Hello First-time Travelers!

Are you going on a trip to a particular place for the first-time? Will you be setting foot in a foreign and unfamiliar soil? Rest assured that you have fellow travelers on the road who are embarking on new journeys.

I have been to many places, and the first time I stepped into unfamiliar territory I had to feel my way and rely on what I have on-hand especially when all I had were travel books, maps and print-outs from the web. My friends and I make our own itinerary. It is truly advisable to check out anything about the place before going on a trip.

Yet, you need not necessarily hire a travel agent or tour guide to get you around every time you visit a place for the first time. A little help from locals can add spice to your first-time travels. It can give you the freedom to explore the place and enjoy the feeling of not spending much, based on my own travel experiences.

You can take my word on some tips and information on the places I visited but feel free to be creative and be adventurous. I may offer some advice here and there but, as they say, “experience is the best teacher”. So, read on and find out more about my first-time travel adventures.

I want to make things easy for you. If you want to view the articles I wrote in this site, click the Table of Contents tab.

Photos used in this site are taken by the author, unless otherwise indicated.

And since I’m from the Philippines, I invite you to travel to my country as well.

Video taken from the Best Destination Travel TV site.

First-time in 137 Pillars House

Fresh Mango Carpaccio with fresh Tuna, beetroot compote and simmered Shiitake mushroom served with avocado and lime mousse, mustard seed and tamarind dressing. Chargrilled fish fillet with garlic butter chili lime emulsion and vegetable “Misticanze”. French Baked Cheesecake with fresh berries compote sauce and spiral Tuile.

The mouthwatering food served at 137 Pillars House.

The mouth-watering food served at 137 Pillars House.

There goes my diet. But, who’s counting? Come to think of it, the food doesn’t seem unhealthy at all. Far from it, I believe. But they looked and tasted so delicious it felt like it was a sin devouring all these food. Yet, I can’t be stopped especially if I’m dining at the 137 Pillars House in Chiang Mai.

The reception area.

The reception area.

Just the mere reception area or the lawn or the swimming pool had me swooning as our group entered this property that is rich in history, elegance and ambiance. The teak house in the middle of the estate bespoke of wonderful stories that only time can tell. The name “137 Pillars House” came from the 137 teak pillars that were used to build the house.

The famous teak house.

The famous teak house.

Who would have known that 137 Pillars House traces its roots to the fabled Anna, the British teacher in the royal Thai court whose student is King Chulalongkorn. Anna’s son Louis Leonowens joined the East Borneo Company in 1886, opening its Chiang Mai office in 1989. The company’s office was situated at the Ping River where three teak houses were built on the site of the estate. The rest of the story is detailed in the hotel’s website.

The suite.

The suite.

After our sumptuous meal, and after we were given the gifts prepared by 137 Pillars House, the hotel staff proceeded to tour us within the compound. We were allowed to view one of the suites, a Louis Leonowens Pool Suites, which has a private swimming pool. I still think that guests would still take a dive at the hotel’s main pool screened by a tall green wall.

The pool.

The pool.

How I wish I would have stayed here as well. Maybe some other time. On my next visit perhaps.

Photos are compiled in my Facebook page http://facebook.com/firsttimetravel. For more info, visit http://www.snhcollection.com/137pillarshouse/.

FTT Destination of the Week

I always love to check on my Twitter timeline every now and then and see the various travel links posted by those I have been following. I am especially interested to read about places I wanted to visit but haven’t been to…yet. Sometimes, a new destination off my radar would suddenly sound interesting through the stories that other travelers share. But I also read about destinations I’ve been to, just to refresh myself of the beauty of the place.

There is always a tip or two whenever I read through those posts. Now, I am creating this FTT (First-time Travel) Destination of the Week to allow you to share your experiences about a particular destination. Or maybe why you dream to go to this place. Add your link below and tweet about it, too, using #FTTDestination as the hashtag. I’ll also tweet all the links added here.

So keep posting and enjoy reading. It would also be nice to leave a comment in one or two of the other links you’ve visited through this link up. Have fun!

