A more rewarding holiday gives you time to unwind and engage with your surroundings
In this day and age, almost everything is enjoyed at speed. We work, play, love and live life quickly, aiming to tackle tasks at hand with efficiency, precision and, of course, speed. While it’s professional to multitask and get more done, speed has its downside; we can’t savour success enough to build on our self-esteem.
By Luxury Society Asia Team: Manta Klangboonkrong and Wanida Tardivel
We look at a lot of beauty on screens without going to appreciate it in real life. We fill our minds and schedules with things to do, people to see and places to visit without giving much thought to how to enjoy these experiences. It becomes easy to lose touch with the simple joys of life sitting in front us, just waiting for us to put down our smartphones and grab them.
Have you ever come home from vacation feeling like you need a vacation? Getaways can be so packed with sightseeing, island-hopping and activity-seeking that you and your loved ones may just forget to relax.
That’s what makes slow life, the next big trend in luxury tourism, so rewarding. As the designation suggests, it’s about keeping excursions unhurried and stress-free in order to avoid holiday burnout. It’s not about logistics so much as it is a mindset — exploring a destination well enough to gain a deeper, more genuine connection to it, rather than rushing through and missing the details.
Carl Honoré, whom the Huffington Post calls the godfather of the slow life movement, says: “The central tenet of the slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more.”
Slow life does not require you to literally lag so much you miss your trains or deadlines, or fall behind while the world passes you by. It simply suggests doing things more purposefully in order to enjoy them more. The quality of “things” in life will come to mean much more than the quantity. A slow life is healthier, more fulfilling and more compassionate. It is less stressful, less taxing and less harmful.
Thailand is the perfect destination for a slow life holiday. The local sabai sabai lifestyle is all about being relaxed and not sweating the small stuff. The country’s tour providers have long been at the forefront of the trend, and provide authentic activities and excursions that are about getting away from the hectic, fast-paced nature of our everyday lives. You’ll find an easy-going charm here that is unlike anywhere else in the world, from idyllic beaches and remote jungles to towering mountain landscapes basking in peace and serenity.
If you have not yet found the perfect way to treat yourself, slow life is the way to go. Here are some destinations and activities that are not only fun and Instagram-worthy but also offer deep, meaningful and memorable experiences. These are a few of our favourite luxury slow life experiences throughout the Land of Smiles.
Become an elephant mahout
Get to know nature’s gentle giants, and Thailand’s most beloved creatures, up close and personal. Anantara Golden Triangle offers an extensive elephant programme that involves everything from jungle-trekking to learning how to work with elephants like a mahout, otherwise known as an elephant trainer. You’ll form a special bond with the beautiful pachyderms by learning to give commands, enjoying companionship in muddy stretches and assisting with river bathing rituals. Go for a sunset ride or even practise yoga on the sturdy back of a friendly mammoth.
Learn the ropes of rice farming
Hard work can be a relaxing, meditative affair, and there’s no better example than a day spent in the rice paddies. In Chiang Mai you can enjoy a day full of hands-on excursions, harvesting and planting rice alongside local farmers. A translator and guide helps to add context and commentary to the experience as you make exciting discoveries among the surreal views of teak forest and wildlife. Wind down with a cup of tea with farmers and villagers inside their homes.
Explore fascinating contemporary architecture
Thailand’s north isn’t just home to beautiful landscapes; plenty of accomplished artists are making their mark with architectural wonders. Ban Dam, or Black House, is the magnum opus of one of Thailand’s most famous artists, an eclectic mix of art studio and museum. Buildings made of traditional teak with Buddhist motifs are set next to rooms decorated with mounted animal skulls, fur pelts and even a table runner made out of snakeskin.
It provides an interesting perspective on life and death — especially when paired with a visit to the contrasting White Temple, another religious and artistic site nearby. Construction on this elegant whitewashed structure began in 1997, and in a similarly strange, fascinating manner, it’s also been painted with scenes from 9/11 and The Matrix, drawing on modern inspirations for Buddhist beliefs of rebirth and existence.
Soar on a hot air balloon ride with champagne breakfast
Experience the beauty of northern Thailand from the skies with a morning hot air balloon ride and sparkling wine breakfast. You’ll depart Chiang Mai as the sun ascends, drifting high above magnificent temples and jungle forests, taking in photogenic views. On landing you’ll enjoy a sparkling wine toast and morning meal. Your pilot will even present you with a flight certificate verifying your journey.
