Gay Travel In Thailand Series Part II: Golden Triangle
(Photo: Jonathan Higbee)
Thailand and her people are incredibly welcoming of LGBT visitors. That's the easy part. What are the top five tested and true highlights in three very different regions of the country for travelers to experience a life-changing visit to the country? That's where our three part series "Gay Travel In Thailand" comes in. (Check out our first post on Bangkok here.)
After a dizzying visit to the metropolis of Bangkok, winding down with relaxation (and a side of adventure) in Thailand's northern area of Chiang Rai is ideal. This part of Thailand's northern stretch forms the border with Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, an intersection that has anointed the region with the nickname of the "Golden Triangle" for years. Though at first glance it may seem short on options for travelers, with a little finesse, Chiang Rai opens up and quickly becomes one of the most magical destinations on any itinerary.
1. Elephant Experience with rescued elephants and their mahouts
Unfortunately for animal rights activists, elephants are everywhere tourists are in Thailand. On the streets of Phuket and Bangkok, these street animals along with their mahout (lifelong trainer) perform for travelers for tips. Anantara Golden Triangle, situated along the Mekong River north of Chiang Rai, provides a sanctuary for elephants rescued from the streets. And to ensure that the mahouts don't simply go out and buy another elephant, Anantara takes in the mahout and his family, providing housing, food and education for children, as well. It's really spectacular -- and anyone who wants a closer look at the program can sign up for one of several elephant experiences with the resort. We took part in the elephants daily walk, where we learned commands the mahouts and elephants use to communicate, took a bath with the elephants, and formed a bond with the rescued animals. www.goldentriangle.anantara
2. Opium Museums
There are not one but TWO opium museums within a few miles of each other in the Chiang Rai area. Through the mid-twentieth century, the Golden Triangle was the largest producer and traffiker of opium and heroin. The incredibly rich history that such a industry affords is illustrated in beautiful and eye-opening exhibits at both the 212 House of Opium and the Hall of Opium. (Both museums are on the 1290.)
3. Traditional Thai Massage
Like street elephants, Thai Massage is found everywhere in Thailand. But Anantara Golden Triangle does it right. Set in terrazzo and teakwood suites above the Burmese and Thai jungle, the Spa at Anantara is transportive even before treatment begins. Though the menu is extensive, I highly recommend the traditional Thai massage -- Anantara's will make you, like it did me, a lifelong convert of the method. Unfortunately, the luxurious treatment spoiled me so that I consider flying around the world everytime I want another authentic Thai massage (which is every other day). www.goldentriangle.anantara
(Photo: Jonathan Higbee)
4. Tung Luang Chalerm Phrakiat
Mountainside Buddhist temples/religious parks abound in this jungle region of Thailand, but the Tung Luang Chalerm Park (resting above the Mekong River) sticks out. There is a lot to see here that similar sites don't offer -- but visitors come from around the globe for one reason: the giant golden Buddha statue watching over the Mekong River Valley, making for some of the best photo opps in all of the Chiang Rai area.
5. Baan Dahlia
The food found around Chiang Rai is delicious and authentic -- just the way one hopes it would be in Thailand. For something different and upscale -- worth getting dressed up for -- check out the modern Italian restaurant Baan Dahlia, one of two exquisite dining options at Anantara. The parmesan is fresh from Italy, the noodles perfectly al dente, the ambiance oozing romance and the staff some of the loveliest we came across in the entire country -- all combined, making Baan Dahlia our favorite culinary experience of our entire Thai trip. In addition to the restaurants (and as a part B. to our number 5 pick), Anantara also offers Thai cooking classes that are perfect for the gay or lesbian traveling couple. Reservations for the cooking classes are required 24 hours in advance. www.goldentriangle.anantara.com