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First-time in the Royal Project

I was standing there seemingly on top of the world as the cloud covered portions of the place where we were standing. Down below was just all white. The other side of that hill was different though. Plantations, roads, and houses were visible as we stood there looking at the scenery before us.

The Nong Hoi Royal Development Center.

The Nong Hoi Royal Development Center.

On a personal note, this is probably what I consider as the highlight of my Chiang Mai trip, courtesy of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB). Visiting Doi Mon Cham and the Nong Hoi Royal Development Center in the Mae Rim District opened my eyes to the possibility of reviving the lush green plantations and forests in the mountains, given the ongoing infrastructure development we experience worldwide that often affect the environment.

Plantations in the hill areas of Mae Rim District.

Plantations in the hill areas of Mae Rim District.

But first, let me tell you about the Royal Development Center. The center is one of the 38 royal-initiative projects under His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Royal Project was founded in 1969 to solve the problems of deforestation, poverty and opium production by promoting alternative crops. During a visit in a hill-tribe village in Doi Pui, His Majesty learned that a peach tree variety provided local farmers with higher income than the opium poppy. His majesty realized that alternative agriculture including fruit trees as a major component could help replace opium, resulting to higher incomes and, thus, solving the problems of poverty, opium production and deforestation at the same time.

Looking down at more plantations.

Looking down at more plantations.

Now, the Royal Project produces vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers, cereals, beverage crops, and processed products, such as crispy fruit and vegetable snacks, herbal candies, herbal infusion, and cereal chips and bars, which the organizers have stocked in our van during our 5-day familiarization trip. These products are available in grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants and retailers.

Children playing at Doi Mon Cham.

Children playing at Doi Mon Cham.

The Royal Project has been widely successful that it has also branched out into handicrafts, tourism, health services and health education. It was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding in 1988, and received accolades from the Colombo Plan Drug Advisory Program and the International Cooperation and Development Fund. Other countries have turned to the Royal Project to also help them replicate its success to their own communities.

Cloud-covered hills.

Cloud-covered hills.

The good news is that business groups who are looking for corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities for their incentives, meetings, and conferences can experience helping farmers of the Royal Project through tree planting and vegetable harvesting. Groups of 50 or less can also spend two to three days immersing with the local community through home stays.

Hill-tribe children perform the wai.

Hill-tribe children perform the wai.

The Royal Project is a good story to tell. As I looked at the hill-tribe children playing at Doi Mon Cham, I can’t help but smile knowing that they have a brighter future ahead of them, thanks to this initiative by His Majesty the King.

First-time in Siripanna Villa Resort & Spa

Our home for our brief visit in Chiang Mai, Thailand is the lush and serene Siripanna Villa Resort and Spa. It exudes “the essence of charming Lanna aesthetics”, preserving the rich heritage of the northern Thailand people.

The main entrance of Siripanna Villa Resort and Spa.

The main entrance of Siripanna Villa Resort and Spa.

I have been to Chiang Mai twice already and I was happy that the places we visited in this beautiful city were all new to me. Staying in a villa that has its own Thai sala and spacious outdoor terrace was a relaxing getaway for me. There was even a water fountain inside my bathroom!

The outdoor terrace of my villa.

The outdoor terrace of my villa.

But apart from being an ideal place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of urban life, Siripanna also advocates for the “Smoke Free Generation” of Green Leaf Foundation.

The spacious bedroom in my Royal Lanna Villa.

The spacious bedroom in my Royal Lanna Villa.

This is a good place for companies and organizations to bring their members as incentives, or even for meetings to thresh out their creativity, especially with the calming ambiance in Siripanna. They have the facilities to support groups as large as 100 people, or can even host an outdoor event fit for 700 guests.

Traditional Thai Lanna House.

Traditional Thai Lanna House.

What’s more, Siripanna is close to the city center, with just being 10 minutes away from the Night Bazaar and the Waroros Market. It is very near the railway station and not too far from Chiang Mai International Airport.

Rice planting

Within Siripanna’s grounds is the traditional Thai Lanna House and Panna Field. We got up early in the morning to take part in a rice planting activity. Although I came from an agricultural country, planting rice in a muddy field was a new experience to me. What I have done before was harvest corn. Soaking my feet in the water-filled paddy and inserting rice sprouts in the mud has some therapeutic impression on me.

