After hours of flying and connections at two airports I was tired when I landed in Bangkok, Thailand. The 11 p.m. arrival and 11 hour time difference made things worse. Instead of spending time in Bangkok I had opted to stay in the coastal town of Hua Hin, a two and a half hour drive from the airport, to ease my way through the jet lag in a quiet resort town instead of a city of millions. As I exited the customs area and thought of spending more time en route to my final destination I wondered if it had been the right decision.
By 3 a.m. I was comfortably settled in a handsome two-level beachfront suite at the Rest Detail Hotel Hua Hin, one of the property’s premier suites. A shower and some sleep did wonders to improve my jet lag and the next morning I approached the restaurant with a ravenous appetite. Although the staff spoke limited English and I spoke no Thai I perceived a warm welcome. With their help and some exploring on my part I easily discovered the property and its facilities as well as the surrounding beachfront. I spent a few hours walking around the town, visiting a silk co-op store, the shopping mall, and a Thai night market.
Santhiya Resort and Spa was an exceptional property that placed in a contemporary context the mystique of the exotic kingdom of Siam. Its secluded location at the northern tip of the remote island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand, coupled with its ethos of conservation of its cultural heritage as well as the natural environment made for an experience that was a highlight of my recent visit to Thailand.
Named after the 200-year-old tamarind tree that dominates the property, Tamarind Village was a haven of rustic tranquility in the heart of the lively historic center of Chiang Mai. Designed by award-winning architect Ong-Ard Satrabhandhu, it translated distinctive northern Thai architectural elements into an inviting contemporary version of a traditional village. A pathway shaded with arching bamboo led to the front entrance of the verdant walled compound with its public areas and private guest quarters laid-out around a series of serene internal courtyards filled with flowering trees.
There are actually three Thailands. Bangkok first of all, a frenzied 600 square mile (1,575 square kilometer) megalopolis that is home to over 10 million residents, and where sky-high glass towers coexists with centuries-old gilded temples and palaces. From art and culture to shopping to nightlife, its many attractions are well documented and draw upward of 14 million visitors per year, many of whom make it a few days’ stopover after the long flight in from their far-away homeland, on their way to other parts of the country.
Built on a steep amphitheater-shaped hillside at the northeastern tip of the island of Koh Samui, Thailand, The Tongsai Bay was a secluded resort that successfully balanced the natural beauty of its environment with modern comfort and luxury standards. The suites blended so seamlessly they all but disappeared into the exuberant tropical garden rippling toward the sea. My own Villa was a vast contemporary space thoughtfully designed and appointed to ensure optimum enjoyment of my natural surroundings. Its large, partially roofed deck featured a king-size four-poster bed swathed in pristine mosquito netting for afternoon siestas or a night’s sleep under the stars. I found a welcome basket of frangipani and orchid blooms on the ledge of my oversized bathtub in the center of the deck and I promised myself a moonlight blossom-scented bath later that evening. A few steps up from the deck, the rear of the Villa featured all the air-conditioned appointments of a more conventional luxury suite. Both deck and suite had a spectacular view of The Tongsai Bay’s lovely private beach, a gently curved cove protected at each end by rock promontories, and the open waters of the Gulf of Thailand beyond.
Set among the craggy limestone cliffs of the Phranang Peninsula at the edge of the Krabi Marine National Park in Thailand, Rayavadee could barely be discerned from its luxuriant environment of tropical gardens and coconut groves when I approached it from the water. And that’s precisely what its founders had in mind when they developed this luxury, family friendly property on what is considered one of the most spectacular coastlines of the Andaman Sea. Taking their inspiration from the traditional villages of southern Thailand, they created a contemporary resort of circular two-story guest pavilions scattered throughout a verdant haven bordered by gorgeous white sand beaches. A network of winding brick-paved footpaths crisscrossed the property. It was a pleasant 15-minute walk along gardens filled with flowering shrubs and the occasional lily pond to reach its farthest confines. It frequently took me longer, as I kept getting distracted by the antics of macaque monkeys high in the palm trees, or the play of light in the stunning cliffs that surrounded the resort. On the rare occasions when I was not in a walking mood or a random tropical squall threatened, one of the ubiquitous bakis (electric golf buggies) could be summoned at a moment’s notice.