137 Pillars House
A magnificent time warp, this 30-room hotel, across the Ping River from Chiang Mai’s bustling downtown, centers around the story from which it takes its name. In 1896, the son of Anna Leonowens’s (of The King & I fame) established the Northern Thai headquarters of the East Borneo Company in this area, which had been designated by the Thai king for foreigners to live. He brought four sprawling teak houses up from Bangkok and settled in one of them. More than two hundred years later, a Harvard-trained Thai architect bought part of this compound and worked closely with her team of historians and conservationists to meticulously reinforce the integrity of the original 1889 structure in which Louis Leonowens lived.
Amidst a verdant enclave of lady palms, mimosa trees and tropical flowers, this elegant, colonial-themed hotel takes its name from the profusion of pillars that support that building’s upper floor. Louis’ old house now hosts the property’s lounge, library, and gym, while the spa and 30 roomy accommodations occupy adjacent colonial-inspired buildings. Rooms and suites are thoughtfully appointed with large verandas, claw-foot Victorian tubs, and outdoor garden showers, then finished with woven rattan interior details, black-and-white photos of Old Siam and plenty of elephants. Even the entry level Rajah Brooks Suite is spacious, starting at around 600 square feet. Louis Leonowens Pool Suites work best for privacy-seeking couples who can play colonial dream house thanks to two levels, plus a swimmable pool and an outdoor dining and relaxation pavilion, all surrounded by flopping palms.
The spa’s Thai, Ayurveda and aromatherapy treatments suffice, although they are not Thailand’s finest. The real restorative draws here include the tropical gardens, where you can walk under elephant ear palm fronds and along the original elephant path, then cool down in the elongated swimming pool with plenty of cushy sun loungers. Switched on staff will arrive with cool towels and afternoon sweets.
While under the radar, the surrounding neighborhood of Wat Gate is one of this hotel’s strategic advantages, easily explored on foot or by borrowing the hotel’s bicycles. 137PH occupies a prime address along the Ping River and adjacent to the Wat Gate Khar Rham Temple with its multiple pagodas, monks’ living quarters and the charming Wat Gate Khar Rham Museum filled with quirky memorabilia of old Chiang Mai. To the north sits the teakwood house of a former Thai Prime Minister and to the south, you can peek into another teak residence with fine, slatted shutters affording both shade and air. A pedestrian footbridge, known as Sapan Khaek, crosses to Warorot Market just at the spot where the Lanna Kings boarded their royal boats.
137 Pillars Suites & Residences
Amanpuri, set among soaring coconut palms on a Thai hillside overlooking the sparkling Andaman Sea, is the very first Aman. For many, it remains the best.
Anantara Chiang Mai
While best known for designing Amanresorts, Australian architect Kerry Hill did some of his most dramatic work here on the banks of the Ping River. Behind an imposing bamboo clad wall, facing Chiang Mai town, are 84 ultra-sleek rooms, protected from city noise by two sets of thick oversized doors. Beds are comfortably plump, Wi-Fi is complimentary and speedy, and in the bathrooms, powerful rain showers wash away equatorial swelter. Suites 223, 323 and 423 look straight on the river.
Guests have the indulgent choice to unwind on outdoor and indoor daybeds in every room, or to head down to the well-padded teak sun loungers by the riverfront pool. More loungers above the adjacent spa allow for sunning after shadows fall down below. A destination in its own right, the spa offers some of Thailand’s top treatments. Here and throughout the hotel, staff delivers attentive service with sincere Thai smiles.
At the center of the U-shaped hotel sits the open-air restaurant (the colonial-era building once housed the British consulate), where chefs deliver a reliably delicious East-West menu blending Thai and Indian fare. Think tiger prawn curry and chili naan. The original wrought-iron staircase twists up to the rooftop bar where lemongrass adds flavor to traditional sundowners. Burn off vacation calories in the gym, where the latest equipment is positioned for unobstructed water views. Yogis, too, benefit from the meditative flowing river at a small yoga platform at the far side of the pool. For those who wish a closer look, the hotel can arrange boat rides on the waterway. Back on land, proximity to the colorful if touristy Chiang Mai night market is a convenience. Nature lovers can set out by Land Rover on hill tribe treks and elephant tours.
Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort
On Phuket’s northwest side, Anantara Phuket’s eighty-three villas are scattered along Mai Khao, one of this island’s best beachfronts and waterways designed to resemble a traditional Thai fishing village. Inside these high ceilinged houses with Wi-Fi, iPods and docking stations, flat screen TVs and DVD players, espresso machines, gourmet snacks and a wine cellar, the focal point is the pillow top bed, canopied by mosquito netting. Natural fibers decorate the interior and the walk-in closet is a plus. The bathroom extends from an indoor shower with relaxation bench to an outdoor rain shower, both stocked with bespoke bath products made with ylang-ylang, cardamom and frankincense. Each villa has its own private swimming pool, no meager plunge pools here and many add overwater relaxation spaces with cushioned day beds. Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley does some of his most elegant work here in the gardens, lavishing the grounds with indigenous greenery and fuchsia lotus flowers, a magnet for birds.