We were taught how to plant rice.

We were taught how to plant rice.

But I didn’t stay long enough to feel any back ache as a result of bending while planting rice. We had to stop when the sky darkened and it started to drizzle. Still, it was a fun, bonding, and education activity that is suitable for a group.

We were given our rice planting uniforms, too.

We were also given rice planting uniforms, like these ones.

Alms offering

On our last morning in Siripanna, we woke up earlier than the usual to offer alms to Buddhist monks. There in the Panna Field, the hotel staff prepared the food that we would be offering to the monks. We were briefed on how it was done and which food to put first.

Alms offering is one of the activities that Siripanna offers to its guests.

Alms offering is one of the activities that Siripanna offers to its guests.

A few minutes after, five monks clad in orange clothing arrived. They carried with them a stainless steel bowl. As they removed the cover they approached us one-by-one and we started with the ceremony. After everyone has offered their alms, the monks then prayed for us through a chant.

The alms offering ceremony has begun.

The alms offering ceremony has begun.

Again, this was new to me. The activity was very solemn and it was a good way to do self-reflection. Also, it was a beautiful opportunity to take part in the ways of the local culture.

Panna Spa

We ended our stay with a relaxing massage at the Panna Spa. The place was so quiet and a great venue to meditate. The rooms are private and as they are dimmed, and with a soothing music in the background, I couldn’t help but be lulled into sleep. Refreshed after the massage, I was offered with a warm tea and rice crispy that I could dip in honey and sesame seeds.

This way to Panna Spa.

This way to Panna Spa.

Siripanna is a place of rejuvenation. It is a comforting home away from home. It is an oasis at the heart of Chiang Mai.

More photos can be found in my page http://facebook.com/firsttimetravel. For more info, visit:

http://www.siripanna.com/
http://twitter.com/siripanna
http://www.facebook.com/siripanna

First-time in Asiatique the Riverfront

The Asiatique in Bangkok’s Riverfront is one of the newest places to be in the Land of Smiles. It’s a dining, shopping, and entertainment venue in one. It opens at 5:00pm until midnight, providing a new vibe to Bangkok’s night life. But did you know that Asiatique was once a pier belonging to the East Asiatic Company?

The Asiatique The Riverfront is now a famous landmark in Bangkok.

The Asiatique The Riverfront is now a famous landmark in Bangkok.

Situated in the riverbanks of Chao Phraya River, the Asiatique has refurbished the trading houses of Nai Hang into 1,500 shops and 45 restaurants. It is ingenious that they turned the warehouses into rows of stalls. The PR representatives of Asiatique met us at the Promenade to give us a tour of the whole compound. They then sat down with us at Brew Beers and Cider to answer our queries.

Warehouses turned into shopping havens.

Warehouses turned into shopping havens.

During weekdays, Asiatique is host to 30,000 or so visitors per night. An additional of approximately 20,000 guests are accommodated during weekends. Parking is not a problem because there is plenty of space for 2,000 cars. But for those who prefer to commute, it is accessible by skytrain, shuttle boat, bus, and taxi.

You can walk around Asiatique's four districts.

You can walk around Asiatique’s four districts.

Given its size and variety of attractions, Asiatique can host large groups of travelers, especially those who are in Bangkok for meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (MICE). They can make special arrangements with organizers and planners. Special events can also be held here. In fact, some of the events it hosted were the Loi Krathong Festival, Christmas celebration, Sangsom Move a Bar, Songkran Festival, and corporate launches that saw to as many as 100,000 visitors in one night.

A heritage house is being renovated to become a future historical landmark.

A heritage house is being renovated to become a future historical landmark.

Most of all, Asiatique is home to historical pieces within its vicinity that are preserved. These historical landmarks are located in its four districts, namely, Charoenkrung, Town Square, Factory, and Waterfront.

This used to be a pier that paved the way for Thailand to trade with Europeans.

This used to be a pier that paved the way for Thailand to trade with Europeans.

