Friday, December 23, 2011

Traveling through Thailand

Steven Kalt, Shari Kalt and the Wanna Tours Team

Thailand is known as the "Land of Smiles". I found this to be a fitting phrase, as the people I met were so gracious and welcoming. The traditional greeting of "sawatdee" is usually accompanied by the greeter placing his or her hands in prayer position and giving a slight bow. It immediately puts you at ease makes you feel welcome.

Our adventure in Thailand started in Chiang Mai. This northern Thai city was founded in the late 13th century. Today is has a bustling downtown with a few high rise hotels and shops. The city really comes alive each evening with the night market. Here, vendors open their stalls lining the main street, selling everything from T-shirts to local handicrafts. I had heard about spas which offer Thai massages for the equivalent of $6.00. I did try a reflexology foot massage and my experience was "you get what you pay for", but I think it really depends on the individual therapist you end up with.

We had a terrific time just walking around, shopping and people watching. In and around Chiang Mai, we found beautiful silk scarves, silver jewelry, and all types of handicrafts.

During the day, you can spend your time visiting famous temples in the area. You can also visit factories and see how they make paper umbrellas, ceramics and woodcarvings.
A very popular activity is riding an elephant. There are several different elephant camps which offer elephant interactions, and we really enjoyed our morning at the Elephant Life Experience (ELE). Here, you can have a private day or half day with the elephants and their trainers (called mahouts). We were able to participate in bathing the elephants, feeding them sugarcane, riding them and watching them paint a picture. It was fabulous! You can also enjoy a serene bamboo raft ride down the river and have a delicious lunch as part of your day there.

The Chiang Mai area has no dearth of luxury lodgings. We recommend:

The Four Seasons Chiang Mai

The Four Seasons resort is located about 30 minutes outside of town, in a spectacular hillside setting. It offers a variety of room and residences ranging from one to four-bedroom villas. The newer pool villas were my favorite: open floor plan, one bedroom with contemporary decor. All of these rooms have a beautiful private pool and garden. Great for celebrating a special occasion!

The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi 

This is a self-contained resort in Chiang Mai, spreading over 60 acres. It opened in 2004 and the architecture encompasses many styles of the historic Lanna kingdom of northern Thailand. The property is composed of suites and villas, set about the resort amidst tropical foilage and greenery. They have one of the best destination spas, offering a variety of Ayurvedic treatments and wellness programs. I loved my Colonial suite during my stay here. This entry level room was over 900 square feet, had a separate living area, and a huge bathroom! These rooms are beside the main pool, and they all have terraces or patios for easy access. The morning breakfast buffet did not disappoint. There were stations for Asian food, Western food, and juicers for making fresh fruit juice to order. It is a great way to start the day!

A great hotel located right next to where the Night Market takes place is Le Meridien Chiang Mai. This new high rise hotel has very comfortable rooms and suites. It is a perfect location for the shoppers in the family. The junior suites are spacious and have all of the amenities you would expect from a 5 star hotel, and a deep-soaking tub with a view!

Book any of these preferred hotels with us and receive complimentary amenities such as upgrades and free breakfast!

Call the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Exploring Laos

Luxury travel experts have predicted that Laos and Thailand will be among the top must-see destinations for 2012. Lucky for our readers, we have just come back from this fabulous part of the world and are happy to report our findings!

Mekong River
Laos is a mountainous, landlocked country, sharing borders with Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China and Myanmar. It has the unfortunate distinction of being the most bombed country in the world per capita. None of this is evident when visiting the historic city of Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is the former Royal capital of Laos and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is set on the banks of the Mekong river, surrounded by green mountains, and filled with temples and monasteries. The town has quaint hotels and restaurants, combining traditional Lao with European colonial architecture. The French did leave their imprint on the city, with many restaurants specializing in French cuisine and bakeries serving up delicious, crusty french bread and pastries.

   I traveled here with my colleague and uncle, Steven Kalt, VP of Bee Kalt Travel. We flew to Luang Prabang direct from Bangkok, and spent our time exploring the city and surrounding area. There are many sights to keep one busy and three nights would be our recommended length of stay. We took a stroll through the morning market, with its stalls teeming with fresh vegetables, fish, and assorted local delicacies. We visited several Buddhist temples and were awed by the intricate mosaics made with colored glass. A cruise up the Mekong river in our own private long-tailed boat was a special treat. We visited the Pak Ou caves, filled with thousands of buddha statues, mostly left by locals over the years. A visit to the Kuang Si waterfalls gave us the opportunity to see more of the countryside and sadly, the poverty of the local village life.

