More Smiles in Thailand
“Pai” means Go!
“How” – Stop!
“Yaa” – No!
“Map long” – Get Down.
“Jet long” – Head Down.
“Bonn” – Lift Up the Trunk.
You might have thought that this may have been monkey talk – bananas and all. But no, this is elephant talk, and the elephants at Bobby’s particularly like it when you say “Bonn” as you are likely going to give them a banana or two. At least that is the elephant lingo we learned at Bobby’s Elephant Home in Chiang Mai.
If you have no other reason to visit Thailand, other than to ride an elephant, that is good enough for me.
Of course we are going to give you many more reasons and once you have visited part of Thailand you won’t be happy until you have seen it all! It may just have the friendliest people in the world. Just ask Derek Schade, General Manager of one of Thailand’s finest, Chiang Mai Golf & Spa Resort. A Canadian, like many, came for a visit and just never left and is now married to a wonderful Thai lady!
Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand and situated amongst the highest mountains in the country, was the host city for the International Association of Golf Tour Operators – Asia Golf Tourism Convention last spring. Having visited Bangkok, Pataya and Hua Hin a few years past I was anxious to add another dimension and maybe just as anxious to ride an elephant.
Our home in Chiang Mai was Le Meridien on Chang Klan Rd is in a vibrant section of town with any number of bars, restaurants and stylish boutiques steps away in any direction and every evening the Night Bazzar meanders the neighborhood adding a new dimension to the evening.
Some of us rate hotels by the quality and service provided at the bar, just because we seem to spend a bit of time there! This was a perfect 10. The breakfast buffet here is a must way to start your day. I can’t say I remember one better – I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but could not resist the melting honeycomb.
I had heard of the elephant experience from a friend and it was a priority, during my spare time of course. These are domesticated elephants in about as natural a setting as you are going to find. That is what I was looking for. No dancing elephants, no show of any kind. When you get to Bobby’s you are provided with a change of clothing and a good thing as you are going to be up close and personal with the elephants and before it is all over you will be in the river giving them a bath. After all, they did give you a ride so now you give them a little pampering and that is before you feed them. Seemingly happy and welcoming to all human contact, flapping ears, active trunks and tails were a tell tail sign. None of the staff had any type of objects that might be considered discipline tools.
Before you venture off on your journey you are provided with a little elephant training and some key words to help with your little trek. Riding was fun and not that much of a balancing act but the end is the best when you get to bath, groom and have a little water play time with the majestic creatures. Although you have been providing treats along the way the big feed is at the end. An all-round tremendous experience.
Plan to make a day of this. Bobby’s is about 90 minutes from Chiang Mai. You can pre-arrange the trip with a good cabby or tour company and just like everything in Thailand, nothing is expensive. Cabby for a day can also take you to visit Tiger Kingdom and do a little shopping or sightseeing along the way.
The tigers were a little more commercialized an experience but OMG we were in very large cages sitting and playing with big cats. Admittedly I was a little nervous at first but it was very much an experience of a lifetime.
First off, when you think of Thai golf you generally think of playing in the heat. Being in the mountains gives you more moderate temperatures. Secondly you think of having the company of a female Thai caddy – she will be very knowledgeable and helpful to your round!
We played 4 of the 9 or so courses in the area and in my humble opinion Chiang Mai Highlands Golf & Spa Resort was the champion of the group. Warm greeting to a cozy and comfortable clubhouse. Even playing in what was considered a drought the course was is superb condition and no doubt one of the reasons that it is always highly ranked in the country.
You can go back to about 7,200 yards if you dare but with water on at least 11 holes and more sand than Lawrence of Arabia had in his boots – why would you want too? Play the right tees and you will enjoy these rolling fairways right up to the uphill challenge of the 558 yard par 5, 18th taking you back to the clubhouse. This is a great collection of par 3’s. www.chiangmaihighlands.com
Alpine Golf Resort ,designed by my old friend Ron Garl, might be considered a little more robust a test than most. The tips will take you back to 7,500 yards and there is water on just about every hole. The 11th, par 4 is a muscular 485 yards and save yourself for an Amen Corner style 14 – 16th holes. www.alpinegolfresort.com
You know when there is one course in a destination that you just don’t forget? Summit Green Valley Chiang Mai Country Club might just be that one that leaves a lasting impression. Intimidation might be the word we are looking for. Long sleek fairways, slick greens, water is prevalent as are boisterous sand traps – over 100 in fact. Definitely a grip it and rip course with the opening par 5 at just over 600 yards. The par 3-16th plays from the back tees to a mere 236 yards. Need I say more – it’s a big time golf course. Check it out for yourself – if you dare! www.summitgreenvalley.com
Every destination has that course that eases you into your vacation. The family owned and well maintained Mae Jo Golf Club & Resort fits that bill in Chiang Mai. Wide fairways make this course very enjoyable to play for any level of golfer. The front nine eases you into the round with the back offering up more length and challenges. Both sides offer up spectacular mountain vista views. www.maejogolfclub.com
Of course no visit to Thailand would be complete without a short stay in Bangkok. After 2 weeks being immersed in Thai culture and cuisine I joined my friend Sayuri from Jakarta along with good friends Mark and Alice (Golf Tours Abroad) from Australia for a few days of shopping and a little different cuisine.
Being the Marriott guy that I am, home for our stay in Bangkok was the Renaissance Downtown, conveniently located within walking distance or a short Tuk Tuk ride from just about anywhere you might want to go.
Here are a few restaurants that I can highly recommend you try while in Bangkok.
- Mexicano in the Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok if you are in the mood for Margaritas and some classic Mexican cuisine. www.rembrandtbkk.com
- Maybe one of the best Italian restaurants I have ever set foot in thanks walking with Google Maps and just around the corner from the Renaissance is Gianni Ristorante for an appetiser try the Vitello Tonato. www.giannibkk.com
- Fei Ya right under our noses in the Renaissance Marriott. Old and new worlds converge with authentic Northern Chinese specialities in a sleek downtown setting. Extra special was the fact that I left my friend Sayuri, with her Chinese background to order the entire meal and it was exquisite. Try the duck! http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bkkbr-renaissance-bangkok-ratchaprasong-hotel/
If you have never been to Thailand you don’t know what you’re missing. My friends and IAGTO members Mark and Alice Sawyer can help you out with booking if need be. www.golftoursabroad.com
For more information on Thailand, visit www.tourismthailand.org.