AUG 2014

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74 DAYSPA | AUGUST 2014 GLOBAL SPEAK Thailand's Leading Edge The popular Southeast Asian destination builds upon its already-impressive reputation in the spa world. By Lisa Starr As spas and wellness experiences continue to evolve globally, the so-called "Asian experience" has become just another part of the scenery. This month we visit the country that sparked that movement 15 years ago. First, a bit of background: Thailand has been a uni- fi ed kingdom since the mid-14th century, but was known as Siam until 1939. (Remember Yul Brynner in the movie The King and I? That was based on a true story that took place in 18th-century Siam.) Thailand today is a constitutional monarchy, with both a prime minister and a king, the much-revered King Bhumibol, who has been in his largely ceremonial role since 1946. Thailand's 77 provinces are home to nearly 70 mil- lion people, and are bordered by the countries of Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, Cambodia and Ma- laysia. The tropical climate ranges from hot and hu- mid to even more hot and humid, with the monsoon months of September and October bringing more than 10" of rain each month. As is the case with much of Southeast Asia, the country's former main exports to the world through the 20th century, rubber and rice, have given way to electronics and clothing. Bangkok is the beating heart of Thailand; the country's largest city with a population of more than eight million is a fascinating clash of modern and tra- ditional. Gorgeous tourist destinations—including the 250-year-old, two-million-square-foot Grand Pal- ace complex, as well as numerous temples and mu- seums—contrast with the modern skyscrapers and shopping malls built during the economic boom of the 1990s. Interestingly, while the Thai culture is one of modesty, Bangkok's permissive culture has earned it a reputation as the "sin city" of Asia. The large expat and tourist populations have contributed to the lively nightlife in entertainment districts such as Patpong. Bangkok did not have zoning regulations until 1992, and its fi rst rapid transit line until 1999. Lack of urban plan- ning, coupled with the rapid growth of the '90s, resulted in notorious traffi c conditions, which continue today. In fact, the Bangkok police department has a unit specially trained in midwifery, to deliver babies from mothers who are stuck in traffi c jams and can't make it to a hospital! This diffi culty in getting around means that locals do not travel far, and tend to stick to their own neighborhoods. PHOTO COURTESY CHIVA-SOM Tai chi students practice the art at Chiva-Som Resort in Hua Hin.

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