Photo by: Blancaneaux Lodge

With high-rises on the skyline signifying the hustle-bustle of Thailand's capital city, unobstructed views of the riverfront and tropical gardens of palm-shaded blue agaves, bromeliads and cycads all go a long way in creating a palpable sense of retreat from the workaday world. In this urban oasis along the Chao Phraya River, the pace is decidedly slower and the mood always upbeat. Those who really want to get away from it all head for the hotel's inner sanctum: CHI, the Spa, in the luxury Krungthep wing.

Photo by: Cl1

Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center is about groundwork. In this haven, matters of the earth and things elemental to the human spirit sit well together. Dedicated to benign human intervention within a protected wilderness, the farm, formerly a cattle ranch, takes in 115 acres of coastal scrub, old oak forest, streams, marshlands, sandy beach, and farmland. It is a jewel in the crown of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Photo by: Cl1

There I was, in the middle of a nightmare of a Southern California heat wave, driving up into the Hollywood Hills, heading toward the garden of director Wes Craven, creator of the ghoulish Freddy Krueger character and the terrifying Scream spoofs, among other horrors. What would I find? A sweep of the moody blackish Geranium phaeum, a.k.a. mourning widow? A lone specimen cactus in the shape of Freddy's knife-fingered glove?