She smiled and waved, then continued watching TV in the living room of her simple home, three fans to keep her cool and clothes draped over bars that served as a wardrobe. As our guide predicted, the elderly lady didn’t mind us peeking into her daily life through the window. Instead, she tried to avoid a draft by draping a towel over her shoulders and ignored us, absorbed in her soap opera. 

Our look into the house and life of this Bangkok resident was part of a “Design Your Day” tour that we enjoyed during our recent trip to Bangkok for the Virtuoso Chairman’s Event. Every year, Virtuoso rewards the owners and managers of the network’s highest producing and most engaged agencies with a trip to a different world-class destination. This year, Bangkok hosted more than 120 agency leaders and their guests, representing more than 80 luxury agencies from around the world. 

Participants were hosted by two of the Thai capital’s top hotels, both with prime locations on opposite sides of the Chao Phraya River, arguably Bangkok’s lifeblood. The activity on the river is fascinating, with hundreds of longboats, tour boats, cargo barges, dinner cruises and the hotels’ complimentary shuttles all avoiding the city’s notorious traffic jams. We were amongst the first to see and dine at the recently renovated Mandarin Oriental (a true stunner) while most of us stayed at The Peninsula Bangkok

Tourism Authority of Thailand sponsored the closing reception and dinner of the Virtuoso Chairman’s Event, and entertained attendees with a choir, singers and dancers.

The Chairman’s Event began with a warm welcome by The Peninsula Bangkok on the terrace overlooking that lively river. We were feted with music, entertainment, food and the opportunity to create a krathong, a flower arrangement that is set afloat on the river while making a wish. 

Fewer than half of this year’s attendees had visited Bangkok before. This made the background shared during the event’s business meeting by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Virtuoso even more relevant. In addition, the host hotels along with event sponsors and destination management companies Abercrombie & Kent and Luxe by EXO provided expert insights.

The Mandarin Oriental welcomed us to its historic Authors Wing for a champagne reception, followed by a magnificent dinner on its terrace, with entertainment, dancing and fireworks in Virtuoso’s honor over the River of Kings. 

Rob Clabbers and David Lauwers of Q Cruise + Travel, together with other Virtuoso Chairman’s Event attendees, getting ready to enter the Member Session at the newly renovated Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.

The “Design Your Day” activities, a feature at Virtuoso events, were a popular opportunity to get to know Bangkok better. One goal of the Chairman’s Event is to familiarize top agency executives with the destination so they can sell the experience more effectively to their luxury clientele. Participants could choose from a wide range of experiences by Abercrombie & Kent and Luxe by EXO.  

Every visitor to Bangkok should ride along the Chao Phraya River. During our “Life on Bangkok’s Waterways” tour, we learned about the sights along the river, such as the Temple of Dawn and the Royal Palace. In the Kudeejeen neighborhood, we discovered more about the Chinese and Portuguese immigrants who settled there centuries ago. We tasted a Portuguese-influenced pastry in the old Thanusingha Bakery House, while at the Baan Kudichin Museum, we learned how the Portuguese shaped the country’s history, language, cuisine and culture. We trod on narrow walkways between old residences with open doors and windows to encourage a breeze, peering inside after our guide stressed that the residents would be happy for us to do so. They are proud of their homes and, like most Thai people, welcoming to visitors. 

A highlight of any boat ride on Bangkok’s Chao Praya River is the stunning Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn.

For lunch, we docked at The Siam Hotel, another Virtuoso partner, on a quieter location along the river. The hotel is filled with artwork and antiques; its lobby and public areas are akin to a museum. A lap pool overlooks the river, the suites and pool villas are spacious, and the property feels like a sanctuary. 

While our first tour showed us the everyday life of people of more modest means, A&K’s “The Society of Siam” took us behind the scenes of high society. The highlight was a private tour and lunch at the former residence of a member of the Thai Royal family. Built by Prince Chakrabongse in 1908, Chakrabongse Villa is now in the hands of his granddaughter Narisa, an author and publisher. Guests can stay in this unique seven-room boutique hotel in the royal district or visit for dinner. The riverside restaurant serves Royal Thai cuisine using family recipes from the palace kitchen. 

Bangkok is a foodie destination, with great restaurants and street food. For clients who are intrigued but not comfortable with street food, Iconsiam is a wonderful new luxury destination mall on the river, where guests can find well-known luxury brands alongside quality silks, pottery and handicrafts. Less adventurous guests will enjoy the extensive air-conditioned food market with street food stalls and shops on the lower level. 

Just a few of the food stalls and restaurants in SOOKSIAM, the food court area in the ICONSIAM mall, presenting food from across Thailand’s 77 provinces. This particular stall makes papaya salad and roasted chicken.

To top off the Chairman’s Event, the Tourism Authority of Thailand had arranged for the National Museum to be opened after hours exclusively for us, providing a private tour of its treasures followed by an exquisite meal by two Thai celebrity chefs. The entertainment and the setting were breathtaking: Dance, music, a choir and more.  

After the event, we, and about 85 percent of other attendees, did what most Americans visiting Bangkok do: Explored other parts of Thailand, including Phuket, Samui, Chiang Mai and less familiar destinations. With such an enormous variety of scenery and activities throughout Thailand, we look forward to returning soon and discovering more of this intriguing country.

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