The hotel’s numerous restaurants offer a range of food from Italian and Thai to barbecue and notably tasty seafood at the waterfront Sea.Fire.Salt. As with all Anantara properties, the spa is a strong suit, and the Turtle Club, for kids, will keep the little ones safe and happy. Indeed, having a great kids’ club (rare on Phuket) could well turn out to be the hotel’s raison d’être. If you can tear yourself away from your room, you can enjoy moonlight canoe trips on a stunning lagoon, sunset cruises aboard a private fishing boat, a diving expedition to the Similan Islands and a picnic breakfast at a rubber plantation. The packed weekly schedule of onsite activities also includes beach power walks, batik painting, cocktail making and Thai language lessons, which come in handy as the staff here struggles a bit with English.
Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa
As is to be expected from the Anantara brand, Phuket-Layan succeeds in creating the serene, Zen-like atmosphere that makes and retains fans. A quick 20-minute drive from the Phuket airport, the resort transports guests quickly to a fresh and modern retreat built on a pristine, secluded bay at Layan beach. Reflecting pools lit with floating candles surround the reception and helpful staff members discreetly stand by, waiting to assist with any need.
The warm sea breeze from Layan Bay together with the resort’s dimly lit, open-air environment creates an instant sense of peacefulness. Opened in 2014, the hotel has accommodations that are fresh and modern, featuring king-size beds and spacious showers, while villas include furnished outdoor decks with oval soaking tubs and private swimming pools. Accommodations here are more generic in style and lack a great sense of place but are of the utmost comfort, with luxurious bedding, dark-wood furniture, natural color schemes and rich textiles. The best rooms are the beachfront villas and Layan villas, both of which offer dazzling sea views, and some boasting direct access to the beach from your private villa deck.
On-property dining is minimal by comparison to other resorts, comprised of only two restaurants. Sala Layan offers international cuisine throughout the day in a soothing dining room or on the outdoor deck with views of the water. The breakfast buffet here is not to be missed, with various cook-to-order stations and a wide array of options. The more formal Thai restaurant, Dee Plee, is also a lounge that offers evening cocktails. During the day, the pool bar, Breeze, offers full-service to those enjoying the resort’s facilities.
The service at the Anantara is on par with its sister properties—professional, helpful and responsive. Guests are made to feel right at home with friendly staff who are eager to please, but not overbearing. Overall, the property’s atmosphere is one of ease and peacefulness, leaving guests to feel that what the Anantara lacks in drama and style, it makes up for in comfort.
Anantara Siam Bangkok
The cavernous lobby of the Anantara has a soaring painted ceiling and centers on a grand staircase featuring an enormous hand-painted Thai mural in eye-popping colors. The ambiance is easy going and welcoming, especially in the common areas, like the lobby lounge, where a classical trio performs during afternoon high tea (it’s a wonderful spot to take a break from shopping at the nearby department stores) and evening cocktails. There are six restaurants on the premises, including the popular Thai-food temple Spice Market; an eighty-two-foot pool surrounded by a garden; and a shopping arcade sheltering Lotus Arts de Vivre, Jim Thompson and other haute labels.
Rooms at the Anantara are spread across nine floors of an open-air building that encircles an interior courtyard where the restaurant Aqua, popular for brunch, and the excellent Anantara shopping arcade are located. Because the hotel is open-air style, much of the building's façade is visible to visitors inside. The hotel’s interiors, however, are far more charming and feature a Thai-inspired contemporary style marked by lots of teak, silk and hand-painted murals behind the beds (all king-size or two doubles). Bathrooms are spacious, with deep soaking tubs. The hotel has the size and capacity to offer guests all of the comforts they might desire, while maintaining a sense of Thai character in all of the accommodations. The best views are of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, a nearby golf course, a unique view of greenery surrounded by city skyscrapers.
The service is flawless and so friendly that the overall atmosphere is relaxed. The property is suitable for couples and families alike. Little guests will appreciate such child-friendly amenities as milk and cookies during turndown service, tents in the suites, a make-your-own-cupcake amenity and a special children’s menu.
In lieu of being on the river, the hotel has one of the best locations in Bangkok, just a few steps from the Sky Train, an invaluable alternative to navigating the dreadful Bangkok traffic and the easiest way to access sights, shops and restaurants by land. The buzzing Sukhumvit area, for instance, is a ten-minute ride away; the buzzing weekend market Chatuchak is about twenty minutes from the hotel. Also nearby are department stores, like Paragon and Gaysorn; Silom village; Lumpini Park; Suan Lum Night Bazaar. For those looking to shop in closer proximity to home, the hotel’s shopping arcade is unbeatable, featuring boutiques like Jim Thompson and Lotus Arts de Vivre along with various restaurants and cafes, all set in a lovely leafy courtyard, perfect a quick break.
You may sacrifice some of the colorful river activity, but you gain in convenience. On Sundays, don’t miss brunch at Aqua.
