Travel to Thailand for exotica

Ever since she read about it as a little girl in Mississauga, Ontario, Kymberley Sproule has wanted to live in Thailand.

And now she does. She speaks Thai, lives in a house in Chiang Mai and has the coveted job of public relations director at an exquisite and romantic resort that Kymberley calls paradise.

As soon as she was grown up enough to travel, Kymberley found her way to Thailand, initially teaching English as a second language. Then, she happened to be in the right place at the right time and was offered the job at the Regent Chiang Mai Resort and Spa, a Four Seasons property that’s rated one of the finest in the world.

Special indulgence resort
Kymberley was happy to meet us when she learned we were fellow Canadians in her adopted country. While she showed us around the Regent Chiang Mai Resort and Spa, we brought her up to date on the winter weather she was missing at the time (February) back in Canada.

Booking into this resort was a special indulgence my sister Brenda and I had been anticipating from the time we began planning a trip to Thailand. We weren’t disappointed.

Set in the serene region known as Lna, meaning land of a million rice fields, the resort, as Kymberley said, was paradise—as close as I may ever get!

It’s not difficult for a resort to attain a five-star status in the hill regions of northern Thailand. Nestled in the lush Mae Rim valley, the setting is already idyllic, with acres of terraced rice paddies marching along the base of the foothills of a hazy mountain range.

Overlooks lily ponds
Architecturally, the resort is built Lanna style, like the northern Thai villages of raised houses, with each pavilion, or guest suite, overlooking lily ponds and the soothing green rice paddies.

The rice is actually harvested and donated to people of nearby villages. The resident water buffalo family, who are considered “staff” help the farmers in the rice fields during planting and harvesting.


What makes the property even more exotic are the romantic touches that enhance the natural beauty of the landscape:

  • Torches lit through the terraced fields about the time the sun drops in a red ball behind the crest of the teak forest
  • The pool designed to appear to drop off into the rice terraces
  • The natural polished teak floors in each pavilion
  • Luxurious baths overlooking a secluded garden of elegant French peonies, fragrant jasmine and riotous bougainvillea.

Once called Siam
Maybe the kingdom once known as Siam has maintained its exotic purity because, unlike its neighbours – Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) – Thailand has never been colonized by a foreign power, thus preserving its unique identity and legacy.

Even though Thailand has had a history of political theatrics, it remains one of the most stable countries in the region.

The legacy of the past appears to be virtually untouched in northern Thailand, where visitors are transported back 700 years to a time when Chiang Mai, with its more than 300 wats (temples) was the capital of the kingdom of Lanna.

Next page: Travelled by elephant


Travelled by elephant
That era is even more evident in the remote villages where semi-nomadic people conduct their lives in much the same way as they did in the 13th century.

One of the most intriguing ways of visiting the villages is by elephant and that’s exactly how my sister and I travelled to a Lisu tribal village in the jungle forest north of Chiang Mai.

Despite my white knuckles and a certainty that I would slide off the wooden seat, roll down the slope into the Ping River with the elephant toppling after and crushing me to death, the journey to the settlement along a narrow creek bed was not only uneventful but actually pleasurable.

In fact, the ride was as graceful as a ballet, with our beast stepping lightly and rhythmically around huge boulders, his back feet stepping into the prints left by his front.

Elephants well treated
Elephants are very clever and easily trained. Used as beasts of burden for logging, many are now without work since the teak forests have been depleted. Because Thai people consider the elephant a holy animal and a symbol of prosperity, they take good care of them—there is even an elephant hospital in the northeast region—and have ensured a continuous role for them throughout their lifespan of 65 to 70 years.

The Thai people are spontaneous, whimsical, inconsistent and somewhat superstitious.

They are also a disarmingly charming people with impeccable manners and those famous gorgeous smiles that suggest every whim of foreign visitors is the most important priority in their lives at the moment.

Visitors are welcomed
Upon our arrival in the Lisu village, a toothless man with a wide grin invited us into his barren wooden shack, devoid of electricity or running water, and served cups of hot tea while serenading us with his mandolin.

At the other end of the spectrum, in resorts such as the Regent Chiang Mai and the elegant Four Seasons Regent in Bangkok, the Thai greet visitors with flower leis, cool towels and soothing tea in exquisite glazed porcelain, or celadon, cups.

Thais cherish history
Thailand has a certain glamour that comes partly from its loyalty to a monarchy that maintains some of the vestiges from the days when the country was called Siam (up until 1939).

The Thais cherish the rich history of their ancient ruins and the pomp and ceremony of royalty – their kings, queens and concubines – although the custom of taking multiple wives, ended with Rama the Seventh in 1935.

They’re proud of their monarchy and consider their current ruler, King Bhumibol Adulyadej  Rama IX, a guardian of the people.

Most are Buddhists
Daily routines of the Thai are influenced by their adherence to Buddhism (90 per cent are Buddhists), a stabilizing religion that underpins all aspects of their life.

There are more than 28,000 golden-spired wats ( temples) and five million Buddhas throughout the country, from the urban sprawl of Bangkok to the poorest northern villages.

And while Bangkok is a racy, steamy, boisterous city, the breathtaking compound of temples, and the glittering spires and magnificent architecture of the Grand Palace stands as witness to the solemnity and grandeur of their religion and history.

Art and exotica
Exotica is part of everyday life among the Thai. Farm women sit in market stalls and fashion objects of beauty from fruits such as Durian, mangosteen, dragon fruit. Craftsmen carve intricate designs out of teak. Children weave necklaces of orchids, roses, lotus flowers and French peonies to grace everything from their hair to the bows of the longboat taxis that cruise Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River.

Northern Thailand is a cooler, more serene place than the southern regions – especially the chaotic bustle and choking traffic of Bangkok. But including it all in a trip—from the white sand beaches of Phuket Island to the historic ruins of Sukhothai—is essential in appreciating the mystique and complexity of the country and its people.

Thailand is more than a destination. It’s a rich experience. And I am still smitten with envy of Kymberley Sproule’s job.