Thailand has so much to offer beyond the bustle of Bangkok and the island beach resorts beyond, tempting as they always are.
In the country’s north, where a rich historical heritage and living culture provides a different set of attractions, Chiang Mai’s star has been on the rise.
In recent years the luxury meetings and incentives sector has been venturing here to give delegates the benefits of a modern city combined with feel of the wild, with mountains and jungle to act as your backdrop.
Particularly appealing has been the combination of resort-style properties with spas in the luscious surroundings of the area.
While jungle-trekking and physical outdoor activities will appeal to many corporate groups, there are plenty of others who prefer to do their sweating in a sauna with a cooling plunge pool nearby.
For the high-end incentive market, or simply for conference delegates who crave a little pampering, Chiang Mai delivers a swathe of options.
Set amid the Mae Rim Valley surrounded by rice fields and mountains, The Four Seasons Chiang Mai provides meeting facilities in its own beautiful tranquil setting. If the natural atmosphere isn’t enough to get your delegates unwinding and chilling out, your group could begin its conference morning with a special focus by “saluting the sun”.
The resort’s Yoga Barn could be the perfect place to ensure you have left all your conventional corporate behaviour behind. A few simple stretches to tune sluggish muscles followed by some silent moments of meditation to rebalance the mind, might just set the tone for the rest of your discussions. An instructor will be on hand, of course, just in case any of your less than supple executives find the cobra pose too much of a challenge.
The Four Season’s award-winning spa uses Thai herbs and rituals. You will need to book specially as there are only seven sumptious spa suites. Accommodation is in 64 Northern Thai style pavilions, with private verandahs, or 16 residence suites.
Alternatively the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi has 24.2 hectares of land, making outdoor events an obvious option. There are seven indoor meeting spaces catering for 10 to 1,500 people. A scenic spot is around the Bua Kham Pond, which offers groups a stunning setting for cocktails. The Mandarin Oriental also has an award-winning spa, the Dheva (Star) Spa, with 18 suites.
Your group has the choice of staying in private villas, colonial-style suites or deluxe residences.
The Chedi, Chiang Mai has 52 Deluxe Rooms and 32 Chedi Club Suites. Describing itself as “contemporary-Asian in design”, the resort has the obligatory spa, two meeting rooms and even video-conference facilities.
Corporate event planners continually seek to provide their clients with an even more unforgettable meeting and incentive experience. They hunt for programmes mixing eco-adventures, alternative meeting venues, outdoor teambuilding, productive meetings and just plain fun.
When it comes to meeting these criteria, Chiang Mai-based Track of the Tiger is tough to beat. A look at their international client list is impressive: Nokia, HP, BP, Reuters, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, O2, Bayer Group, Reed Exhibitions, Dell and Colgate Palmolive.
“Our meetings and incentive philosophy combines business-related activities with creative, fun and thought-provoking outdoor activities,” says Stuart Blott, Track of the Tiger Business development manager.
“This combination benefits the clients when they return to their seminar, workshop or meeting by creating a more relaxed working environment, which ultimately makes an incentive trip more productive,” he adds. “It is?much better than simply having the group board a bus and take a tour, which is stagnant, dull and hardly gets the creative juices flowing.”
Track of the Tiger coordinates incentive programmes with incoming flights, and they begin upon landing. For example, Hong Kong Express offers the only direct Hong Kong-Chiang Mai flight, and Track of the Tiger has structured a programme to cater to the flight schedule.
International flights arrive and depart at Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi Airport. From Bangkok, tourists can either hop on the Sprinter Train departing at 0810 and arriving in Chiang Mai at 1850, while enjoying the countryside scenery, or board the next Thai Airways flight that takes an hour and 15 minutes.
Chiang Mai’s weather makes for a great stay all year round. Despite temperatures dropping really low in December and January, and shooting as high as 40 degrees Celsius in May, this tropical climate is less humid than other parts of the country. September calls for heavy rainfall.
Northern Thailand is where a different dialect, kham muang is widely spoken but generally, basic Thai would keep you afloat. English is also picking up especially in tourist areas.
Many foreign visitors are exempt from applying for a Thai visa to enter the kingdom for a period up to 30 days. Citizens of many others must apply for a visa on arrival at designated international arrival or crossing points, such as airports. These visas are valid for 15 days.
For visa enquiries, call +66 53 277 510 or log onto mofa.gov.th
WHAT CAN YOU DO
Chiang Mai Sky Adventure
Enjoy the early morning hours drifting 600 metres above Chiang Mai in a hot-air balloon. The 60 to 90-minute ride silently soars over trees, lakes and streams and offers occasional glimpses of wildlife. The journey ends with a champagne celebration.
