Travel editor Winsor Dobbin reviews three Thai resorts in three very different locations.
Virtually everywhere you go in Thailand you’ll find great beaches, fabulous food and plenty of smiles.
Thailand may still be under martial law right now, but the impact on the average tourist is zero. No restrictions, no curfews, no added police or military presence.
That’s the case right across the southern resort regions of Phuket, Krabi and Koh Lanta, where I sampled three impressive – but contrasting – resorts at different price points.
If you’re thinking of heading to Thailand, I recommend checking out www.tourismthailand.org before getting your research started.
Indigo Pearl, Phuket
Style and luxury are the two words that best sum up Indigo Pearl, which was named as the leading boutique hotel in Thailand at last year’s World Travel Awards.
The resort, just a five-minute drive from Phuket Airport (but with zero aircraft noise) fuses artworks and themes from the island’s tin-mining past with cutting-edge modern technology, including fast free wi-fi throughout the property. Indigo Pearl is regarded as an industry leader when it comes to service standards.
If you enjoy eating and drinking along with your beach and pool activities, then Indigo Pearl will appeal. The resort is right on the peaceful Nai Yang beach, where a clean-up is under way to remove beach traders and illegal shops that had once encroached on the beachfront.
Put together by design guru Bill Bensley, the resort combines its post-industrial theme with lots of greenery, three pools (two for adults only), a large range of food and beverage options and a luxurious spa.
A member of both Design Hotels and Mr and Mrs Smith, this all villa and suite property has seven restaurants and bars, a library, gym, tennis courts, kids’ club and a fully equipped Thai cooking school that features immersive activities, including visits to the local market to buy fresh ingredients.
Signature restaurant Black Ginger has real “wow” factor. Serving high-end Thai cuisine, it floats on a lagoon that is reached by a pulley ferry.
Rivet serves experimental European cuisine in a luxury setting, while Tongkah Tin Syndicate and Rebar offer contrasting late-night drinking experiences. There is a resident mixologist from the US at the Dirty Monstera cocktail bar serving creations like the New York Thymes: Ketel One vodka, vanilla bean, cranberry juice, aromatic lemon thyme and citrus air. Sounds pretentious; tastes delicious.
Indigo Pearl’s spa facility, Coqoon, is a regular award winner and there is a hotel shuttle bus between the peace and quiet of the resort to the hustle and bustle of Patong several times a day.
Indigo Pearl, Nai Yang Beach, Phuket, Thailand. +66 76 327 006. www.indigo-pearl.com.
Alisea Boutique Hotel, Aonang
Veteran hotelier Wolfgang Grimm is one of the most experienced men in the hospitality industry, so when he puts his heart and soul into a new property you can bet it will be something special.
Grimm is the driving force behind the new Alisea Hotel in Aonang, a resort town in Krabi province, where he has breathed new life into a faded Art Deco-style building with Med and Moroccan touches, re-branding it as an “urban resort”.
Grimm was for many years the general manager of the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney in the days when that property was perhaps the finest in the city.
The Alisea is his re-imagined version of the former Alis Hotel, a run-down property a couple of hundred metres back from the beach that he has completely revamped as a chic adults-only property that he expects will appeal to couples both young and old.
The property is still in soft-launch phase with rooms starting from around $75 a night. I loved the location, just around the corner from lively shops and bars, as well as the ultra-cool vibe.
Grimm describes the hotel as “cool, calm and connected” – and, yes, there is free wi-fi throughout, as well as access to the hotel’s own eco-friendly Anadamana Beach Club, a short complimentary shuttle ride away with its own longtail boats for sunset cruises and a Muay Thai gym for those looking to keep fit.
The refurbed Alisea is a boutique property with 26 superior rooms, eight loft suites (each with their own chillout deck and open-air Japanese onsen-style bath) and one honeymoon suite.
All rooms have air-conditioning, new LED TVs with international channels (including the Australia Plus network), minibars, environmentally friendly in-room toilets and very comfortable beds.
There’s a small but lovely infinity swimming pool that offers great sunset views, electric bikes for hire and delightfully helpful staff.
Grimm says he loves the chance to share the Thai culture with Australian and other visitors and has instituted a Eurasian breakfast buffet and a Thai afternoon tea featuring a range of local snacks and sweets (think khanom lookchub candy balls, steamed salapao buns and khanom tum cakes).
There is also a very affordable Asian tapas bar and lounge with live night-time entertainment but there will be no formal restaurant – Aonang offers plenty of dining options within a short stroll.
The Dahlia massage and herbal spa is newly opened on the site.
Alisea Boutique Hotel, Aonang Beach, Krabi, Thailand. +66 75 638 000. www.aliseaboutiquehotel.com.
Crown Lanta Resort, Koh Lanta
It takes a 90-minute drive from Krabi and two ferry rides to make it to Koh Lanta, which is why the island is very much a step back in time, with local fishermen still plying their trade and very few go-go bars and nightclubs.
Ideal for families with young children, or those who simply want to kick back and relax, Crown Lanta is set high on a peninsula above Klong Dao Beach.
This 4.5 star resort stretches over 22 hectares – but is just a few minutes away from the biggest town on the island, Saladan.
There are 63 rooms and villas around the main pool and 20 rooms with direct pool access to a 25-metre lap pool, as well as several private pool villas (with dramatic ocean views) in this friendly, mid-priced, four-star resort.
There are two restaurants on-site. The Peak does al fresco breakfast and dinner (Southern Thai and western cuisine), and the poolside Cliff is open for lunch, as well as funky Reggae Bar overlooking the water with private rooms (perfect for sunset cocktails and snacks) and a small but excellent spa facility called Infinity.
The terrain here is hilly, and although golf buggies will take you wherever you want to go, it is not suitable for the elderly or the infirm. It’s one of those resorts where you will want to spend most of your time on site, maybe enjoying a private dinner on the beach, or taking a range of classes, including an excellent cooking class with Chef Boy, mixology and massage classes and even Thai language courses.
Alternatively, kayaking, snorkelling and mountain biking can be arranged, there is a gym, dance performances at night and excursions include elephant trekking, visits to a traditional fishing village and cultural centre, or visits to the nearby national park or Phi Phi Island.
Crown Lanta Resort & Spa, 315 Moo 1, Saladan, Koh Lanta, Krabi, 81150 Thailand. +66 75 626 999. www.crownlanta.com.
AirAsia X, together with AirAsia, links 100 destinations across 23 countries including five flights daily to Phuket and three daily to Krabi from Sydney via Kuala Lumpur.
The flights are at budget prices but travellers can choose from Premium and Quiet Zone seats and the airline recently introduced a very comfortable business class zone. www.airasia.com.