Built by a villa owner at Amanpuri who also happens to be one of Hong Kong’s top restaurateurs, this all villa property fans out from the colossal 130-foot long infinity pool into the hills above Kamala Beach. Guestrooms filled with Thai antiques are clad in warm, polished wood with plenty of neutral hued pillows and cushions on the Thai inspired daybeds, all with roomy sea facing terraces. The mattress and pillow top on the beds are some of Phuket’s plushest, and the deep soak bathtub is built for two. Standard accommodations come with an exceptional kitchen outfitted with Gaggia espresso maker and a shiny array of cooking appliances plus a considerable living and dining area. The colossal LCD flat screen television in the living room of standard accommodations here is a mixed blessing: stare into its considerable 52” dimensions or take maximum outdoor advantage of this tropical location. Other in-room technology includes a Bose surround sound stereo and speakers in every room, iPod docks and another massive flatscreen television in the bedroom, both with notably straightforward remote controls.
Starting with one-bedroom suites, room category configurations here are slightly unusual: opt to upgrade from the standard model and another door of these multi-bedroom villas is unlocked for your use. Thus these one to six bedroom accommodations work best when reserved as a whole villa for family and friends. Each villa encompasses a generous infinity pool, incorporated within certain room types.
The poolside Thai restaurant, Silk, balances Thai classics like som tom and pad Thai with fresh Western salads, grilled fish and hearty cuts of meats. The six-treatment room spa is under the radar but one of Phuket’s most restorative. Try signature treatments and an excellent mani-pedi. To indulge without anxiety, leave younger ones at the well-managed Kids Club, known for keeping little ones busy.
While not on the beach, the hotel does have a barefoot chic private club on nearby Kamala Beach and a shuttle to ferry guests for the five-minute ride. Also close by is Patong Beach for those seeking the island’s throbbing nightlife while others will prefer to rent the 92-foot and 115-foot air-conditioned motor yachts that cruise the Andaman. Head for Phang Nga Bay, Phi Phi Island and to dive among the Similan Islands in search of turtles, barracudas, ghost pipe fish, lion fish, scorpion fish, grouper, sea horses, black tip reef sharks, leopard sharks, sea snakes, soft coral and spectacular anemones.
Banyan Tree Phuket
Belmond Napasai’s discreet entrance is representative of the rustic, barefoot luxury nature of the property. An unmarked driveway off Baan Tai beach leads visitors to an unassuming, open-air greeting area where a manager sits behind one wooden desk, waiting to welcome guests. It is not particularly elegant or stylish; small design accents are scattered in a seemingly random way and tchochkes are found here and there. Instead, it is quaint, familiar and very traditional.
Despite the less-than-glamorous ambiance of the property, Napasai is one of the oldest resorts on Samui and occupies prime real estate on the island’s beautiful north shore. Napasai has a substantial, secluded white-sand beach and the kind of crystal clear turquoise water that makes the south of Thailand so popular as a beach destination. A large swimming pool sits elevated behind the sand allowing guests to roam with ease between the pool and beach.
Accommodations are all incredibly spacious and split between villas (of which there are two subsets: standard villas and villa suites) and residences. All of the villas have a separate living area with day bed and dining table, allowing lots of space for friends and family to gather. The large villas suites are similar in layout to the standard villas but come with a separate outdoor seating area and massage sala. Most villa suites are situated at the bottom of the hillside in lush vegetation. Beachfront villa suites offer oceanfront views but less privacy. All villa types have thatched, Thai-style roofs with wooden floors and paneling throughout. Interiors feature cotton textiles, bamboo detailing, basic bedframes and minimal Asian-inspired accents. Bathrooms are spacious and many have deep soaking Corian tubs and separate showers with double wood-lined vanities. Overall, the villa accommodations at Napasai feel traditional and at times, dated.
The residences, however, are more elaborate and luxurious. Ranging from one-to four-bedrooms, these accommodations are great for families, featuring split-level common areas and bedrooms connected by outdoor staircases. (They are not ideal for young children or guests with limited mobility.) All have large private pools with direct sea access. You will find plenty of outdoor seating and dining options and wonderful views of the water from multiple vantage points. The décor offers a sense of place with pops of color and Asian accents throughout.
On-property dining consists of two proper restaurants and two café-style eateries. Moo Kata, the sala-style beachfront restaurant, serves Thai hot pots and a selection of grilled and barbequed dishes, a traditional menu fitting for the resort’s authentic feel. Lai Thai Restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor deck seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here you can enjoy a variety of international breakfast foods or excellent Mediterranean and Oriental lunch and dinner items while taking in lovely views of the sea.
The service at Napasai is decidedly warm and friendly, but in no way buttoned-up. Guests who need more polished, white glove service will find this a point of frustration. Unlike a property such as the Four Seasons where employees are taught English, Napasai embraces authenticity, which, for the right person, has an undeniable charm. Despite what some may call flaws in service, the resort has no lack of smiling faces and warm welcomes.
