A culinary journey and wellness quest in Thailand

By Suvendu Banerjee, IANS,

Chiang Mai (Thailand) : Now is one of the best times for Indians to travel to Thailand. The Royal Thai government has exempted the fee for tourist visas for a three-month period beginning March 5.

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And Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajwa is personally heading efforts to revive the tourism industry and boost the country’s competitive position to offset the impact of the global economic meltdown.

A literal war has sparked off in the skies with Cathay Pacific announcing a promotional return fare of Rs.7,999 including taxes for its direct flight in the Delhi-Bangkok sector.

Taking full advantage of some of the special offers, I decided to embark on a culinary journey even though I have never really cooked in my life! The outstanding spas and wellness centres were another major attraction. On my arrival in Bangkok, by a comfortable three-hour-fifteen-minute Thai Airways flight, I connected straight to Chiang Mai, the beloved northern city of the Thais.

The range of experiences offered, apart from the good quality, low-cost accommodation, spanned from Thai cooking, Thai language and Thai massage classes. A lot of foreigners live in Chiang Mai part-time or all year round because of the extreme friendliness of the people. Located about 675 km north west of Bangkok, Chiang Mai has over 300 temples.

Opened in 1993, the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School run by Sompon and Elizabeth Nabnian was the first cookery school to open in Chiang Mai. The internationally renowned school has received rave reviews and Sompon has several travel and food programmes to his credit, including those on the BBC and National Geographic channels. He has also written a best selling book called “A Passion for Thai Cooking” that contains recipes of authentic mouth-watering Thai dishes.

Apart from regular classes, in response to popular demand for more advanced courses, the school has introduced “The Master Classes” that are designed to give a deeper insight and understanding of Thai food. On offer are five different courses to choose from and one of them specialises in the cuisine of northern Thailand that is becoming increasingly popular.

Sompon conducts the courses personally and one has to prepare the dishes from scratch, including the curry pastes. After the preparation and once the cooking is over under close supervision of the master chef, one sits down and eats the food one has created!

At the Four Seasons Resort, The cooking school is immensely popular and offers a perfect opportunity to discover Thailand’s culinary secrets in a series of courses conducted by the country’s master chefs.

Inspired by the architecture of northern Thailand’s Lanna kingdom, the cooking school fits harmoniously into the peaceful environment of the resort. The school has its own herb garden producing the freshest local ingredients and outdoor dining pavilion. Courses range from Thai cuisines to traditional soups and noodles to savoury rice and desserts. The results are later enjoyed during a leisurely alfresco lunch.

The school opened in 2003 and the modules offered include the extremely popular health and spa cuisine.

The brand new Le Meridien in Chiang Mai is one of the hottest places in town to stay and the spa is located in a relaxing environment overlooking the auspicious Doi Suthep rising 1,675 metres above at the back. It offers a tranquil and rewarding experience with a multi-sensory range of massages and treatments.

The signature treatment is the Chakra ritual that re-energises the body and the soul. The therapy focuses on the benefits and the healing gained through the art of life force energy through a modified crystal therapy. The immensely relaxing treatment places crystals on the body’s key energy points and, while in place, one undergoes a relaxing neck, head and shoulder massage. A Chakra bath completes the therapy.

The Akasuri ritual, a very popular Japanese cleansing therapy, uses seaweed scrub to exfoliate and remove dead skin cells. After a shower, a therapist works on the muscles to remove aches and pains through a Shiatsu massage. The ritual is completed with a Chakra bath.

Sushil Rahul, an Indian doctor, is the director of RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort – one of the most popular wellness centres in Thailand. A serene cloud of calmness engulfed me at this one-and-a-half-century old Thai teakwood home. Any therapy is preceded by an aura check.

The Oasis Spa, another popular spa chain, offers a traditional Ayurveda package where gold-infused oil is applied by the synchronised movements of two therapists while a Lanna musical masterpiece – composed specially for the treatment – results in rebalancing relaxation and a golden glow! The yoga retreats at The Oriental Mandarin are also extremely popular.

In 2009, Thailand is expecting some 14 million tourist arrivals and Indians are expected to significantly add to that number!

(The author is president and chief executive of Business Images, a public relations and image management consultancy firm. He can be reached at [email protected])