Resorts in coastal Thailand worth the trip
JENNIFER CHEN, firstname.lastname@example.org
"When I go to Paris, I don't need to see the Eiffel Tower - I know it's there. I just want to sit in the hotel terrace, sip my coffee and enjoy the vibe of the city," says one frequent traveller.
Travelling out of Singapore only to stay put or booking into a hotel to escape the pressures of the daily grind may be the prerogative of the urbane and frazzled, but given today's flu-wary sensibilities, a resort stay overseas represents an opportunity to experience the ambiance of another country without the need to expose yourself to crowds.
Long the retreat of the Thai nobility, celebrities and the well-to-do, Hua Hin and its surrounds have grown from quiet fishing villages into proper destinations for fine living. Some of the best spas and golf courses in the country can be found here and events such as jazz festivals, regattas and vintage car rallies mark the annual calendar.
Keeping pace with development is the quality of accommodation. According to Tourism Authority of Thailand official Juthaporn Rerngronasa, hotel rooms in the Hua Hin area have doubled in the past two years to 10,000.
The majority of developments are boutique properties on the coast, making Hua Hin an upscale rival to Chiangmai for the number of unique resorts that it offers, some of which are the converted residences of Thai nobility.
At the compact Baan Laksasubha Resort Hua Hin (www.baanlaksasubha.com), for example, guests can mingle with Mrs Abha Kridakon, who is related to the royal family by marriage. "You can call me Abha," she boomed, before inviting you to tour her photo-filled villa on the premises.
The recently opened Yaiya Hua Hin (www.yaiyaresort.com) is a small eco-community, "a home away from home", due to the close-knit, two-storey villas. If it's a second home, then it's one where private dipping pools crown rooftops - you step from the bedroom into the water - and where the bathroom is big enough to live in.
Said Jeffrey Lim, a partner at Architects' Regional Team, a firm that designs buildings in Thailand and Singapore: "The trend at resorts now is to have a pool in every unit and spacious bathrooms that open to the garden."
In Hua Hin, the bathroom is just the start of the experience. The following resorts can be holidays unto themselves.
A SPA MARVEL
The Barai, Hyatt Regency Hua Hin
Named after "barays", or ancient man-made reservoirs, The Barai is a maze-like compound that brings to mind the corridors of Angkor Wat with a dash of art-deco flair. From the door, guests walk through semi-darkness to a wading pool maharajahs would approve. Tread the hallways and every corner throws up a surprise: Dead-ends that reveal half sculptures or a single tree soaring into the sky, sumptuous alcoves of glittering tiles and mirror, halls and portals that seem to stretch into infinity. In short, the massage is the bonus. thebarai.com
X2 Kui Buri
Whatever is said about this avant- garde resort, one thing is for sure: It's not a place that you stumble upon. X2, pronounced "Cross Two", is situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so guests have to be in the know.
The ultimate reward is privacy and one of the most sophisticated resorts in this part of the country. Featured in the Design Hotels Yearbook 2008, a guide to hotel architecture, X2 faces an untapped beachfront and has 23 semi-private villas that incorporate nature into the living space.
Walls are planes of rocks and the lap pool is literally at the foot of the bed. It's all straight lines and open spaces - the restaurant looks like a hangar, the communal pool looks like it merges into the sea. In short, an urbane sanctuary far, far from the madding crowd. Rates start from 4,000 baht. www.x2resorts.com
ROBINSON CRUSOE ON THE CUTTING EDGE
La-A-Natu Bed and Bakery
The year-old, 10-villa coastal resort is a mesh of concepts that blends rice paddies and rustic materials such as bamboo and wood with sleek, concrete and glass design. It's a little mind-boggling at first, but it works.
Stay in the treehouse-like loft suite to get the Robinson Crusoe feel - with the benefit of plasma TV and an outdoor plunge pool.
The resort is well known to Thais, as it was the setting of a popular drama serial. But the highlight for this visitor is the outdoor shower that looks like a giant bean pod and the seven-course high tea (350 baht) that includes scones, panna cotta and chocolate cake. In short, cheeky sophistication. Weekend rates start from 4,800 baht. www.laanatu.com
HUA HIN AT A GLANCE
Go: There are no direct flights from Singapore to Hua Hin. Bus and trains connect Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport to the city, but for a truly stress-free holiday, hire a taxi. The drive south takes about three hours. Prices for a return trip start from 3,000 baht ($130). Many resorts will arrange return airport transfers for 5,000 baht.
Get: Seventy-two Hours Amazing Thailand: Hua Hin and Beyond. Produced by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Mastercard, the guidebook compiles the finest of Hua Hin for quick-break travellers, listing shop, eat and stay choices as well as map routes, suggested itineraries and discounts for travellers who use Mastercard. The guidebook is the latest in the 72-hours series, which includes Bangkok, Chiangmai, Pattaya and Phuket. It will be available at leading tour operators in the coming months but for now, the book's contents can be found on www.thailand72hrsamazing.com.
From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 02-Jul-2009