Stephanie Chai - The Luxe Nomad

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Some days I wake up and absolutely love that I get to blog on the side while living a very conservative corporate life. It also gives me a great excuse to kay-poh into the lives of brilliant young women pursuing their passions and creating their own careers. Today, I want to tell you about the lovely (and drop dead gorgeous) lady behind The Luxe Nomad – the private flash sale site that offers members up to 70% off the most beautiful and curated list of luxury resorts in Asia, including the likes of Sri Panwa in Phuket and The Upper House in Hong Kong.

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Never one to stick with tradition, Stephanie Chai managed to turn her hobby (traveling) into a full time job. This might have a little to do with the fact she’s always gone her own way when it comes to making life decisions.

She took up modelling (much to her parents’ displeasure) at 18 when she was still in university – that led to years of frequent hopping about from country to country, never spending more than 2 months at a time in one place. That desire to experience new things, and be exposed to new cultures, traditions, and people, led her to create a life for herself that always involved those elements.

First up, how did you first decide to start The Luxe Nomad?

Funny story. A friend of mine owed me a business idea and sent me an email with the link about The Luxe Nomad business model and concept. 5 minutes later I emailed him back and said "I'll do it!". And then, I started researching! I knew nothing about the hotel industry, ecommerce and so forth - so talk about a crash course. But I'm glad I stuck to it. The company is very blessed to have a great, small team. The best bits are working with them, brainstorming ideas and of course, having a laugh or two. Work should always be fun!

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What's life like as an entrepreneur? And what do you do when you're not working?

Being your own boss means being busier than ever! Most weeks I’m working 6 days out of 7, so I relish any down time I have.

Back when I was modelling, I had a lot more time to myself. These days, you’re likely to find me unwinding in whatever little free time I have (and there’s not a lot of it), I try to squeeze in a bit of shopping, a foot massage, maybe a tennis lesson. I’m a huge fan of film, drama and politics – so as you can imagine the recent Malaysian elections was quite a hot topic among my friends.

You travelled a lot for your previous job, how has that experience/exposure helped you build The Luxe Nomad?

Quite honestly, one of the best decisions I ever made was to model. It put me in my parent's bad books for a few years (until I graduated and my dad was a happy man) but it gave me the opportunity to travel to most parts of Asia and live in these different countries. Why is that important? Because I learned to get on and work with people from all across the region, to better understand their culture and ways – this helps when it comes to negotiating and dealing with folks of different backgrounds.

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When it comes to business, a simple thing most people tend to overlook is this: people will only work with you if they like you!

Your work continues to take you around the world – what are some of your favourite destinations and why?

I still love Bali and Phuket for a short weekend away (especially if you live in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur - it's only an hour's flight for Phuket and 2 for Bali).

The Bale in Nusa Dua is one of my favourites at the moment – white-walled villas with your own private pool right on one of the most gorgeous beaches in Bali. Nusa Dua is also a very swimmable beach which is not that common for Bali where the waves tend to be very strong.

Two of our celebrity bloggers and friends are staying at The Bale at the moment (Margaret Zhang of Harpers Bazaar Australia & Shinebythree and Camille Over The Rainbow), so you should definitely check out their instagram feeds if you want an inside look on the properties.

The luxury hotels we feature love that we bring them something different from the usual flash sale site - it's members only, luxury hotel focused (so they can be sure they're always in good company and never have to worry about being on a platform with less stellar hospitality outfits), and they get endorsed by our network of celebrities (another plus from my modeling days).

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Other than that, Macakizi hotel in Mugla, Turkey is a hip hotel by the sea and if you're thinking of stopping by a city then The Upper House in Hong Kong is a must if you want to truly travel in style.

Finally, what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through starting up The Luxe Nomad?

Don't give up!

Images courtesy of Stephanie Chai and The Luxe Nomad.

72 hours in Bangkok

Thanks to the superb recommendations that I received from so many of you, the 72 short hours I had there were some of the best I’ve ever had. So I thought I’d return the favour and put up the recommendations I got from all over the shop

EAT

If you've never ventured far from the Siam Square area, it's high time you did. The place to be (in Bangkok) seems to be Thong Lor (ทองหล่อ) in Sukhumvit Soi 55. Chock a block full of exciting new things from restaurants to shops to concepts, there's a lot to see and do and eat and drink.

If you're in the mood for some hearty brunch fare, head over to Roast at Scene Space. For brunch, this place can’t be beat. I was told to have the pancakes, and a good friend swears they have the best waffles in town, but I was looking for something savoury and ended up ordering the crab cake benny. Excellent stuff. Better than anything I’ve ever had in Singapore. I’d definitely go back to BKK just for more of this.

Mr. Jones – for Tea. It’s an interesting concept, a little tea shop with lots of odds and ends you’d find in a kids playroom. The full name of the place is Mr. Jones’ Orphanage (not a huge fan of the name, somehow I doubt orphanages are really that cheery or well stocked with books and toys and the like), and in it you’ll find tiny teddy bears and toy soldiers and a great wooden carousel. It’s a very pretty place, and the tea and cakes are fabulous. Just don’t be put off by the name. It also offers FREE WIFI for the needy desperate travelers who don't have data roam.

To get to Thong Lor, jump in a cab or take the BTS to Thong Lo Station.

Of course, it wouldn't be a very complete trip to Bangkok if you didn't have any Thai food. There are a lot of options for the low to mid-price range, so I won't venture there. In fact, for decent and decently cheap Thai food, I love the food court at Central World.