White Water Rafting
Siam River Adventures
A full-day rafting adventure, suitable for most, begins with a drive north of Chiang Mai before heading on a 2.5-hour journey down the Mae Tang River, navigating over 20 rapids along the way.
Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School
Learn the art of creating Thai cuisine with the best at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, operated by Thailand’s leading television Chef. Spend one to five days learning the many steps in the cooking process, from selecting ingredients to whipping up classic delicious Thai dishes.
Royal Chiang Mai Golf Resort
Chiangmai-Lamphun Golf Club
Chiang Mai presents golfers with a dream landscape for 18 holes. Among the favourite courses are the Royal Chiang Mai with its wooded hills and streams while the Changmai-Lamphun Golf Club is set in the rolling terrain of a scenic valley.
Mae Sa Valley Craft Village
Book a course in the renowned Mae Sa Valley Craft Village and learn from artisans how to create parasols, batik or ceramics.
Lanna Theme Village
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi
The resort offers a selection of quality crafts at Kad Dhara, a small village built in the local traditional northern Thai style with over 20 shuttered wooden shops and restaurants lining the winding pathways.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
The Four Seasons cooking school introduces guests to the art of Thai cuisine in its Lanna-style cooking facility with a course designed by the resort’s culinary team. Students learnto cook specialties like Chiang Mai curry noodle soup.
The hotel offers garden banqueting overlooking the Mae Ping River, with an international buffet for up to 450 people. Its Lanna Theme function features Lanna decorations, jasmine necklace, live northern Thai music with classical performances.
Pang SoonG Lodge
Track of the Tiger’s Pang Soong Lodge offers on-site teambuilding facilities and adventure activities on the Pang Soong Trail in the mountains some 50km from the city. The lodge also provides a 40-person open-air seminar area.
The Empress Chiang Mai
The Empress Hotel offers two sizeable rooms, the Imperial Grand Ballroom and Petcharat Room, both with a 450-person capacity. Other meeting rooms can hold up to 250 persons, and the Parkview Terrace is popular for 150-delegate functions. N
“Known as Rose of the North, Chiang Mai’s hospitality is famous and the people are so charming and friendly. Chiang Mai has so much to offer to a wide variety of incentive/convention clients. There are great choices of?deluxe hotels, such as Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Chedi and Sofitel Riverside. Chiang Mai is a shopping paradise and is known as the home of Thai silk, antiques, home decorations and other crafts. To experience the centuries-old culture of Lanna is a valuable experience for any group.”
Addie Samerton, managing director, Destination Asia
“Chiang Mai is Thailand’s rising star for up-market incentives. Chiang Mai’s airport code (CNX) could also stand for: Culture Nature Xperience as the culture and nature of Chiang Mai creates a new eperience for visitors.”
Roger Haumueller, managing director, Asian Trails
“Chiang Mai is a perfect meeting and incentive destination as it retains the charm of Thailand that is becoming lost in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. It is easily accessible with direct flights from Hong Kong. It is a low-cost destination compared to big cities such as Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, especially for hotels, dining and transport.
“The variety of activities that can be combined with incentive trips is excellent. World-class accommodation is also available.”
Stuart Blott, business development manager, Track of the Tiger
CHIANG MAI PROGRAMME
Morning: A Track of the Tiger welcome group greets delegates with a company banner, flower wreaths and an air-conditioned mini-bus for the transfer to its partner hotel, Holiday Inn Chiang Mai, for check in and a buffet lunch.
Afternoon: Business begins in the hotel’s 1,200-seat conference room or 10 breakout rooms for business, with tea/coffee and snacks provided.
Evening: Delegates enjoy dinner at “Just Khao Soy”, which has only one item on its menu, Khao Soy, but the classic dish is cooked three different ways. The traditionally built restaurant sits in a quiet section of town, just 200m from the famous night bazaar, with a market visit capping
Morning: An early outdoor corporate teambuilding activity raises the group’s pulse. Examples of half-day challenges include:
• The Baht Builder: Teams complete a choice of 30 proven teambuilding challenges which emphasise planning, communication and using all team members’ strengths.
• The A-Maze-In Thailand Race: Held in a botanical resort, teams get clues and riddles to locate outdoor challenges. Stress is on planning, communicating and strategising to solve each problem.
• The Lady of the Lake: Teams construct a raft to paddle on a lake to obtain riddles. Correct answers earn points to purchase materials needed to build a bridge to rescue the “Lady of the Lake” on the other side.
