On the river you can continue north beside groves of bananas, coconuts
and pineapples to a point near the head waters featuring waterfalls and springs.
One such spring is said to have magical water which will extend your
youth (while the water was refreshing, my beard was still gray when I checked it in the mirror that night).
You can also debark along the way to climb to a famous four-mile-long cave
high up on a hillside, or visit an elephant farm where you can hold on to your precarious perch atop a pachyderm for dear life as it heads up a steep path through the jungle.
The boat passes hundreds of floating, thatch-roofed cottages which can be
rented in lieu of a regular hotel. Each has a spacious porch, most with hammocks occupied by vacationers dozing in the shade. The cottages are built atop pontoons floating close to the shore to which they are connected by swaying catwalks.
Guides assured visitors that government officials inspect all pontoons
twice a year to ensure their safety.
Such assurances seem strange since safety, in other areas, appears of
secondary importance at best, judging from the steep, rickety wooden ramps multitudes of obese octogenarian visitors must manipulate to reach excursion boats; the steep, rock strewn paths to scenic sites on mountainsides; the slippery rocks beneath waterfalls adventurous visitors are permitted to scramble over, and the omnipresent, often slick tiles in hotel lobbies and surrounding their swimming pools.
I was convinced that personal injury lawsuits were nonexistent in Thailand until I read a special notice at a posh resort hotel. The notice advised against riding the rental jet skis lining the shore of its waterfront, claiming the hotel had no responsibility for injuries incurred on them.
If leisurely naps in a hammock on the porch of a floating cottage is a bit too rustic for your taste, you can stay in plush accommodations, such as the Kwai Village Hotel, which is surrounded by jungle greenery filled with colorful birds. The hotel offers fine Thai cuisine, luxurious rooms overlooking the Kwai River, live entertainment each evening and multiple swimming pools bordered by water-spouting statuary.
While the scenery and food are exotic, omnipresent music continues to
keep American travelers tethered to home. Whether its a funky folk singer on a deck overlooking the jungle; a big band performing at a night club, or the standard piped-in sound served with breakfast, the music almost invariably includes familiar American standards.
Those who have been away for an extended period can get downright
homesick hearing songs such as The Green, Green Grass of Home, Gee
Its Good to Be Back Home Again and others of this ilk, sung late at night, even in broken English accompanied by a twangy guitar.
If neither the jungle nor the crowds of the city strike your fancy, Thailand also offers scenic voyages through the Gulf of Siam between dozens of upside down cone shaped limestone islands sprinkled like pebbles through the mist. The picturesque islands are protected from development by their inclusion in Thailands national park system.
One such voyage includes a trip to what they have named, surely for the
sole benefit of tourists, James Bond Island. It was here that one of the series of 007 movies, theoretically situated in Hong Kong, was actually filmed.
The only inhabited island in the entire park features hundreds of floating restaurants and shops along its shoreline and serves as home to 3,000 Muslims who settled there a hundred years ago, long before the area was designated as a protected park.
Beach lovers can take a short flight from Bangkok to Phuket on a peninsula bordered to the west by the Adaman Sea and the east by the Gulf of Siam, Thailands portion of which separates Burma and Malaysia.
Phuket is world famous for its breathtaking beaches where you can have your
choice of small, inexpensive or large, luxurious hotels.
After the stellar service and spectacular views of the city from high
rise hotels in Bangkok, and the comfortable jungle-side accommodations in
Kwai Village with rooms meandering down a steep hill to the river, expansive swimming pools and open air lobbies, I thought I had seen the best Thailand had to offer.
But the Meridien luxury hotel in Phuket, reportedly one of the favorite
haunts of the jet set, was several steps above. It felt positively decadent.
The nine-story structure surrounds a gigantic swimming pool on three
sides, the fourth being bordered by a white sand beach beside the Adaman
Guests are greeted on their arrival in the massive open air lobby by an
attractive receptionist who provides a cold face cloth and a glass of juice or hot tea, before draping a lei of sweet-smelling orchids round their necks.
Four pool-side restaurants, along with one atop pilings in the center of
the pool, specialize in Italian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese and International cuisine. There is also a sports bar offering a light menu of salads and sandwiches, and a beach side barbecue in the hull of a boat.
For those who cant muster the energy to make the few steps to nearby eateries, waiters deliver food and a constant supply of mixed drinks to them where they relax on chaise lounges beside the pool or on the white sands of the adjacent beach.
Many of the women frolicking in the crystal clear waters of the sea and pool wear only a disappearing thong accessorized by heavy gold jewelry. None seem at all disturbed by the small elephant who wanders beside the pool and beach each afternoon, playfully caressing sunbathers with his trunk.
Casually observing this enticing vista while sprawled on your balcony sipping the first vodka and tonic of the day proves a delightful way to relax after dragging your body around all day looking at what brochures said you were supposed to see.
A big band entertains each evening in the mid-pool, open-air restaurant
and many linger until late on their balconies savoring the bands mellow
renditions of Stardust, String of Pearls, Sentimental Journey and
other swing tunes... sounds Ive not heard in such abundance since burying
my old Sinatra and Dorsey records in the attic.
The hotel offers a variety of sea and land tours, bike riding, tennis,
horseback riding, bocce ball, volleyball, badminton, sailboat and sailboard rides and even free daily scuba diving lessons.
Departing is difficult after experiencing such luxurious conspicuous consumption especially when you are about to face that arduous flight back home.
The long flight, especially aboard major American airlines, is the only
discomfort you will experience on such a trip, however.
No terrorists, mad bombers, or American haters were spotted anywhere, and even the most timid travelers seemed reassured by the presence of
numerous friendly Thai police and military personnel throughout the city and countryside.
The Thais themselves apparently feel secure as well, judging from the
small, mostly unsupervised children playing along sidewalks in Bangkok
and beside country roads everywhere.
No one even paid any attention to the dozens of dogs wandering unleashed
in these same areas, none of which ever uttered a bark or growl during the entire trip. Even the animals appear friendly in Thailand.