Of Swank And Stretch
The sun shines down brightly through an almost cloudless sky in Phuket – the stunning island that gets my vote as Thailand’s top beach holiday destination. I lazily flirt with the idea of retiring to my room for a siesta, but I quickly shun the thought, and along with my small group of co-travellers, opt to take a stroll on the silky smooth sand of the golden beach that stretches as far as our eyes can reach.
We step onto its soft terrain and I instantly find my feet sinking into the tickling grains of the powdery sand. Life is a beautiful beach, I tell myself as I kick off my sneakers and sensuously let my toes play with the sand and as I venture closer to the clear water that laps terra firma, the gentle waves caress my bare feet. Satiated as we all are post the leisurely lunch – where we had been initiated into the basics of Thai cooking at the well-appointed resort, Sala Phuket, this amble is just what is needed to work off the lazy aftermath of a mouthwatering meal. In an hour, it is time to return to the serene ambience of the spa at Sala Phuket – where I submit myself to the gentle ministrations of the smiling lady in the darkened sweet-smelling interiors of the ‘treatment room’. Her hands rub relaxation deep into my mind and body. Ah, bliss!
A few mornings earlier, before the sun had risen above the horizon, we had arrived in Bangkok – and taken a short halt to metaphorically recharge our batteries – and, of course, to indulge our shopping instincts (See box). Shopping is normally at the top of any traveller who puts Thailand on his itinerary but now, when I rewind to my tryst with the nation, my mind crisscrosses over the varied attractions of this destination that is predominantly popular as a shoppers’ paradise. For me, its natural bounty – seen not just in Phuket but in Pattaya as well – makes me add its landscape to the many reasons visitors can and do flock to the oriental nation.
Right through our short sojourn, it is not just the sun that smiles down beatifically. Wherever we go, we are greeted with a welcoming smile and a warm wai – the conventional Thai welcome where hands folded in a gesture like our namaste are combined with a bowing from the waist. I quickly learn that the lower the bow, the greater is the respect indicated.
Our drive to Pattaya from Bangkok is swiftly completed. Our companion ‘Pea’ (the name definitely is not in sync with his large pleasing personality) keeps us entertained right through the journey. We reach our destination and drink in the sight of the waterfront – large colourful umbrellas with people relaxing on loungers, small shacks with thatched roofs selling coolers, boats bobbing on the water or beached on the sand, surfers braving the waves…and more. Truly, the perfect place for a summer holiday!
When we check in at the Hilton Pattaya, we are warmly greeted in the lobby by ‘Sunday’, the hotel’s smiling manager (nicknames are the common way of greeting each other). The stylish hotel soars 34 levels above Pattaya’s Central Festival Pattaya Beach, South East Asia’s largest beachfront shopping complex. He bids us sit in the comfortable lounge area and offers us one of the largest drinks I have ever seen. It is called the biggest Mai Tai – finish it if you really know how to hold your drinks! I do not take up the challenge and after a few sips explore the open air lounge area – The Drift – and take in the magnificent view of the Pattaya bayfront that lies in my sight in front of the hotel. With its proximity to the water, and in a luxurious ode to the beach city, the design and spaces of the hotel are inspired by the ocean. The interplay of light and pastel hues – that permeates its entire décor – is refreshing. The interiors create the right mood for us to unwind in sheer luxury. And, we wind up after an evening spent sampling some local attractions (the famous Tiffany’s show being one of them) with a fine dining experience at the hotel’s well-appointed eatery Flare which is drenched in the colours of the coral. Seafood there is aplenty and none of us are in a mood to say ‘No’!
Our indulgence in food – mostly of the fishy variety (the vegetarians in our group have by now got used to our fondness for the water creatures) – continues at different locations. Our food fiesta begins on our one day in Bangkok where we enjoy a meal under the open sky in the city’s new fine dining restaurant, Zense, at Central World. As platters and platters of food arrive almost magically before us, the meal reaches its climax with the chef emerging to theatrically plate an explosion of chocolate – in a dessert that defies description. As I pick into a shrimp pad thai (my favourite at many places), or dive into an elaborate lobster preparation, I am content – the calories be damned!
During the days in Pattaya and Phuket, we stroll down the waterfront. And drive into the narrow lanes where the local buildings have the comfortable warmth of an Indian village. Sarongs in different colours find pride of place in almost every shop…and are perfect buys for friends and kids back home. Time – that seemed to have slowed down as we had played with the sands – has indeed flown by with an incredible speed and two of us who are headed to Mumbai soon find ourselves at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport to return home.
What I have not been able to catch on this trip is a ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’. That, is something I promise myself, I will definitely do the next time I am in the vicinity!
I am in Thailand on a ‘Splurge in Thailand’ trip on the invitation of MasterCard Worldwide in association with The Central Group. As part of the small group from India, we spend many hours in the department stores – the lure of the offerings is too great to resist. In fact, at the Central Chidlom store in Bangkok, we are there on the day it is celebrating its 65th anniversary with a humungous fresh flower extravaganza, right across the huge expanse of the multi-storeyed store. The horde of customers is in a festive holiday mood, snapping pictures as much as they are shopping.
As we travel on to Phuket and Pattaya we learn that Central World has myriad international and national brands in its basket. It is reportedly the largest lifestyle shopping destination in the region – you want something and it is bound to have it in its more than 500 stores, over 100 restaurants and entertainment centres. I am spoilt for choice and even a reluctant shopper like me succumbs to the seduction of the offerings. The number of shopping bags that I carry out after each visit to one of Central’s stores is proof of the same!
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