Boathouse by Montara
This twenty-five-year-old stalwart along Kata Beach, previously known as Mom Tri’s Boathouse, received a major facelift in 2012, overseen by its owners who are also behind the sublime design of Trisara.
All the whitewashed, vaguely Thai-finished guest rooms here look out at the Andaman Sea (which is not always the case, even at much pricier Phuket properties). All also incorporate a generous balcony or terrace, and guests can expect the kind of cotton linens and fluffy bath towels usually associated with a high price point. Ground-floor rooms have the advantage of sitting steps from Kata Beach’s powdery soft sand but couples seeking privacy will prefer the top 4th floor Hideaway Seaview Suite. Families book up the singularly stunning two-bedroom penthouse, although this works well for space loving couples too.
The Boathouse Wine & Grill restaurant is a plus for gourmands with an 800-label wine cellar and several Wine Spectator awards. The French food is probably Phuket’s best and includes longtime favorites like the rock lobster ravioli pan-grilled Angus beef tenderloin with duck liver and truffles in Madeira sauce. Other times of day, relax by the free-form beachfront pool, at the rooftop sunset lounge or in the Zen calm spa.
COMO Metropolitan, Bangkok
At first glance, the building that the Metropolitan occupies, a former YMCA, is less than inspiring, even a bit depressing. But the interiors masterfully blend minimalist chic with laid-back comfort (the hotel is the sister property of the COMO Metropolitan in London).
The 169 rooms are modern and airy and have long windows, open layouts, sleek furniture made from Thai Makha wood, oversized king-size beds and a subdued, earthy color scheme. All come with Wi-Fi and large flat-screen televisions as well as spacious, limestone-clad bathrooms. Go for one of the spacious Metropolitan rooms on the top floors (the smallest measures a very comfortable 550 square feet) and ask for a view of the pool. Celebrities and headliners book duplex Penthouse Suites with private access and 24-hour butler service.
As at all COMO properties, there’s a serious focus on wellness, as evidenced by the yoga mats in the rooms’ closets (there are free daily classes), the organic restaurant Glow and the Zen-inspired COMO Shambhala spa, an oasis of holistic pampering. The pool is attractive enough, but it’s located in the hotel’s courtyard, right behind the main dining room, so it feels a bit exposed (I like to do laps in the morning but wasn’t thrilled by the idea of walking in a bathing suit past a row of breakfasting fellow guests). The excellent Nahm is a good choice for a special dinner.
Unlike those at some other design hotels, the staff has absolutely no attitude and could not be more attentive or helpful (on a recent stay, our misguided idea of taking a taxi to a restaurant in another neighborhood during rush hour was sweetly but firmly reconfigured; we ended up taking the Sky Train). For leisure travelers, the Metropolitan’s location isn’t ideal, as the nearest Sky Train station (Saladaeng) is a good ten-minute walk, but the hotel is close to some great restaurant options (Eat Me and Celadon, as well as the in-house Nahm) and the Suan Lum Night Bazaar.
COMO Point Yamu
Seemingly camouflaged by a gray and unassuming concrete shell, this uber-tranquil 106-room wellness retreat is brought to life by the unique and contemporary style of Italian designer Paola Navone, where blue and purple design accents merge with cool, clean-lined white and grey tiles, fabrics and furnishings. Not a detail was missed in Navone’s vision; every inch of the property has been meticulously assembled with the hotel’s natural surroundings in mind. The effect created is one of utter peace and tranquility.
All accommodations maintain the same aesthetic—retro and contemporary pieces with sleek lines and pops of color. All accommodations have water views, some over the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay and others facing inland across the Cape. The Bay rooms and suites are impeccably designed and well-appointed with private pools and spacious outdoor decks. The Verandah rooms and suites, though more spacious, are accessed through a subterranean hallway, slightly detracting from the property’s airy ambiance. The spacious one- and two-bedroom pool villas have floor-to-ceiling windows and large private pools with furnished outdoor decks overlooking the water. Families and groups will do best in the two-bedroom COMO suite or one of the many private residences on property.
Dining options include exceptional Thai and Italian cuisine and each restaurant offers organic, vitamin- and mineral-rich ‘COMO Shambala Cuisine’ menu items, which are aligned with the resort’s emphasis on wellness. La Sirena, the Italian restaurant has a large, partially open-air modern dining room that overlooks the pool and sea and is spotted with Navone flair, like black-and-white checkered floors against cylindrical light fixtures and brightly colored contemporary chairs. Guests take breakfast here or outside under the pergola that sits above the pool deck. Along with the light COMO Shambala menu options, La Sirena offers a spectacular breakfast spread and natural juices in the morning, and wood-fired lunch dishes like pizza and seafood.
Just across the atrium is the resort’s Thai restaurant, Nahmyaa. Here, another masterfully designed dining room invites guests to examine the intricate tile work, bubble-like chandeliers and bold colors that set Point Yamu apart from the other resorts on Phuket. Nahmyaa’s menu was inspired by Thai street food, putting an elegant twist on local classics like fish cakes and satays, alongside sophisticated entrees. The lovely Aqua Bar is the perfect place for an after-dinner nightcap.
