By Thecla Vis, Vacation Travel Specialist at Atlas Travel
How often have you heard, “You have to see it to believe it?” Well, it may be a cliché, but it was never more true than when I first set eyes on the stunning karst formations of coastal Thailand. Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak are places where the natural beauty so far exceeded my expectations; it was beyond my wildest dreams! True, it was looking through pictures that made me want to go there, but actually being there brought the still pictures to life. Our small group was hosted by our on-location tour provider, Trails of Indochina, and four special resorts were chosen for us: Rayavadee, Six Senses Yao Noi, Sarojin, and the Banyan Tree, each of which offered a unique experience. All four hotels are protective of their environment and at the same time contributing to the local economy.
If you know the James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun, then you have seen some of the majestic scenery of the emerald-hued Andaman Sea. Soon after leaving the airport in Krabi and immediately upon arrival, we were met by our host. A short van trip led to a pier, and from there a 45-minute speedboat excursion to the beach resort of Rayavadee, (situated in the stunning Phranang Peninsula and accessible only by sea, it is a place that brings new meaning to the concept of being “at one with nature”). Our accommodations consisted of two-story pavilions, each one privately situated in a charming spot among 26 acres of tropical gardens and coconut groves. Three beaches border this expansive property. Towering limestone outcrops, bright sandy beaches, undulating turquoise waters and the scent of a wondrous palate of tropical flowers–the whole area is interlaced with conveniently numbered trails so that enraptured visitors run no risk of losing their way. Rayavadee’s catch phrase is, “When you touch nature, nature touches you,” and every aspect of the eco-friendly paradise reflects this philosophy. One of the restaurants, in fact, was beachfront, nestled under stalactite formations in a limestone cliff. This was a fantastic backdrop for sipping a signature cocktail or dining on irresistible temptations such as crispy tiger prawns with tamarind sauce or a spicy grilled scallop salad with herbs and lime dressing. There are also optional tours a boat and van trip away, offering delights like bathing in the Klong Thom Hot Springs and swimming in the secluded Emerald Pool, surrounded by undisturbed forest.
Leaving Rayavadee after only two nights was sad, but we were all rejuvenated by the sight of Six Senses Ya Noi, our next destination, situated between Phuket and Krabi. Thatch-roofed villas dotting an island hillside gave the fairy-tale look to visitors who approach from Phang Nha Bay, and the sense of enchantment is reinforced from the moment one is greeted at the pier. You are whisked away to villas so secluded they are accessible only by electric buggies. Each split-level villa boasts a private pool and an outdoor shower, in addition to all of the finest amenities one would expect from a luxury hotel. My own villa, an ocean front, revealed sunrise views unlike any I have ever before beheld. Across the emerald sea, tiers of rocky islands cast shadows on glistening waters with an imposing cumulus backdrop. Sunrise greeted us with a rich spectrum of lush shades of grays, yellows, oranges, magentas and reds. The morning humidity unfolded a dramatic eruption of colors into a blending of lavender and rose-hued, velvety pastels. We gasped for breath and were left speechless. Even further sensory experiences awaited us with an excursion to Hong Island, where snorkeling revealed the undersea beauty of this extraordinary region. Sustainability, the resort’s mantra, is committed to their environment and is even carried out through the dining experience; much of the produce is grown on Six Senses’ property. Being a mushroom lover, I was delighted with the “mushroom hut,” where the local delicacies are lovingly cultivated. Yoga and spa treatments completed the harmonization of the five senses. It is said that harmonizing one’s five senses evokes the sixth sense. I can say, without doubt, that all my senses were summoned and mesmerized at Six Senses Yao Noi. As our speedboat departed, the staff bid us a memorable farewell, waving non-stop until we were all out of sight.
Sarojin, in Khao Lak, an hour north of Phuket, was our first destination accessible by normal ground transport. This intimate resort offered a very different sort of sensory experience. Years ago, Lady Sarojin, the daughter of a Thai nobleman, established a tradition of hospitality; today’s resort maintains her essence by providing “the spirit of exceptional service and attention.” Soothing Japanese architecture and landscaping include a large lily pond. The outdoors is brought inside by the use of smooth, rounded river rocks as floors for the shower and bathing areas in each guest room. A Zen calmness was created by simple details as a bathtub where orchids were floating on water. With 56 spacious suites and garden pool residences, the walkable 10-acre property with beach, pool and cabanas is a land of enchantment. The Sarojin prides itself on offering personal services tailored to the individual. Private candlelit dining next to a waterfall, an intimate meal “shipwrecked” on a secluded sandbar complete with private butler and chef, a private sunset cruise on the Lady Sarojin speedboat, or a jungle sojourn complete with champagne are just a few of the possibilities. Most importantly, the Sarojin continues to support the local community and has made a significant and substantial difference to the area.
The culture of Thailand is also apparent in the Banyan Tree Resort in Laguna, Phuket. I was told that in the past, the Banyan Tree provided shade and shelter for weary travelers. Differing from the rural atmosphere, this sprawling, luxury complex offers privacy in the form of 121 fully self-contained luxury residential villas; a home away from home. The units have a full kitchen, living room and dining room and a huge private pool with jacuzzi. Restaurants, spa, beach and golf course are on the premises and upscale shopping is accessible in the nearby village. One of the most memorable aspects of my stay at the Banyan Tree was the mission to Ko Tapu or Nail Island. This famous spot is better known as James Bond Island. As we raced in a speedboat towards this highly recognizable landmark, I could envision Roger Moore descending on Scaramanga’s evil laboratory. Also in this same stretch of water is the opportunity to kayak with a seasoned guide into limestone caverns, exposed only at low tide. Halfway through our speedboat adventure, we stopped for a nice lunch at a Muslim village on stilts, a place that survived the horrible Tsunami years ago due to its strategic position behind the jutting rocks.
Having visited Phuket, Krabi and Khao Lak for the first time, I was impressed at how much more beautiful they were than the pictures that had initially enticed me. I felt a true personal connection with this glorious region; it touched my soul like no other place has. You will be grateful forever, as I am, to stay at any of these magical properties. A big thank you to Trails of Indochina for the trip of a lifetime and to our hotel hosts for their endless generosity and kind attention to our well-being.
To learn more about this trip and plan a Thailand adventure of your own, email Thecla Vis at email@example.com.