Asiatique Sky
http://www.asiatique-sky.com/

From the drop off point, one will instantly see the gigantic ferris wheel. It is the biggest in Thailand and with a height of 60 meters, it is also the tallest in the kingdom. Passengers who ride in one of its 42 air-conditioned gondolas get a great view of the Bangkok skyline, especially the view of the Chao Phraya River.

The Asiatique Sky.

The Asiatique Sky.

Asiatique Sky is made in the Netherlands and is designed similar to the one on Champs Elysees near Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Inside one of its gondolas.

Inside one of its gondolas.

Joe Louis The Art of Thai Cuisine and Puppet Theatre
http://www.joelouiscuisine.com/

Joe Louis restaurant.

Joe Louis restaurant.

After our tour of the warehouses, we proceeded to Joe Louis The Art of Thai Cuisine to meet with representatives of TCEB and NCC. A puppet controlled by three men greeted us and gave us leis as a form of welcome. As we started with our authentic Thai dinner, we were treated to a Thai Puppet show which features interesting tales performed by puppets with life-like movements. We were told that this is one of the few remaining Thai Puppet Theatres. In fact, this show has won the World Puppet Contest of 2006.

The famous puppet show.

The famous puppet show.

Dinner at Joe Louis was exemplary. From its mixed platter appetizers, to the tom yum soup, to the king prawns, to the steamed sea bass, to the mango & sticky rice dessert, we really had our fill of mouthwatering food. There were too many that were served on our tables that I lost count of what I’ve eaten.

Tom yum soup.

Tom yum soup.

King prawns.

King prawns.

Muay Thai Live at the Stage
http://www.thaiticketmajor.com/muaythailive

The highlight of our visit was the spectacular stage show, Muay Thai Live. Set at The Stage, a brand new, world-class theatre purposely built for the show at Asiatique the Riverfront, the live staged culture and kickboxing show brings to life an epic that spans 300 years of Thai Boxing’s history.

The decoration at the entrance lobby.

The decoration at the entrance lobby.

The stunts, fight scenes, music, lights system, and sound effects made the show come alive and appear so real. Created and directed by celebrated Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham, who also directed the award-winning film “Beautiful Boxer” and the hit musical “Chang & Eng”, Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives conjures Muay Thai’s greatest heroes, from the past up to the present day, in a series of artfully-woven tales.

Some of the cast members.

Some of the cast members.

The 18-strong cast is composed of real-life Muay Thai champions, black belt martial artists, professional stuntmen, extreme sports athletes, and traditional Thai dancers. The entire scene is indeed jaw dropping as we took our places at the front row of the premium seats.

My mini Muay Thai glove.

My mini Muay Thai glove.

Since no photographs and video recording are allowed during the show, we got our chance to have our snapshots taken with the cast when the performance was finished. And we got home with our miniature Muay Thai gloves in tow.

Photos can be viewed at http://facebook.com/firsttimetravel. For more info, visit http://www.thaiasiatique.com/.

First-time at The Siam Hotel

It was a fast ride. As we touched down on a Sunday afternoon, the Bangkok streets were free of the usual traffic scene. More so, the police escort that we had, as part of our MICE lane experience for this familiarization trip by the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), made our trip quicker than ever. We passed some government offices at the historic Dusit district. Before I knew it, our van pulled over to a driveway and elegantly clad hotel staff greeted us.

A staff leads us to our rooms.

A staff leads us to our rooms.

Climbing the few steps of the entrance and adjusting my hand-carried bags, I was still trying to catch my breath until the small, lush courtyard came into view. A fountain at the center added a relaxing feel to the place. Art and antique pieces were everywhere. The subdued neutral colors highlighted the greens and the art pieces.

The courtyard.

The courtyard.

Welcome to The Siam Hotel, our home in Bangkok during our stay for this fam trip. A staff toured us around. As we crossed a tiny bridge that connects to the next building, I was even more astounded by the scene in front of me. Right at the middle of the building was a verdant greenery sitting on a pool of water. It was like a greenhouse placed inside a hotel. I knew then that my stay would be a pleasant one.

The verdant greenery in the middle of the hotel building.