Service on property is white-gloved but warm and personal, with much of the staff having had experience at other COMO hotels. Not to be missed is the property’s renowned COMO Shambala spa, where guests can enjoy treatments in rooms overlooking the water. There is yoga and meditation, plus Pilates, and a cliff-top infinity swimming pool.
Slightly over-the-top, the property has micro-mirrors on Thai-style facades and the gilded finishes throughout. Villas are worth the upgrade for space and outdoor terraces along the waterways that flow through this imaginary village. As you roam around on foot or bicycle, keep an eye out for dancing apsara and angelic kinnaree among the intricate, hand-chiseled woodcarvings for which Northern Thailand is rightly famous.
Four restaurants here span the culinary globe, including Farang Ses where the French chef prepares duck ballottine, oysters and escargot as you would eat in Paris, followed by a selection of equally authentic soufflé. Le Grand Lanna (Thai food) and Fujian (Chinese food) also rate high among hotel guests and outside gourmands seeking Chiang Mai’s finest dishes.
Rebalance with complimentary classes offered here, including yoga, Muay Thai boxing and even rice planting. Or indulge inside Dheva Spa’s eighteen treatment rooms and five residences where stand-out treatments include the traditional Chinese medicinal foot massage, innovative bio feedback, and relaxing water therapy in the dedicated pool with the hotel’s Watsu guru. One recent addition deserves special attention: proceeds from the hotel’s weekly organic market support a nearby Buddhist temple school.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
This peaceful retreat has Thai-style pavilions, villas and private residences built among the rice fields outside the city of Chiang Mai.
Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui
Arriving at the Four Seasons Koh Samui does not disappoint. The resort’s unassuming driveway leads to the top of the property, where a tall, narrow door opens to a small lobby and a modern, open overhanging deck with an incredible panoramic view of the lush resort grounds, an abundance of palm trees and the turquoise water of the gulf. The property will appeal to guests looking for high-touch service and a distinctive sense of place.
Situated in the tangled greens of a coconut grove (the property has 856 coconut trees!), the Four Seasons is built into a steep hillside, which ensures spectacular views of the Gulf of Siam from all over the property. There are 60 villas and 14 two- to five-bedroom residence villas, but because of the resort’s multilevel layout, it doesn't feel crowded. The villas are well-proportioned, with ample indoor and outdoor spaces connected by floor-to-ceiling sliding windows that let you enjoy the view from your bathtub, bed or your dressing area. Interiors by Bensley Design Studios showcase an elegantly understated aesthetic: polished teak and rosewood furniture and floors, area rugs with pops of color and the occasional fabric or décor accent in striking turquoise. Each massive stone-lined bathroom has a double vanity and a deep egg-shaped bathtub that faces the window, plus a separate rain shower. It’s the kind of sexy yet relaxed jungle lair you picture James Bond unwinding in at the end of the movie. Each villa has a spacious outdoor terrace with an infinity pool and oversized daybeds. Naturally, the minibar, stocked with sweet and salty treats, a Lavazza coffeemaker and Champagne and wine, is found out here.
Getting around the sprawling property on foot can be bit of a workout, due to its steep inclines, so much of the time you will want to call for a "buggy," an oversized golf cart to get up and down the mountain. Down by the lovely beach, there’s a cool bar/lounge, where guests can nurse a cocktail or a smoothies, while reclining on enormous daybeds, as well as enjoy the massive 50-meter pool that’s popular with families. You won't go long without water and chilled towels here. Travelers with children (anyone under 18 can stay in their parents’ room for no extra charge) usually prefer the beach villas, which don’t have the elevated, sweeping views, but enjoy direct access to sand and water, with somewhat less privacy. Indagare knows which two are the most private. Overall, the Four Seasons Koh Samui is extremely child-friendly, without losing its sense of romance and luxuriousness. There’s a fabulous kids’ club, and little treats and surprises are organized throughout the day, such as s’mores offered at a beachside campfire every afternoon.
Parents should book babysitting services in advance to make time for a pampering half-or full-day at the Four Seasons’ excellent Secret Garden Spa or to take advantage of the property’s romantic atmosphere. There are five spa salas, actually huge villas, each with indoor and outdoor massage beds, indoor and outdoor showers, an alfresco bathtub and a steam room. Hidden in the jungle, they offer privacy and time for reflection. Two other salas are tucked away by the beach. Sala 5 is the most remote: you get there via a wooden walkway that snakes up the path of stairs through dense greenery. Treatments here are referred to as experiences, and the spa therapists are excellent. All include local products, such as lemon grass, coconut oil and herbal tonics and teas that are locally produced. Guests who prefer to be more active can play tennis and enjoy water sports. The attentive staff can also arrange private lessons with a Thai kickboxing champion (there is a small ring for sparring; sessions even happen on the floating dock just off the beach) or spend time training in the fitness center or doing pilates or yoga in an outdoor pavilion with a view. Overachievers can attempt the K2 competition, which involves a timed run to the top of the property. Indagare can help arrange additional activities off-site such as mountain biking and a visit to a coconut shop for a lesson in how coconuts are harvested, as well as fishing, hiking, golfing, jet skiing, kiteboarding and sailing, among others.
