, general manager of Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa, one of the program's founding members. "But not everyone's been there yet. We want to get the word out about this destination, a destination that's been the choice of royalty for decades - and we think by banding together and speaking to the world with one voice, we can do just that."

Hua Hin became a popular retreat among Thai sovereigns in 1921, when a railway station and hotel were erected to service elite train travelers between Bangkok and Singapore. Today, it's the full-time residence of the world's longest serving monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Long one of Thailand's seafood capitals, Hua Hin and Cha Am have increased their overall tourism allure during the past two decades, thanks to an influx of high-end hotel brands. In fact, many of its resorts are now mainstays in the awards issues of the most prestigious publications in the world. And celebrities, such as tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams, who competed here in an exhibition match earlier this month, have taken notice.

Located next to the palace of a princess, Hua Hin Marriott Resort & Spa pays particular attention to landscaping and design. The ample use of Earth tones makes for a pleasing feeling of environmental respect. Other hotels to claim membership in the exclusive group include:

- AKA Resorts, a rural collection of 67 designer pool villas teeming with natural lagoons, sugar cane, and rice paddies, 10 minutes west of downtown Hua Hin.

- Anantara Hua Hin, the quintessential beachfront resort whose spa was voted one of the top 10 spa experiences in the world by Conde Nast Traveler (UK) magazine readers in 2007.

- Banyan Resort, a cluster of stylish, residential-style villas set in a quiet enclave, moments from the hustle and bustle of downtown Hua Hin.

- Courtyard by Marriott Hua Hin, a 243-room hotel on Cha Am Beach that opened in 2008 and is fast becoming a favorite of families and corporate groups.

- Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa, renowned for its central location, spacious Thai-style accommodation, panoramic sea views, and 17-floor tower, the tallest in the region.

- Hyatt Regency Hua Hin, owner of the longest stretch of sand in the area and THE BARAI, awarded "Best Resort Spa" at The 2009 Spa Asia Crystal Awards Asia Pacific.

- Sheraton Hua Hin Resort & Spa, one of the newest 5-star properties in the region and already one of the most popular, thanks to its ultra-modern design, 4,000-square-meter pool, and impressive kids facilities.

- Veranda Resort & Spa Hua Hin, a chic, 118-room, seaside retreat near Cha Am with one of the widest strips of sand along the region's coastline.

"The finest hotels are here because their ownership groups recognized Hua Hin has it all," said Richard Mehr, general manager of Banyan Resort. "Its amenities - spa, water sports, even wine tasting - enable everything from a family vacation to a couple's retreat to a guys' golf trip."

Indeed, the region boasts seven golf courses, including Banyan Golf Club, the cream of the crop and the initiative's only golf member. Situated in a mostly-enclosed, bucolic bowl with unimpeded views of the Burmese Mountains, the 18-hole masterpiece was voted "Best New Course in Asia" by Asian Golf Monthly readers in 2009.

Wine enthusiasts can either delve into Banyan's ample collection of vintages or drive 45 minutes north to Hua Hin Hills Vineyard, the campaign's most exotic experience. Here, visitors can tour the sprawling property - hedged on three sides by a lush range - by elephant, or watch others do so while sipping Monsoon Valley White Shiraz, a gold medal winner at the 2008 AWC International Wine Challenge in Austria.

The region is also a draw for music aficionados, who come in droves every June to attend the Hua Hin Jazz Festival, a three-day event featuring globally-recognized international performers and renowned domestic artists. Last year's version enticed more than 35,000 visitors.

For more information, please contact GMS Media Travel Consultant Reinhard Hohler by e-mail: .

Chiang Mai emerges as travel hub
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