Take a river cruise around the Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is one of northern Thailand’s most visited attractions, a stunning geographical point where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar become one. See it in high style and elegance on a cruise along the Mekong River, the lifeblood of Southeast Asia. Starting in Chiang Rai, tours follow the “slow travel” philosophy quite literally, passing by ancient temples and ruins, tribal villages and lush jungle terrain at a calm pace. Enjoy a flavourful Thai feast and breathtaking sunset along the way.
Shop at a local market and learn Thai cooking
Chiang Mai, More
There’s no better souvenir to take home than knowing how to cook your own Thai curries, desserts, soups and salads from scratch. In Chiang Mai, take a cooking class to discover that despite the flavours and spices of Thai food it’s a cuisine that’s really not that hard to master (as long as you have some chilli and a lot of heart!). The experience starts with shopping at local markets, collecting ingredients from street stands and family vendors, then heading into the kitchen to slice, dice and fry your way to a spread. At the end you’ll get to eat everything, sitting down for a meal with teachers and fellow students.
Climb the rocks of Railay or Ton Sai Beach
Krabi is famous for its towering limestone formations, set against primeval forest, white sand beaches and deep blue sea. Soak in the scenery from an all new perspective, fuelled by an adrenaline rush on a rock climbing adventure. Railay (or Rai Leh) Beach and Ton Sai are two of the island’s best craggy spots, attracting climbers from around the world to strap in and climb. Whether you’re an amateur or expert, there’s a set of rocks for you and seasoned instructors to provide pro tips and supervision along the way. If you’re looking for a real challenge, check out deep water soloing, the latest trend in the scaling world. Head out to a remote side of the island and climb straight from the boat onto bare rock without bolts or ropes — if you slip and fall, prepare for a splash into the warm turquoise waters below.
Learn the art of Thai silk weaving
In Isan, the rural region of Thailand’s northeast, making silk is a tradition that has been passed on through generations. Between rice fields and small villages is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the painstaking, intricate process for creating gorgeous Thai silk. Every piece is made by hand, from catching and breeding the silk worms to dyeing, spinning and weaving using homemade equipment. Responsible tourism practices ensure that tour fees go directly towards supporting the villagers, helping the community and the continuation of this ancient craft. It’s an experience that will leave you with a new appreciation for the fabric and its roots in rural Thailand.
Fish the Gulf of Thailand
The Trat islands, nestled in the Gulf of Thailand, are some of the country’s most beautiful gems off the beaten track. They are much less developed than their southern counterparts, and home to an eco-tourism industry that’s helping to preserve the jungle and keep the beaches clean and pristine. Life could not be any slower or more idyllic here, from detox cleanses to yoga, snorkelling and more. For a truly unforgettable experience head to Ko Kut, Thailand’s easternmost island before Cambodia, to holiday in a traditional fishing village. Meet fishermen unloading the day’s spoils from colourful boats and indulge in the thrill of casting a line and catching your own.
Cycle through Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park
Looking to get away from Bangkok’s hustle and bustle without hauling off to a faraway island? Consider an eco-friendly getaway to Bang Krachao on the capital’s outskirts in the neighbouring province of Samut Prakan. You can rent a bicycle and spend the day pedalling through fresh air and nature. In Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, known as Bangkok’s green lung, you’ll find a lush area that’s beautiful and convenient, with cycling paths and scenic bridges covering tiny green canals. Explore the green foliage and shady trees, making sure to stop off for lunch at a wooden shack.
Be inspired by sustainability projects in the North
Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai
Years ago, Chiang Rai’s mountain tribes and precious land were destroyed by the opium trade. Today the Doi Tung Royal Project is working on restoration, protecting around 15,000 hectares of soil and helping thousands of villagers live sustainably and free from poverty. Founded by HRH the Princess Mother, mother of the King of Thailand, you can tour the area and see how the locals earn a living, making fair-trade handicrafts and working on reforestation projects.