There are three restaurants serving excellent food on the property, including KOH, perched on one of the property’s highest points, and Pla Pla, the breezy beachside eatery, where most guests enjoy a long lunch with fresh seafood such as Clay pot roasted Cod, blue crab salad and coconut risotto with lobster. For more casual fare, you'll find **CoCoRum, **a Latin American–inspired bar that's set back from the property's private beach. Here you can try ceviches, tacos (and even pizza) or rum tipples by the resort's sleek pool. The breakfast buffet, which is served atop the hill, with a spectacular view at KOH, is varied, fresh and not to be missed. Unlike many Western properties throughout Thailand, the chef here is not afraid to serve the kind of real Thai spice the south is so well known for (Larb tuna and palm heart salad are standouts). The stylish new pop-up restaurant The Beach House serves an appealing buffet two nights per week, with tables outside for up to 30 guests (complete with fire dancers on the beach) and different themes to spice things up. In-villa dining is also a popular option for dinner: from the privacy of your terrace, you can watch the many twinkling green lights from the fishing boats out navigate their way in the night, while sampling a delicious array of the chef's favorite recipes.
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle
Play elephant minder while residing in one of 15 tricked-out tents that overlook Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle.
Set among the towering residences of Langsuan Road in Bangkok’s frenetic city center, Hotel Muse offers a stylish break from the capital’s popular riverside hideaways. Inspired by 19th- and early 20th-century indulgence in Europe and Thailand, the hotel’s design story is moody, sexy and urban: dark floors, oversized carved wooden doors, tufted red velvet chairs, oriental area rugs and dramatic light fixtures combine to create smart, multi-texture spaces.
The 174 rooms split across six different categories were named after Buddhist cosmology (starting with the Jatu Deluxe) and are swathed in an East-meets-West style. The 32 Dowadueng Corner Deluxe may not be as big as the suites, but the amenities are perfect for the city traveler. Their corner locations and massive windows offer dramatic vistas and bathrooms boast hand-painted basins, claw-foot tubs and black marble floors. For those who crave outdoor space, the Nimman suites on the 17th floor are outfitted with a leafy terrace.
Like all five-star properties in Bangkok, Hotel Muse’s entertainment options are robust. There are several dining options including an Italian restaurant that also offers BBQ and a 19th-floor pool that overlooks the capital’s Central Business District. There is also a speakeasy bar complex that serves some of the best cocktails in town.
A gilded temple rises above the dense emerald foliage in the distance, plainly visible from the massive, black-bottom infinity pool, plush sun loungers and pillow-strewn opium beds placed around this compound. Housing seven-pavilions, with Thai winged rooftops, the property is surrounded by two dozen, distinct tropical gardens. A museum’s worth of mostly Asian artifacts and valuable antiques get displayed throughout Howie’s HomeStay, which is all yours for the duration of your reservation.
Hosting guests was not in Howard Feldman’s original Chiang Mai plans. The longtime expatriate and his Thai wife, Jerri, built a multi-million-dollar export business out of Bangkok. This allowed them to hire Bill Bensley, the Harvard-trained ‘starchitect’ behind several trophy hotels across Asia. Over several years, Bensley built their Thai dream house on five acres. It’s located down the road from Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, but with superior views of the undulating jungle landscape.
After six years in residence, Feldman got the itch to build again, on a larger piece of land they own just down the road. To attract prospective buyers for a test-drive of this one-of-a-kind designer residence, Feldman opened his mother-in-law’s favorite suite in December 2011. It was immediately embraced as a retreat that works for families who want to take full advantage of Howie’s unsurpassed local intel, as well as for couples seeking indulgent tranquility among tropical splendor. After all, you are the only guests in residence and Howie’s goal is to treat his guests just as he and his wife like to be treated on their own global gallivanting.
The accommodations now extend to include the three-bedroom Family Pavilion (so altogether Howie’s can comfortably accommodate around a dozen guests. Under vaulted, 25-foot gilded teak ceilings, pillow top beds are made with Howie’s preferred 500-thread count sheets and floor-to-ceiling windows confer views of Bensley’s signature water gardens, with fish ponds and whimsical fountains. At night, hand-sewn linen blackout curtains cosset the bedrooms in sleep, inducing darkness while crickets and frogs performed their nocturnal opera.
A bountiful lunch chez Feldman might be som tam Thai papaya salad and rice noodle pad Thai, a specialty of the house. Jerri regularly cooks these family recipes for guests, and she also offers Thai cooking lessons in the enviable show kitchen surrounded by Burmese Buddhas, Thai woodcarvings and British colonial water jars. “We love to eat and we love guests who do as well. Everyone ends up feeling personally connected here at the dining table,” Feldman observes between bites.