The verdant greenery in the middle of the hotel building.

Heritage

The Han Dynasty vases, other Chinese artifacts, old books, art paintings — they sat on every corner of the hotel premises. Despite the presence of antique pieces, the airy and modern vibe of the hotel did not emit an eerie feeling that many museums exude. The old blended well with the new.

The antiques on display.

The antiques on display.

Ancient dentist chairs were found just outside our room. The library displayed so many important historical stuffs, including books that spoke volumes (no pun intended) on the history of Asia and of the world. I later found out that the hotel owner, the Sukosol family, is fond of collecting antique items. Now, they are giving guests staying at The Siam Hotel the opportunity to marvel at these collections.

An old dentist chair. Classic!

An old dentist chair. Classic!

Rooms

There are only 39 rooms in The Siam. There are suites, villas and a cottage. My room had an elegant receiving area, a spacious bedroom, and a great bathroom with a view. It is decorated with period pieces while maintaining the modern ambiance of the room.

The bedroom and the comfortable bed fit for a royalty.

The bedroom and the comfortable bed fit for a royalty.

Amenities included a free Wi-Fi access, a working table, flat TV screens, built-in entertainment (cable TV, movies, music), safety box, free-standing bathtub, separate shower room & toilet, wardrobe closet, and a whole lot more.

My working area with a view of the TV and the receiving room.

My working area with a view of the TV and the receiving room.

My soft king size bed at the center of the bedroom made me feel like a pampered royalty. What made it even more special was the pleasant welcome token from TCEB, specially handpicked by its organizers, that was laid out on my bed. With the desk just behind my headboard, I could work on my articles and blog with the full view of the TV in front of me.

Bathe with a view.

Bathe with a view.

Facilities & Venues

The library is a repository of valuable information pertaining to history and culture. It is open to guests, who can enjoy the materials available in the library. It is also used as a viewing room, if you want to get that cinematic but intimate feel while watching movies. The Siam also has meeting rooms for business and official functions. We held our small press conference in its meeting room.

The library and viewing room.

The library and viewing room.

The hotel also has a gym, which has a Muay Thai boxing ring. It also has a billiards table in a common area. Below is the Opium Spa where guests can relax and have a massage.

Sweat it out in this Muay Thai boxing ring.

Sweat it out in this Muay Thai boxing ring.

 

Those who prefer the outdoors can take their laps at the swimming pool that has a view of the Chao Praya River and Krung Thon bridge.

Cool off in this pool overlooking Chao Praya River.

Cool off in this pool overlooking Chao Praya River.

Dining

The Deco Bar & Bistro is an air-conditioned restaurant that has beautiful art pieces , delectable food, and jazzy ambiance. From below, one can see the second level and the many trombones hanging from the ceiling.

The Deco Bar & Bistro.

The Deco Bar & Bistro.

 

Right outside is the Chon Thai Restaurant that has a cluster of three century-old teakwood houses. The open space below provides a relaxed atmosphere while the houses above provide an intimate and homey feel.

Century-old teakwood Thai houses.

Century-old teakwood Thai houses.

The upper part is air-conditioned and has a great view of the bridge.

The upper part is air-conditioned and has a great view of the bridge.

 

The pier also has a dining area that is a great place at night to enjoy your favorite cocktail under the moon and stars while lighted boats ply the Chao Praya River.

Dining al fresco.

Dining al fresco.

Activities

One of the activities that The Siam offers is its cooking classes. Our first activity as a group, which bonded the eight of us media and bloggers, as well as the organizers and our hosts from TCEB, was to cook fried spring rolls and Pad Thai. It was a fun activity that broke the ice and made our stay a memorable one.

It's cooking time!

It’s cooking time!

Did I mention that the elevator has a vintage look, with a cushioned wall and small space for sitting? And did I also mention that it has a private pier?

Yes, this is the elevator. And you can sit in it.

Yes, this is the elevator. And you can take a seat in it.

See my photos of the hotel, our stay, and our activities at http://facebook.com/firsttimetravel.

For more info:
http://www.thesiamhotel.com/
http://www.facebook.com/TheSiam
http://twitter.com/#!/thesiam