One of the highlights of our visit to Luang Prabang was the merit-making ceremony of giving alms to the local monks. Each morning the saffron-robed monks walk through the city at dawn and accept food and offerings from the kneeling villagers. Our tour guide provided us with sticky rice prepared by his wife, so that we could participate in this moving and solemn event.

Where to stay in Luang Prabang? We stayed at La Residence Phou Vao, an Orient-Express hotel. It has a spectacular setting on a hillside, with serene gardens and a view of the golden stupa atop Mount Phou Si. My junior suite had beautiful, dark hardwood floors and cabinetry, a lovely stone bath/shower area and an outdoor sitting area with upholstered lounge chairs.  The complimentary wifi came in handy to stay connected with home and office. The restaurant served a variety of Lao and Western cuisine, all prepared to perfection. The breakfast buffet was seemingly endless: you could start with a lao noodle or rice soup, or have your morning omelette. It was hard to pass up the assortment of breads and croissants. OK, I didn't. I also didn't pass up the fresh, hot, made-to-order crepes each morning! I figured I walked the 350 steps up to the top of Phou Si hill, I could have the nutella and banana crepe.
La Residence Phou Vao has the beautiful Mekong spa, with individual treatment rooms surrounding a lotus pond. I wanted to try something new and typical to the region so I booked the Mo Hom herbal massage. It was a relaxing and healing treatment, where an herbal compress was used to massage warm oils into my skin. Perfect for jet lag!

This was a wonderful adventure, perfect to combine with a visit to the neighboring countries. We chose to follow our Laos visit with a whirlwind tour of Thailand - details coming up next!

Good to know: U.S. citizens need a valid passport and a visa for entering Laos. A tourist visa may be obtained upon arrival. Just present a signed visa form, a passport size photo and pay the current fee of $36.00.

If you would like more information on Laos or Indochina, contact the travel experts at Bee Kalt Travel!

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258


Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Better in the Bahamas!

This old slogan still rings true, especially if you are staying at the Atlantis Resort! I recently stayed at The Reef, the newest all-suite tower in the Atlantis Resort complex. The accommodations range from a studio to a one or two-bedroom suite. All suites have kitchenettes or fully-equipped kitchens. This makes it nice when traveling with the family, and the spacious rooms ensure that both the parents and kids will each have their own space. The suites are beautifully decorated and all have full balconies.

I also visited The Cove at the Atlantis. This place makes for a fabulous adult-only getaway, although you are welcome to bring the kids. There are a variety of suites in this building and they all have gorgeous marble baths. The Cove also has a Club Lounge for the Concierge level suites, serving complimentary food and beverage presentations throughout the day. The Cove has a family pool, which it shares with The Reef, in addition to the adult-only Cain at the Cove pool. This exclusive area has the feel of an outdoor nightclub, complete with day beds, a deejay, and gaming tables where you can play blackjack poolside!

Both of these resorts have access to the Aquaventure Water Parks at Atlantis, which thrill both children and adults alike!

Private Villa pool
If you're looking for something a little more private, you might consider a stay at the One and Only Ocean Club. This luxury resort is situated a short ride away from Atlantis and offers elegant ocean-view and garden-view accommodations. New to the resort are three private-use Villas, which can accommodate up to nine guests. Each exquisite home has it's own private infinity-edge pool, dedicated staff and a butler to attend to your every need. Guests of the Ocean Club can enjoy tennis, golf, fitness center and spa on property. The award-winning spa is not just any spa, you enjoy your treatments in your own Balinese-inspired private treatment villa.
Guests also have full access to the water activities and 21 restaurants of the Atlantis resort.  They provide complimentary transportation to and from Atlantis for Ocean Club guests.

No matter which resort you stay in, if you have teens, you must check out the ultra-cool nightclub for 13-17 year olds called CRUSH. This 14,000 square foot space uses state-of-the-art technology to create an internet lounge where the tables look like giant ipads, there are private gaming cabanas for the teens to challenge each other in the latest video games, and there is a cafe which serves up snacks and smoothies to order. The club has been very popular and they now have early-evening family hours where parents with younger children can go in and enjoy everything CRUSH has to offer.

Book your next stay at any of the above resorts with US and receive complimentary breakfast daily, plus an upgrade upon arrival based on availability!

Contact the travel specialists at Bee Kalt Travel today!
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Monday, October 31, 2011

My Kind of Town

I remember my first trip to New York City in the 1980's: Times Square was a seedy place filled with adult peep shows and ladies of the evening. Fast forward to 2011 and Times Square is completely different: bright, clean and buzzing with tourists from all over the world.

