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Experience Travel Tales: Thailand – Falling in Love (again) with Thailand

by David Gookey

In our ‘Travel Tales’ series, our Travel Consultants share their travel stories.

Our Travel Consultants regularly travel to the destinations they specialise in. This is how each hotel, experience and mode of transport we recommend has been road-tested and reviewed. This ensures that our advice to you is fresh, up-to-date and first- hand.

Here David Gookey, our Thailand Travel Specialist shares his travel tales in Thailand…

As I gaze towards the beautiful beach of the Napasai resort on my last afternoon in Thailand on a recent trip, there’s a marquee, chairs, flowers, music and a bunch of monks – all ready to bless and celebrate a couple who have decided to renew their vows after 30 years of marriage.

Renewal of vows by the beachside (courtesy of the Napasai)

Renewal of vows by the beachside (courtesy of the Napasai)

It set me thinking about my own ‘relationship’ with Thailand. It’s not quite reached the 30 year milestone but we’ve been together on and off for over 10 years now. It all started when I was a backpacker and it is my original love of South East Asia and I’ve returned 4 or 5 times since.  I always enjoy my time there and in particular the people, culture and frankly I’m an absolute sucker for Thai cuisine.

But, earlier this year I must confess I found a new love in Burma – a fresh start and constantly surprising. It had only just got some ATMs and there were power cuts and stunning scenery and amazing temples. I was hooked. This was it – the 10 year itch! So when Experience Travel sent me back to Thailand, part of me was a little disappointed. There is no question that I’m very lucky to have my passion for travel as an integral part of my job, it’s just that I wanted to go back and see my new love even though it had been only 3 months since I had been there.

Cooking with Mr Praphat’s family

Cooking with Mr Praphat’s family

To be fair though, this was a trip with a bit of difference – it was for work rather than pleasure. But I had been given a special assignment – not only inspecting hotels to make sure they are up to scratch for our clients’ needs but also to try out some new and interesting experiences.

And this is where things changed. Thailand excelled. It’s easy to think of Thailand as just Bangkok and beach – yes, there is no doubt that both are great but there is so much to offer besides some of the activities that have been available for years. A cooking class in Chiang Mai has always been fun but I was lucky to try something a little bit different and spent the most of a day with Mr Praphat and his family at their house on my own and learnt a huge amount about their family history and the way they were keeping a hold of their traditional culture before having a private cooking lesson – it was a far cry from a cooking experience with perhaps 15-20 people.

This was just the start of it. From tasting roasted and manually ground coffee in a relatively unknown hilltribe village, having my own private cruise to Bangkok with the most wonderful crew, learning about the blessing (or the curse) of being the village shaman, spending a crazy 9 hours racing around by public transport tasting all kinds of food in Bangkok, to tasting cocktails with one of the most innovative mixologists around….

They were truly amazing experiences and Thailand was very much back in the frame! It was exciting, interesting and also comfortable in a good way. I felt I was back home and what made it so special was the people – this has always been Thailand’s particular strength in my view. (Did also mention the food is fabulous?)

It wasn’t just the people I met on my experiencesbut also the staff at hotels and restaurants and, most importantly, my own personal guides in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Koh Samui.

My guide Lee and I on the Bangkok klongs

Me with ‘my’ boat crew!

Jeab with her fantastic sense of humour and her great knowledge of local eateries in Chiang Mai – she always came up with great ideas that suited my tastes. Lee and her 20 years’ experience as a guide throughout Thailand and beyond was a consummate professional throughout and never batted an eyelid when my schedule in Bangkok kept changing or when I spotted something interesting and wanted to stop – nothing was too much hassle and her detailed knowledge of getting around Bangkok and its shortcuts meant I was able to fit everything in. And finally there was Tik – a bright and enthusiastic guide who became my ‘assistant’ in Koh Samui – she knew everything about every hotel I was going to inspect and had an eye for what her clients liked and disliked.

I have always been an independent traveller – only occasionally seeking out local expertise – so having my own guide was a real revelation! I’d say I was lucky, but as mentioned earlier I’ve known the great attitude to service and genuine warmth for a while now. This and the experiences on this trip made me feel that I’ve renewed my vows with Thailand. Here’s to another 20 years…

Note from Experience travel Group:  Many thanks to the Napasai on Koh Samui for hosting David. To incorporate the Napasai or any other element in your Thailand holiday or to speak to David for ideas and inspiration please fill in the form here.

Me with ‘my’ boat crew

My guide Lee and I on the Klongs

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