On the fancier end of the spectrum, several people recommended Bo.Lan to me, but I wasn't convinced till my cousin L made it a point to tell me to make it a point to dine there. This is one lady whose stomach I will follow any where in the world, so I knew it would be good. Tucked away in a lovely single story space, the service at this establishment is excellent and extremely attentive. Our first mistake was to take a table outdoors - humidity and spicy food just don't make a very good combination. Our second was to tell them to make the Tom Yum soup spicy. Don't do this, not in Thailand. Otherwise, the food was delicate and delicious and perfectly executed. Order everything. It's all good.

While we're still on the topic of Thai food, I'd also like to recommend the Erawan Tea Room. Located in the mall adjacent to the Grand Hyatt and overlooking the four face Buddha shrine, this place serves up excellent Thai food in a very plush and comfortable setting. The food is delicate and done beautifully – I love Thai food for the flavours and textures, but sometimes I can’t take how spicy it can be, and the kitchen here moderates it wonderfully exactly to your tolerance level. I also love the way they did the place up, rustic but not overly so and very spacious – some tables even offer a view of the Erawan shrine downstairs. It’s also extremely central and close to the main shopping belt for those who want to hit up the usual suspects. Highly recommended.

This next bit might sound a bit odd, but I like Vanilla Brasserie at Siam Paragon for the peace it provides. It's not the quaintest or cutest of cafes - but it is a refuge in the hustle and bustle of the mega mall and it's perpetually packed walkways.

Finally, if you're willing to take a little bit of a drive out, I'll let you in on a little secret - okay, it's a fairly large one given that the place has a seating capacity of about 800 people, but you'll never find it without a map and the directions written in Thai - it's called Waterside Resort Restaurant and it serves p.h.e.n.o.m.e.n.a.l. seafood. The five of us feasted like kings on every kind of seafood imaginable and the bill only came up to about S$20 a pop - with alcohol.

It was recommended to us by U's sister-in-law who is Thai-Chinese and originally hails from Bangkok. I think they only offer al fresco dining options, so you don't want to go there if it's raining, but if the skies are clear it is pretty cooling here. Set on a large (and I presume fake) lagoon, this mega restaurant can prepare seafood just about any way you want them too. I loved the deep fried whole snapper and the king prawns steamed with garlic. I'm actually getting hungry just thinking about it again.

Just to warn you, you'll probably be the only table of non-Thai people there, so try and find a waiter who speaks a little english - from what I recall the manager does.

Waterside Resort Address: 13/16 หมู่ 9 ถ.ประดิษฐ์มนูธรรม คลองกุ่ม บึงกุ่ม , Bangkok, Thailand 10230

Shop

Karmakamet for candles, home fragrances, lotions, potions and tea! This home grown Thai brand kind of reminds me of Singapore's Project Shop duo (that brought you PS Cafe etc) - it started as a range of candles and aromatherapy and the product line has really grown over the years. I love everything about them from the product to the packaging. In fact, I've got two of their candles burning right now, a Jazz CD on the stereo, and the lights down low. My room feels a little like a high end spa right now, it certainly smells like one.

Chatuchak, Section 2 – if you haven’t got much time to spare at one of the largest (organized) markets in South East Asia, then you’ll want to heed my advice and head straight to Section 2. Stocked with trendy young designers, the finer (and better branded) homewares, accessories and arm candy galore, this is where you’ll get most of the good stuff. Prices are a little steeper than the rest of the market, but you’re much more likely to keep wearing the things you get there rather than the run of the mill probably mostly imported from China stuff that dominates the majority of the space.

My friends swear by the food stall in section 2 with the green bowls – I didn’t actually get to try it so you’ll have to take their word for it.

Platinum Mall. A wholesale mall right in downtown BKK, this place is an absolute madhouse on the weekend so if you can help it, head there on a week day, early in the morning (shops open at 10am). Chock a block with female fast fashion, you’ll find everything from Zara knock offs to dresses reminiscent of what’s on most blog shops in Singapore. I’d recommend you start from the top (level 6) where all the accessories are, and work your way down from there. To qualify for the wholesale prices, you normally need to buy more than one item, but I find they’re pretty flexible about the discount these days. Expect to pay 200-400B for most items.

Siam Paragon. Now this is what a luxury mall should look like. ION in Singapore has nothing on this behemoth that dominates BKK’s main shopping stretch. I love checking out the Thai designers section within the department store there, the prices are steep but the clothes are extremely well made, and you aren’t likely to run into anyone in SG wearing the same thing. A good idea for special occasion outfits.

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Iron Fairies. Whoever first made this recommendation to me - I've got to take my hat off to you. It was brilliant. This tiny hole-in-the-wall bar doubles up as an antique store, and sometimes even a blacksmith's workshop. I loved the whole space, all 300sq feet of it - dingy and divey as it was, that's precisely what made it great. They had a live jazz band perched at the top of the stairs while we were there, belting out some old favourites and new school tunes with a twist.

Fat Gut'z for fish & chips and a good stiff drink, opened by the same person that brought Iron Fairies to Bangkok, Fat Gut'z also offers low lighting, a dark wood decor and really good drinks.

Funky Villa. Chances are you'll be jumping jumping and making an attempt to sing in Thai by the end of the night. Music wise, the club alternates between R&B favourites and a live band that sings Thai hits (I assume they are hits cos everyone around me was singing along at the top of their lungs). The atmosphere is awesome. So much energy.

Getaway with the girls

In Bangkok for the weekend for a quick getaway with the girls. I'm so excited to check out all the incredible recommendations that everyone's shared with me (THANK YOU ALL for the comments, emails, notes, DMs, and PDFs - WOW! And I thought I was a thorough traveler) I promise to compile a list of places to eat, sleep and shop while in Bangkok once I'm back.

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In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend my friends!