Travelers used to want to stay near Central Park and the 5th Avenue shops. The venerable Plaza hotel is still there, a commanding presence on the corner of 5th Avenue and Central Park South. It has reopened after a complete closure and renovation. The rooms and lobby have retained their traditional feel. The glass domed Palm Court is the premier place for an elegant afternoon tea. Be sure to make your reservations well in advance as they are usually completely booked on the weekends.

These days, there are wonderful hotels all over the city and it feels safe to walk just about anywhere. There are great neighborhoods to explore with fabulous restaurants and one-of-a-kind boutiques.

I enjoyed visiting the Trump hotel in Soho. This newer addition to the Trump hotel collection is within walking distance to all of the fun shops in and around Spring and Prince streets. The rooms and suites are very airy with a contemporary but comfortable feel. The views of the city are fantastic from the higher floor rooms. There is a beautiful spa, with the only luxury private hammam (a Turkish bath) in the city. The Trump Soho also has one of the few outdoor pools in New York - a relaxing oasis in the city.

I stayed at the new Chatwal hotel, located just off of Times Square in the Theater District. It is a great place to stay if you like to be close to the action. The hotel is in a landmark building which used to be home to the famous Lambs Club. The decor is art deco but with a modern twist. The staff uniforms evoke New York in the 1930's - the cocktail lounge makes you feel like you've stepped back in time!
This is a boutique hotel, with only 76 rooms and suites. The rooms are done in soothing beige and cream tones, with sueded walls and very cool closets that resemble old steamer trunks. Modern technology takes over in the room, with a button to control everything, from the drapes to the lighting. It continues into the black and chrome bathroom, where a TV is embedded in the mirror. Even the Toto toilet is the ultimate in modern conveniences, with sprays, blowers and a heated seat!
They named the restaurant The Lambs Club in a nod to the building's previous incarnation. The red upholstered booths and huge fireplace give it a very clubby feel. On my visit, the food and service were fantastic. The location makes it a great place to go before or after the theater.
Speaking of theater, the hot ticket these days is
The Book of Mormon, which won nine Tony awards this year, including Best Musical. Can't get tickets? Never fear, the ever efficient head concierge at The Chatwal may be able to snag some for you. I found the show to be very funny and entertaining. If you are easily offended by foul language and sexual references, this may not be the show for you. 

New York City has so much to offer: museums, parks, fine dining, history and shopping. It's a great destination for a perfect weekend getaway!

Make your hotel reservation with us, and receive complimentary amenities such as room upgrades, complimentary breakfast and more!  

Call the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel to book your next vacation to New York City!
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crystal Cruise Sale - Book Now!

Crystal Cruises offers a choice of two luxury ships, the Crystal Symphony and the Crystal Serenity. They hold up to 900 passengers each and both ships have beautifully redesigned staterooms and suites. Crystal offers the perfect combination of luxury and value with their new all inclusive concept. For sailings after March 2012, your cruise fare will now include gratuities, complimentary fine wines and premium spirits throughout the voyage.   Enjoy spectacular dining experiences at the specialty restaurants Prego and Silk Road. They feature the cuisines of renowned chefs Piero Selvaggio and Nobu Matsuhisa (and you can get a reservation easier here than on Nobu's land restaurants!)
Another new addition this year are complimentary "voluntourism" excursions in certain ports of call.

Wherever you'd like to be, Crystal can take you there: from Montreal to Moorea to Mykonos, their itineraries span the globe.

Book any European sailing for 2012 from now through October 21, and receive an additional $200 per person shore excursion credit! When booking with us, you will also sail as a member of Virtuoso Voyager Club, with additional complimentary amenities (depending on itinerary), a private cocktail reception and an onboard host.

Contact the Cruise Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel to book your Crystal Cruise today!
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Canyon Ranch Tucson 2011 update

I've just returned from another fabulous stay at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. It is much more than a spa, it is a resort where you can address all aspects of your well-being: body, mind and spirit. There are exercise classes for the fitness buff, wonderful gourmet meals prepared with healthy but flavorful ingredients, and a variety of lectures on topics ranging from Determining your Correct Heart rate to Ask the Psychic.

My fellow travelers went hiking and biking, had a clairvoyant reading, took cooking classes, boogied down at the DJ Dance party, stretched in Yoga, and balanced in Beamfit class. My favorite class is called World Beat. It is an aerobic dance class performed to the beat of live drummers - the energy in the room is fantastic!

Whether it is your first visit, or your twentieth, there is always something new to try at the Ranch. New this year is an outdoor adventure area complete with a High Ropes Course, a Climbing Wall and a Zipline.

If you're ready for a personal change, or you just want a relaxing getaway, Canyon Ranch is the place for you!
Receive the Virtuoso amenities of a complimentary room upgrade and a special gift only when booking with Bee Kalt Travel
Contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel to book your next Canyon Ranch stay today! 

Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

What to do when the nest is empty?

I am pondering this question as I spend my first Sunday night alone, after dropping off my youngest child at college. So far, my list includes cleaning the closets, making books from my numerous photos from recent (and not so recent) trips, and attacking the stack of unread travel magazines. I think the most logical answer for me, a travel advisor, is: to travel!

Last week I attended Virtuoso's annual Travel Mart, where I met with our hotel and tour partners from around the world. These are the movers and shakers of the travel industry, and I came home with plenty of ideas of where to travel to next!

Since my elder daughter will be studying in Spain next year, I may want to pop over for a visit. In Madrid there are some beautiful choices of hotels, perhaps the iconic Hotel Ritz Madrid. It is perfectly situated next to Retiro park and within walking distance to the museums. All of the rooms and suites are individually decorated in a classic style.

If I am in the mood for something a little more contemporary, the Hotel Villa Magna would be perfect. A recent renovation has left it more elegant than ever. I don't think I can go wrong with any of the six Virtuoso properties that are located in Madrid.

I will definitely have to fly or train down to the coast and visit the Marbella Club Hotel. It is open year-round so I don't have to worry about when to travel. They have a heated salt water pool, fabulous European spa and their own 18-hole golf course.

Whatever I decide, I know that our Onsite partner, Made for Spain, can provide me with the best tour options and guides in the country. They were voted best Onsite tour company at the Virtuoso Awards Ceremony this year.

The buzz is all about London for 2012. The Summer Olympic Games will be held there next July and August. If you're planning on attending, call us now to secure the best hotels and touring packages available!

I learned about a new gorilla tracking opportunity that will come available in May of 2012. Our partner, Wilderness Safaris, will open a new camp in the Republic of Congo in the Odzala-Kokoua National Park. This area is in the heart of the Congo basin, in a seemingly endless tropical forest. This is a different experience from mountain gorilla-trekking in Rwanda or Uganda. Here, in the Congo, you will have the opportunity to track the Western Lowland Gorilla as well as see many other kinds of wildlife. Sign me up!      

Book your next vacation or adventure with the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel!
Phone: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Maroma Resort and Spa, Mayan Riviera, Mexico

White sand beach, turquoise ocean and an icy cold margarita greeted me upon arrival at the Maroma Resort. This exclusive retreat is located just 30 minutes south of the Cancun International airport, an easy flight from most major North American cities.

Maroma, an Orient-Express hotel, sits on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, surrounded by lush, jungle plants and flowers. It has everything you would need or want for a romantic getaway: cozy rooms with Mexican tiled baths, or expansive suites complete with your own private plunge pool on the terrace, private rooftop massage bed and a personal gym. The accommodations come with every amenity: wifi, ipod docking stations, wonderful organic soaps and body lotions. The only thing missing, and I didn't miss it, is a television. They do have a lounge with a large screen TV available for guest use if needed.
There is an emphasis on tranquility and relaxation here. You are given the option to choose an aromatherapy scent for your room if you wish, and each night when you return, the room is bathed in candlelight.

Days can be spent on the water, snorkeling, jet-skiing, sailing or lounging on Maroma's fantastic beach beds. They have plenty of beach umbrellas for those who prefer to stay in the shade. There is a nice, air-conditioned, well-equipped fitness center along with a open air yoga pavilion. The spa is a destination in itself. The massage suites are centered around a serene courtyard. They offer a variety of treatments including many Mayan influenced body treatments. One of the more unusual experiences offered here at Maroma is the Mayan Temezcal. It is a ritual steam bath which is meant to purify and calm the body and spirit. Those who are claustrophobic need not apply. But, for the adventurous, this is quite an experience! It begins with the ancient tradition of burning incense and blowing a conch shell, then the Temazcalera ushers the guests into the Temazcal, a small pyramid shaped room with a fire pit in the center. Hot lava  rocks are deposited in the center of the pit, the doors are closed, and the rocks are doused with herb infused water. This creates an aromatic steam along with a lot of heat. There is chanting and meditating while the steam purifies and heals the body.
You come out refreshed and invigorated when it's all over! I highly recommend this experience.
Tequila tastings and cooking classes are also offered!

The resort offers several dining options, with fabulous cuisine. I had my fill of fresh-made guacamole and ceviche, along with artfully presented seafood dishes and decadent desserts.

Book your Maroma Resort holiday with us and receive VIP amenities such as an upgrade upon arrival, complimentary airport transfers and a 30 minute massage!   

Contact the Travel Specialists at Bee Kalt Travel today!
Tel: 248-288-9600 or Toll-free 1-800-284-5258