Afternoon: Meetings resume at the hotel.
Evening: Delegates head to the Thai-style lakeside compound at Sawai Riang with its several teak buildings for a “Kad Mua’’ feast. The Kad Mua – “a market with all food types” – presents traditionally decorated stalls with vendors are clad in costumes from yesteryear. A sound and light presentation of a Thai mythological story “The River” follows the meal.
Morning: Transfer to Pang Soong Lodge for activities along the Pang Soong Nature Trail to Ban Pang Mano village. Delegates traverse the trail past 17 waterfalls along the four-km Mae Lai stream trail with steps cut into the banks, railings, ladders and bamboo bridges.
Afternoon: A final open-air seminar can be held at Pang Soong Lodge or delegates can head out on a Chiang Mai city tour with a traditional Thai massage.
Depart Hong Kong Express UO788 on Sunday 1015
Track of the Tiger structures similar programmes around arrival/departures from Bangkok and other destinations and which cater to the objectives of the corporate group.
Track of the Tiger
Destination Asia, Thailand’s first specialty destination management company, was contacted by Friends Provident Financial Company. The UK firm wanted to reward 120 of its top salespeople with a memorable trip earlier this year.
“They wanted something exclusive,” said Addie Samerton, managing director of Thai-owned and operated Destination Asia. Samerton has earned a reputation for her creative incentive programmes and easily met the challenge. “We designed an elephant trek that guaranteed they would not see another tourist,” she added.
Samerton faced a second challenge: security. The media has covered Thailand’s political situation and southern unrest, creating uncertainty among potential visitors. However, Samerton calmed the client, rightfully convincing them that tourists are safe.
Delegates were greeted at the airport for the four-day/three-night event, and transported to the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai on luxury coaches. Destination Asia staff presented a Chiang Mai orientation during the ride, while the ground crew ensured their luggage arrived on time.
Four Seasons welcomed each guest with a garland and drink, and privately checked in the group at the pool-side Terrace Restaurant.
“We also set up a Destination Asia hospitality desk in the hotel’s Kasalong lobby,” Samerton said.
The delegate’s first function was the Floral Extravaganza Dinner at the resort’s Thai Cooking School.
“Chiang Mai is famous for its beautiful flowers, so what better way to celebrate than with a Floral Extravaganza,” said Samerton. “Each guest was welcomed with a jasmine garland and the chefs prepared a delicious international buffet dinner, Musicians entertained throughout the meal held at the ‘magical’ cooking school.”
The school sits on landscaped grounds in a private house surrounded by herb and spice gardens, and was a featured activity the next day.
“This is a completely hands-on class, so delegates prepared the dishes by themselves and were given a Thai cookbook at the end of the course,” Samerton said.
The programme’s highlight came that afternoon: an elephant trek and bamboo rafting. A 30-minute drive delivered delegates to the riverside Mae Taman Elephant Camp, where they were greeted with a wooden welcome sign and a Thai buffet lunch.
Delegates were then treated to an elephant training show and had the opportunity to feed the beasts of burden from baskets of bananas.
The real adventure began as participants mounted the pachyderms for an unforgettable ride through the jungle.
“To capture the essence of a jungle excursion, we combined the elephant trek with river rafting,” said Samerton “Photos were taken of each couple as they entered the water, with a ‘Friends of Provident Thailand 2007’ sign in the background.”
The Dine-around Programme with a choice of four Thai restaurants ended the day. After dinner, the group shopped at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.
A trip to San Kampaeng Handicraft Village started the third day. Delegates watched the craftsmen use century-old techniques to create laquerware masterpieces and intricately designed wood carvings and teak furniture
“Our delegates saw the entire silk-making process from the worms forming cocoons to the transformation into hand-spun thread,” Samerton said. “The weavers then make intricate patterned fabrics.
A Lanna theme night at the Four Seasons capped the programme. “Lanna” is the name of the kingdom that ruled over Chiang Mai some 800 years ago.
“Upon entering the swimming pool area, guests were welcomed by staff in Lanna costumes and presented with a jasmine garland,” Samerton said.
“A Thai quartet played traditional Lanna music while local performers demonstrated the Candle Dance and Longnail Dance,” she added.
Friends Provident Financial Company enjoyed a fitting climax to its Chiang Mai programme with the mass launching of Kom Loy, small, rice-paper, hot-air balloons with candles in the centre creating a memorable sight and concluding a memorable Chiang Mai experience. n
Further information www.destination-asia.com