We've been hearing lately that luxury travel is all about experiences, and stories to come home with, right? Well, a few weeks ago I waded in murky water, climbed atop an elephant and gave it a bath. It wasn't quite the five-star spa experience you might qualify as luxury. But it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, which is pretty exclusive, if I do say so myself.
For years Southeast Asia has had my name all over it. I'm not sure why, but something about the jungles, ocean, street food, people, temples…okay I guess I do know why. Anyway, last January I told myself I was going to Thailand in 2013 to try and escape the gritty, sometimes oppressive, energy of NYC that I have come to know and love. Leave my phone off, ignore the calendar and e-mails. Just say screw it all and go.
It's true that luxury travel is all about the experiences you have, combined with over-the-top accommodations. No place captured that essence more perfectly than Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi. Tucked on an island off the coast of Phuket, this enclave of luxury villas sets the standard for exclusive, VIP travel.
We flew into Phuket after a frenetic day in Bangkok visiting temples and outdoor markets, drinking beers riverside, and dining on onthe Chef's Tasting Menu at Metropolitan by COMO. (One of the most amazing meals from all of my travels, by the way.) It was going to be hard for Six Senses' to top that.
Let's start with the villas: Our two-bedroom villa had two separate sleeping spaces, a private pool, outdoor shower, indoor shower with its own hammam, and deep soaking tub.
Then there was the food: Each meal was prepared with local ingredients, whether from Thailand as a whole, the resort's backyard of Yao Noi, or within the resort's own gardens. (In fact, Six Senses Yao Noi is working on a zero-waste initiative. Eco luxury is the name of the game.)
But it's Six Senses' experiences that make it so far and beyond any other luxury product, solely because of the fact that they want to immerse you in the culture. To start, we were taken on a three-hour bike ride of the island. Let me preface this by saying I really hate biking. With an unbridled passion. But maybe I was drunk on Six Senses, or "Six Sensitized," because I had a blast, and I even want to continue to do physical challenges on my vacations. Who is this new Meagan Drillinger?
Yao Noi is home to only 4,000 people, all of whom live in seven villages scattered across the island. The bike ride took us through the villages, deep into the forests, past rubber tree plantations and out to a pier to watch the sunset. Our guide, Charif, is a native of Yao Noi and truly passionate about his home. The second day, Charif arranged a private island-hopping excursion with a picnic lunch on the beach. Tucked snuggly into our own wooden longtail boat, we spent the day darting between towering limestone cliffs, snorkeling among the reefs and dining on fresh fruit and rice on a quiet section of sand. The icing on the cake, however, was yoga at sunset, again on a private stretch of beach. Six Senses sent us out again on the water to a deserted island, where we set up yoga mats and truly found the meaning of getting in touch with nature as we saw the sun set in front of us and the moon rise behind us.
It is near impossible to not feel the vibe of Thailand after a stay at Six Senses. Even yours truly who is all about micromanaging, over-analyzing and number crunching was able to just let everything freaking go. Sleep without Tylenol PM? That's a thing?!
Now…about that elephant…
Our next stop was Chiang Mai, where we visited the Patara Elephant Farm. This Thai-owned elephant conservation focuses on health-care and survival of the dying breed of Asian elephants. The farm invites travelers to be a caregiver for a day, so we learned how to interact with our own personal elephants (forget a pony! Daddy, I want an elephant!), check its health, learn its temperament and how to bathe it.
A two-hour trek through the jungle atop our elephants led us to a watering hole in the middle of the forest. Here we led our elephants into the water, used our newly learned skills to have them crouch down, and climbed them to clean them properly.
For all the sunset yogas, chefs tables and signature massages, nothing makes you feel more connected to a destination than this. It WILL change you. Even back in New York, I find myself going to yoga more frequently, taking deeper breaths and finding ways to let the small stuff roll off my back.
Don't worry…I still keep a very detailed calendar, and I will try and figure out what you REALLY mean by that e-mail you sent me…but I have returned to NYC with beautiful memories and sound sleep. If uninterrupted sleep in New York isn't a luxury, then I don't know what is. Want to see more?
Check out the video here!