Thailand is trending. And why not? This is a country in which the impossible can become probable, where a street vendor can have Michelin accreditation, goats do recycling and chickens, like other workers, are on duty, retired or on holiday.
Perhaps that’s why last year, 35.4 million people visited this Southeast Asian nation — an increase of 8.6 percent from 2017, says Steve Johnson, manager of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s New York office. More than 1 million of those visitors came from the United States — a 6.4 percent increase over the previous year — with the U.S. leading in the number of tourists from the Americas Region.
But the Thai tourism authority isn’t resting on its laurels. “Our mandate is growth…in the luxury traveler, the high-end traveler market,” Johnson says.
To that end, he spoke recently at Neiman Marcus Westchester’s “Art of Travel” event about the pillars of the Thai tourism industry. The first will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever had a Thai deep-tissue massage — wellness. This also includes meditation, yoga and such “soft adventures” as hiking and trekking. These are particularly appealing, Johnson says, to the female tourists who are an increasing part of the Thai market, outstripping male visitors.
The other pillar is culinary. “Of course, Thai cuisine is very well-known and loved around the world. But it’s taken to another level in Thailand.”
Indeed, that’s where chefs like the Michelin-accredited Bangkok street vendor come in. Her name is Jay Fai, and she has people waiting for more than an hour for one of her crabmeat omelets. Her crab curries are also a hit, as is her dried congee, a watery rice mixture to which you can add sundry meats and condiments. Like other world capitals, Bangkok is also garnering a reputation for foreign cuisine, particularly French, Italian and Indian. “It’s a mecca for food,” says Johnson, who represented his native Dominica and Curaçao, both in the Caribbean, before joining the Thai tourist authority in 2010.
No doubt Bangkok heads the lists of many tourists, but what the tourism authority wants to show you are those aspects of the city that may be off the beaten path. So, yes, Johnson says, everyone wants to see the Grand Palace, actually a complex of buildings crowned by distinctive golden step cupolas that has served as the official home of the kings Siam — as the country was formerly known — and Thailand since 1782. But what about the creative district and Chinatown as well?
Bangkok is must-see, as is Chiang Mai, a UNESCO Creative City in the north known for its parks, museums, festivals and houses of worship; and Phuket, the largest of Thailand’s many islands in the south, a marine paradise. But there are also emerging destinations, Johnson says. Among them is Sukhothai, the first capital of Thailand. Founded in 1238, this UNESCO World Heritage Site lies about 265 miles north of Bangkok where it is famed for its ruins and national parks.
Another is Khao Lak, about 37 miles from Phuket and offering a more laid-back beach resort that’s ideal for adventurers, honeymooners and families alike. A third is Yao Noi, an island that’s only accessible by boat. You land in Phuket, Johnson says, where you’re met by staff of the Six Senses Yao Noi for the short speedboat ride to the resort, nestled amid limestone pinnacles that rise above Phang Nga Bay. Its panorama fans out before you, particularly when you’re lazing about the rooftop pool.
“Six Senses is a place of peace and tranquility for those who want to be in touch with themselves,” Johnson says. Here you can pick your own eggs for breakfast at a chicken coop whose signs note which of the hens are on duty, retired or vacationing. Whatever you don’t eat, well, the goats are on hand for recycling.
“Six Senses is a place that forces you to become in tune with your senses,” Johnson says.
Not the least of which is your sense of humor.