Depending on guests’ preferences, the couple indefatigably shares “the real Thailand through our insider’s perspective” which may include Buddhist temple tours, nature treks, and Chinese herb market visits. Guests access these cherry-picked activities with Feldman’s carefully selected guide, car and driver, all built into the nightly rate. Also included are all meals, laundry, a generously stocked mini-bar and some of Thailand’s tastiest chocolate chip cookies, homemade by Howie himself.
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
This legendary property, located right on the Chao Phraya River, opened in 1876 with 14 rooms (used mostly by Western traders passing through Siam) and immediately became famous for its sumptuous interiors. In its more-than-100-year existence, the Mandarin Oriental went through several expansions, and most of the guest rooms are now located in the River Wing, which opened in 1977 (though the original part of the hotel still houses a host of suites as well as the Authors’ Lounge, which was restored in early 2016 and where high tea is served every afternoon).
The soaring lobby, which has oversized golden and teak bells suspended from the ceiling, mirrored walls and a fountain adorned with flowers, is continuously buzzing with activity and has long been a favorite meeting spot for the Thai royal family, moneyed locals, expats and visitors (some critics liken the ambience to that of a train station). More serene are the 368 rooms and suites, all showcasing the signature Mandarin Oriental style: understated elegance. The 24 rooms and suites in the Historic Garden Wing were renovated in 2016 as part of an $18 million restoration project; with stunning white-marble bathrooms and plenty of light flowing in from the floor-to-ceiling windows, they're breathtaking. Some of them have a split-level layout with the bed on a mezzanine, so on waking, you feel as if you were floating above the river. True traditionalist travelers will appreciate rooms in the Authors’ building of the Historic Garden Wing, a two-story colonial structure that overlooks a lush garden and whose four suites are individually designed (the Joseph Conrad one comes with a gorgeous private terrace as well as carved wooden doorways and a silk-paneled study). Those looking to splurge needn’t look further than the new Royal Suite located in the Garden Wing, which boasts impeccable design and privacy. As you’d expect, service is top-notch: friendly, smooth and helpful.
For those traveling with children, the real perk of staying at the Mandarin Oriental is the fabulous pool, which is framed by daybeds and loungers, offers views of the river and provides a serene resort feel in the midst of Bangkok’s chaotic bustle. The hotel’s many restaurants and lounges include the breezy riverside Verandah, the popular Bamboo Bar and the charming Authors’ Lounge. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, a visit to one of these is a must on any first-time trip. The Author’s Court afternoon high tea makes for a wonderful break from shopping at nearby O.P. Place, Cotton House or River City Verandah. The Mandarin Oriental’s acclaimed spa and cooking school are located across the river. Those looking to shop closer to home will enjoy the hotel’s shopping arcade, which is filled with high-end boutiques offering jewelry, textiles, antiques and more from renowned artisans and brands like Jim Thompson and Lotus Arts de Vivre.
Each floor has just ten spacious rooms and two suites, arranged so that they all overlook the river. Interiors are modern and comfortable and have lots of blond-wood furniture, plush carpets, couches and chairs in sunny yellows and large, contemporary bathrooms. There’s Wi-Fi throughout, and a teched-out device on the nightstand controls everything from lights to curtains. Better than TV is the river action unfolding below, especially at night, when boats outlined in small lights cruise up and down in front of the hotel and the city’s skyscrapers sparkle in the background. Rooms on the upper floors have the most expansive views. Those not suffering from vertigo may wish to book a room with a balcony. The upper-floor suites are all individually designed and include the Thai Suite, done almost entirely in teakwood, and the Terrace Suite, a sumptuous penthouse with an outdoor Jacuzzi. In addition, corner suites and rooms can be joined for two or more families traveling together. Some find the Peninsula’s sleek, polished ambience a bit corporate—and it doesn’t have the lived-in, historical feel of the Mandarin Oriental — but I truly appreciated the extra space in the room and the more tranquil common areas (since the hotel is across the river from downtown Bangkok, it doesn’t get nearly the foot traffic that properties on the other side do).
Even you don’t stay here, the excellent Thai restaurant Thiptara is worth a trip across the river, as is the tranquil spa, which opened in 2006 in a restored colonial house. The Peninsula also has a narrow three-tiered pool lined with gazebos, but its location, beside Thiptara restaurant, feels a bit more exposed than the tucked-away garden setting of the pool at the Mandarin Oriental. Shoppers will enjoy the hotel’s comprehensive shopping arcade which features luxury brands like Jim Thompson and Lotus Arts de Vivreamong others. Service at the Peninsula is flawless and unobtrusive: each room, for instance, is outfitted with a “mailbox,” a small compartment where newspapers and messages appear as if by magic, without the guest ever having to open the front door of the room (each floor also has a butler who assists with small and large requests). The Peninsula is often cited as a fabulous business hotel, but leisure travelers looking for a somewhat removed, serene base with high-end amenities should consider it.