Not far away is Doi Ang Khang, known as the “Little Switzerland” of Thailand for its cool climate and hilly landscape. It is home to an agricultural research station founded in 1969 by HM the King himself. Studies on exotic flowers, temperate fruits, vegetables and more are performed here, with an abundance of growth to behold. Watch the produce being picked, processed and tested, even being turned into beauty products and herbal remedies. You won’t find a more relaxing, delightfully slow day than strolling through manicured gardens and soaking in the fresh, invigorating scents.
Explore the Six Senses
If sea, sun and sand are what soothe you, head down to Samui and spend a few nights at Six Senses Samui, located on the gentle sloping headland at the northern tip of the island. The resort is made up of 66 private villas, many with personal pools and landscaped within natural vegetation, that have glorious, sweeping and unobstructed views of the Gulf of Thailand and surrounding islands.
Lounge around, take a dip in the infinity pool, take a walk on the winding paths amid the green or enjoy sumptuous and eclectic dishes prepared by the creative Chef de Cuisine Giancarlo Caffaro. The resort serves some of the island’s best regional and international cuisine, especially at the renowned Dining on the Rock, perched on a hill and offering a panoramic view of the ocean. Expect some inspiring new culinary creations with ingredients from all over the world. There are also abundant activities to keep you entertained.
Be enveloped by nature at Rayavadee
Shroud yourself in lush nature and tropical air at Rayavadee for a secluded, luxurious getaway. Situated at the heart of stunning Phra Nang Peninsula on the edge of Krabi Marine National Park, Rayavadee nestles in tropical gardens and coconut groves against a backdrop of sheer cliffs, lush jungle foliage and the clear waters of the Andaman Sea. Recharge your energy in one of the resort’s ample and fully equipped two-storey pavilions and villas and enjoy delicious gourmet cuisine at several venues that offer everything from elegant dining to casual beachside fare.
If you feel adventurous, the resort offers a range of beach activities that include water sports, batik painting, Thai cooking classes, excursions as well as tennis and squash. Or you can explore Krabi town through a nearby stroll. Do not miss the morning market where you can catch a glimpse of authentic local life. Waterfalls, elephant riding and scenic points are within reach. Unwind with a blissful treatment at Rayavadee Spa, which offers an extensive range of therapies drawn from Thai traditional wisdom and a philosophy of well-being.
Experience slow life at its northern best
Travellers who have long been fans of this small sleepy town in Mae Hong Son Province knew what slow life was all about before the movement went mainstream.
Tucked amid a lush mountain range, the town was discovered years ago by backpackers seeking an alternative to the beaten track in northern Thailand. From simple bungalows and makeshift eateries, this cute town has grown to become one of Thailand’s most attractive destinations among Thais and foreigners alike, thanks to its simple charm, clean air and “slow life” vibe. Sophisticated guests can now skip the long winding road and fly here instead, spending a few nights in luxurious, ample accommodations that maintain traditional Lanna architecture and decor.
Pai is not all about the activities, as life in Pai is more about waking up early to catch the sunrise, or spending the evening with music and good company, chilling. Travellers often bring books to read, whiling away their time in the cute cafes that dot the town centre. Do not forget to sample the local homemade food, or visit the famous Huay Nam Dang National Park nearby.
Discover solitude with a dash of fun
An untamed paradise, Ko Lipe seems far way away but it is the perfect getaway destination if you look for solitude with a dash of fun. Located 60 kilometres from the mainland, Ko Lipe (fishermen’s tongue for “Paper Island”) is Thailand’s southernmost island. The island is part of the Adang Archipelago, a cluster of around 10 uninhabited islands with Ko Lipe being the exception. This cluster is part of the much larger Tarutao National Marine Park, a nature reserve established in 1974 as Thailand’s second national park.
There are only three main beaches and a handful of smaller or private beaches dotted along the main street, which is reserved for pedestrians only from 6pm to midnight during the high season. Small eateries, simple but neat accommodations, cute jungle-style beach bars and shops are all connected by small concrete roads, and it usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes to walk between the beaches.
The island is ideal for chilling and doing nothing, so bring books. If the weather is nice, island hop to a few of the uninhabited, pristine surrounding islets. You can visit this hidden gem all year round, though it will be a little busier during the cool season.
