Before traveling to Paris last March, I spent a quick weekend in Chamonix. Although I am not a skier, there was lots to do and see in this charming town. There are beautiful views of the Alps and Mont Blanc from throughout the town.
My friends and I rented an apartment from Snostation, a rental company located in Chamonix. We were a quick walk from the center of town and Chamonix Sud, another area with restaurants and shops. There was also a grocery store within a 5-10 minute walk to pick up some essentials on arrival. The ladies at Snostation were extremely helpful when letting me into the apartment and helping us out when the building's front door lock was broken (by someone else in the building!) It was great to have someone who spoke English a phone call away for questions. The apartment was well kept, and it even had a pretty view from the balcony.
One fun thing to do on Saturdays is visit the farmers' market in the center of town. If you are staying in an apartment, you will find everything needed for a fabulous après ski dinner. The rotisserie chickens you often find in French markets were available, as well as cheese, charcuterie, vegetables, and baked goods. Many vendors offered specialities from the surrounding Haute-Savoie region, as well as items that seemed a bit more Italian than French. It is easy to forget how close Chamonix is to Italy! (You can in fact ski there for a day while based in Chamonix.) A highlight of the market was definitely the buckwheat crepes we ate for lunch. Mine was filled with local goat cheese and honey and was completely delicious.
Even if you do not ski, you can still get up into the Alps via the Aiguille du Midi cable car. Yes, you will be traveling up the mountain with people with skis, snowboards, parasailing packs, and huge arrays of mountaineering gear (think icepicks), but all you need is warm layers and water. The altitude is quite high and you ascend rapidly, so keep drinking that water! There are viewing platforms on several levels, looking several directions-with large signs to show you what you are looking at (Italy, Mont Blanc, etc.) There are some places to sit and have a snack, but the altitude got to my group pretty quickly and we had no interest in staying up there for any extra time. Despite the sort of terrifying ride, I highly recommend trying the cable car. The views were just too amazing to miss. (Note that this is a different cable car than the one recently featured in the news for stranding riders overnight.)
My trip to Thailand was such an incredible experience. While it was fun and relaxing, I also learned so much. I knew a little about Asian art and Buddhism from classes in college, but was eager to learn more. Even though I did quite a bit of reading and research before leaving, there was much to be learned from the various guides we hired and other experts at the tourist sights. It was also helpful to really read up on the cultural norms in Thailand. Two things you will read about are dressing modestly, see my Bangkok post, and speaking respectfully of the King and Queen of Thailand. Thailand is a monarchy and the power held by the Royal family is considerable. You will not see articles or hear people talk about them the same way we might about Kate and Will, for example. Some people we met did speak freely about how they felt about the monarchy, but most will not speak to tourists about this matter. Remember if you are peppering your guide with a lot of questions about the King, you may be putting him or her in a very awkward position. Conversation about politics in general is probably better to avoid for similar reasons.
After a short flight from Chiang Mai, we arrived at Koh Samui's small and charming airport. We found our driver from the Four Seasons without any trouble and set off for the resort. There is a wide range of hotels available on Koh Samui, but we chose the Four Seasons based on the location away from busy towns and beaches. We didn't want to be near the party beaches! Each room having its own pool was another factor in our choice.
The hotel grounds were absolutely beautiful. The entrance to the resort was at the top of the hill, with the grounds spreading down the hill towards the beach. Buggies were easy to call and arrived promptly. I walked a few places for a little exercise, but rarely! The rooms were scattered along several winding pathways.
Each room had a gate, which created a very private feel in the pool and patio area. The patios were covered and had plenty of shade, not to mention gorgeous views.
We spent each day at the beach, where the main pool and a restaurant were also found. We ordered lunch on the beach, and they brought it right to our seats. No need to get up from under the umbrella and brush off your sand! The beach is a fairly small area, with rocky areas to each side. This keeps other beach goers out, but it also means you can't walk too far. The water was very, very low the days we were there. Apparently, this happens often in the summer. There was a swimming platform floating out in the water that I went out to on a paddleboard, but mostly we just waded around the sea and saved our swimming for the large pool that was right on the beach. There were interesting birds to watch and a few boats out in the sea. It was also interesting to watch some local people fishing out in the shallows and seeing their catch as they walked by. There were some games available at the beach as well if you got tired of relaxing and reading. (I did not!) In the usual Four Seasons way, they had thought of anything you might need-sunscreen was available at the beach, ice water was constantly refilled, and someone came around with small complimentary snacks from time to time. My favorite was the fresh corn on the cob, hot from a small grill the server actually carried around.
We came to Koh Samui after some pretty strenuous sightseeing in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, so I have to admit we actually did not leave the resort to explore the island. If we had stayed one more day, I would have booked a tour of the island and a boat ride to the nearby marine park. We relaxed on the beach and spent quite a bit of time on our own patio swimming in our pool. My mother got a massage and reported that the spa was excellent. The treatment rooms were down a tranquil, forested path and very private. We ate our meals at the resort, and the food was very good. I think the breakfast may be the best hotel breakfast I have ever had. They put out a beautiful display of fresh pastries, tons of fruit, homemade yogurt in different flavors each morning, and eggs and other hot items cooked to order. The tables were all situated with plenty of shade and a view from each seat.
The highlight of the Four Seasons Koh Samui was definitely the warm welcome we received from the staff and the level of service was amazing. When we were chatting with the waitress and hostess at breakfast about the various tropical fruits that were new to us, we asked what durian tasted like. You hear about it all the time and is widely eaten in Thailand, but we hadn't seen any served. They had the chef pick up a durian on his next market run so we could try it! The caretaking continued even after we checked out. While we were waiting for the car, we got an email that said our flight to Bangkok was canceled. The men at the front desk kindly called Bangkok Airways and arranged for us to be switched to the next flight. He even had the boarding passes emailed to the hotel so he could print them for us before we left. It was extremely helpful to have him sort it out on the phone in Thai, rather than us trying the website. Meanwhile, we sat on chairs looking out over the sea sipping on the mango juice that magically appeared on a tray...What could have been a disaster turned out to be a lovely ending our stay.