Except for the Mandarin Oriental spa and cooking school, almost all major sights, restaurants and other attractions are located across the river. There is non-stop shuttle service from 6 a.m. until midnight, so connecting to the rest of the city isn’t a major feat, but mentally the Peninsula feels somewhat removed from the bustle of Bangkok, an advantage or a disadvantage depending on personal preference. The hotel operates a long-tail boat shuttle that stops at several piers along the river.
Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
After a 1.5-hour flight from Bangkok and a 30-minute drive past tin-roofed villages, lush mountains and pineapple trees, the mighty teak doors to Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve appear without much fanfare. That a spectacular stretch of Andaman coast sits behind these doors is not immediately apparent, but Lek Bunnag, the Thai architect behind Phulay Bay, knows how to make an entrance.
Guests are led through towering aubergine walls, not to a check-in counter, but to a gorgeous pitched-roof Thai pavilion accessed by stepping stones across a pane of water. By night, the pavilion is lit by 2,000 candles. A gong sounds as guests are handed a cold towel and a glass of lemongrass ginger tea and introduced to their personal butler. There is no concierge here; the butlers, many of whom are locals, will tend to every need.
Guests will travel to their rooms by cart over wooden bridges and through lush plant life, possibly passing a slinking monitor lizard along the way. The best of the 54 pavilions and villas offer direct views to the limestone karsts rising from the sparkling Andaman Sea.
All pavilions and villas are plush and oversized with soaring ceilings and the largest beds we’ve seen at four meters in width (a king bed is two meters). The décor is clean, modern and light, the main source of color coming from the beautiful northern Thai Lanna-style paintings throughout the space. Each room features a unique set of paintings; the complete collection took the artist two years to complete. The sprawling bathrooms were inspired by a Moroccan hammam and are flush with water features. The Reserve Pool Villas feature an indoor bath, outdoor bath, shower and a private pool. The Royal Villas with a sea view are the ones to get, with nearly 5,000 square feet of outdoor space and a large pool with unbeatable views.
Those without a private pool will not be disappointed by the spectacular public infinity pool that overlooks the sea. As the property does not have its own beach, days will be spent sipping coconuts in the pool cabanas, where attendants are friendly and attentive. Guests craving beach time can take advantage of the daily complimentary transfers to nearby Hong Island. However, as the beach is public, there will be other tourists there and it can get crowded. Those looking for a more private experience are advised to book a private boat early in the morning to explore Hong Island or the other less-visited beaches.
The other facilities include a gorgeous ESPA spa, the first in Thailand, featuring soothing treatment rooms with picture windows overlooking lush gardens. There is a full gym and a wellness center set in the jungle that offers yoga, pilates and meditation classes. The outstanding Thai restaurant, Sri Trang, serves authentic classic Thai cuisine (there are also five other restaurants on property).
Set on the stunning Phra Nang Peninsula, Rayavadee is surrounded by the Andaman Sea on three sides with direct access to two of the most beautiful beaches in mainland Krabi. The peninsula is only accessible by boat, as the limestone cliffs that surround the beaches are impassable by car. In addition to creating a dramatic backdrop, the cliffs act as a natural barrier, granting Rayavadee guests special access to the spectacular Rai Ley and Phra Nang beaches once the day-trip boats depart.
The 102 accommodations are scattered amongst coconut trees and tropical gardens in 98 two-story pavilions and four private villas designed with the natural beauty of a southern Thai village in mind. With entry-level pavilions starting at 900 square feet, the rooms are spacious and airy with oversized windows, comfortable beds and unique design touches that provide an authentically Thai sense of place. For families looking to spread out, the Family Pavilion with a pool is the room to get, with 1,800 square feet of space and dining area and large pool enclosed in a private garden.
The winding pathways that run through the property provide shade in the hot sun and make for a serene walking or running path. Monkeys, lizards and tropical hornbills, among other creatures, can be spotted in the lush gardens. The facilities are spread over 26 acres so even at full capacity, the property feels calm and peaceful.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Rai Ley and Phra Nang beaches. Since Rayavadee first opened its doors in 1994, the peninsula has become a popular day-trip from nearby Ao Nang and Krabi Town. The public longtail boats that start arriving at 10:00am and continue until 4:00pm can bring in substantial crowds, especially over holiday periods. As with all of Thailand, the beaches are public and resorts are not permitted to set up umbrellas and lounge chairs on the beach. As an alternative, Rayavadee has built a sandy platform a step up from Rai Ley beach and just off the resort’s expansive swimming pool. Here, guests have access to lounge chairs with umbrellas and beach service, making it simple to walk down for a swim in the sea and return to the privacy of the resort.
The other facilities on property include a large spa, tennis and squash courts, a full gym and four restaurants. Our favorite, The Grotto, features tables set in the nook of a limestone cliff and views out to the beach at sunset.
The Rosewood Phuket, the brand’s first resort in Southeast Asia, offers every amenity for a well-rounded beach escape in Phuket, Thailand. Indagare's hotel review here.