Travel in style with the Eastern & Oriental Express
Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore
The majestic Eastern & Oriental Express (E&O), with its comfortable, elegant lounges and suites, panoramic windows, delicious cuisine and superb service, is one of the most luxurious trains in the world. Combined with the adventure of a journey through the heart of Asia, it is a truly unique way to experience the full wonder of this remarkable region.
You won’t be in any rush to reach your destination, as the highlight is the journey itself. Bask in the nostalgic, opulent flair of a bygone era with cherry wood panelling with gold trim, crystal ware, plush velvet pillows and ample amenities in your private elegant cabin, and feast your eyes on the scenery along the way. There are various itineraries to choose from. The Classic Trip from Bangkok to Singapore stops at the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi and Penang, while the Fables of the Peninsula starts in Singapore and works its way up to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, Penang and Huay Yang in Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan Province before reaching Bangkok.
Take a stroll at the Yodpiman Riverwalk
You can easily find places to wind down even in bustling Bangkok. Yodpiman Riverwalk, the recently opened “Thai heritage concept mall” on the Chao Phraya River, offers a one-of-a-kind experience. Take an “orange flag” express boat from Saphan Taksin Pier or a short stroll down Sanam Chai Road from Wat Pho and stop by the famous Flower Market to enter Yodpiman Riverwalk next to the market.
Erected on the historic river in the old quarter of town, the three-storey project boasts opulent and elegant neocolonial architecture and decor. Do a bit of shopping and then rest your feet at one of the cafes or restaurants overlooking the river. Make sure to catch the majestic sunset over the old buildings and temple stupas, and to observe life by the river. Stay on for dinner and drinks later in the night when Wat Arun’s iconic stupa lights up.
Discover the Gardens of Dinsor Palace
Why be stuck indoors when you can get close to nature in sophisticated, picture-perfect surroundings at the Gardens of Dinsor Palace near Ekkamai. An oasis of green in the concrete jungle, this is one the few restaurants where the outside tables are more popular than the air-conditioned rooms. The casual fine dining venue takes over the historic, colonial-style Dinsor Palace dating to 1930. Blessed with ample lush outdoor gardens, a small man-made pond and large, shady trees, the outdoor tables are often fully booked even during the day. There is a small herb garden whose produce is used in the dishes. Other highlights in the garden are white peacocks from India and white swans that periodically make grand appearances.
The food is constructed with the same easy-going but sophisticated attitude. Sumptuous, fulfilling dishes such as braised beef shank, oven-baked butterfish, pork belly stew and others await foodies alongside an extensive wine list. The restaurant serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. Small children and well behaved pets are also welcome.
Get groomed at Barberford, pick of the snips
Gentlemen can have a quality relaxing grooming experience at the luxurious English style barbershop, Barberford, at Erawan Bangkok. Step back into 1920s opulence and style as you enter a den with plush leather armchairs, velvet curtains and knick-knacks that remind of a bygone English gentlemen’s world. The salon offers head-to-toe pampering and grooming with imported products that include a meticulous 40-minute wet shave, hair wash and styling, facial massage and nail spa designed especially for men. After retiring from the smooth, comfortable handmade barber chair, patrons are encouraged to stay on and relax at the lounge with a glass of fine whisky.
Set out on an Anantara Cruise
Chao Phraya River
Sail along the River of Kings aboard a majestic barge on a three-day, two-night package, with two itineraries to choose from. The century-old rice barge has been transformed into an intricate, iconic and beautifully appointed vessel to take you on a relaxing cultural and scenic voyage.
Set out on the Thousand Golden Temples Tour to Ayutthaya, Thailand’s glorious former capital, aboard the Anantara Dream or Anantara Song, or embark on the Mystic River Tour to Ang Thong on the Anantara Dream. Experience captivating local, historic and royal encounters en route to ancient wonders, and delight in a different set of attractions on the second day of these carefully crafted itineraries.
Fully equipped with luxurious amenities and facilities, the refurbished barge accommodates three double sleeping chambers with en suit bathroom that offer comparable comfort and style to those of five-star hotels. A dedicated and knowledgeable butler treats you with exceptional personal service while the chef prepares exquisite Thai dishes throughout the journey.
By Manta Klangboonkrong a Bangkok-based avid lifestyle writer with vast interests in food, drinking culture and travel. For 13 years she has traveled extensively both in Thailand and overseas, looking for stories, insights and unique experiences to share with her readers.