WARNING: This post may make you green with envy…
I’m just back from a mini-break to the south of Thailand, to the luxury hotel Manathai Khao Lak. I had the most wonderful, relaxing time – read all about it in this week’s post.
Even a hard-working gal like me needs a bit of time off now and then. Admittedly, I’d never go to a place without wifi, but with a few weeks in a row in Chiang Mai, with no work trips on the horizon, I decided on a few days away.
I headed down to Phuket from Chiang Mai, a couple of hours’ easy flight, for less then £100 (US$150) return. At Phuket airport, I was picked up by the hotel by a very friendly driver, and offered an iced towel, water and fresh Guava juice – perfect. The journey to the resort near the town of Khao Lak was just over an hour, and gave me a chance to get reacquainted with the lush green jungle I’d known so well when living on Koh Phangan. The sprawling greenery surrounds the winding, climbing road from airport to resort, with tantalising glimpses of the sea peeking through.
The hotel has one of the most gorgeous reception areas that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a huge open space with a vaulted roof, and has the natural wood, stone and metal materials that set the tone of the whole hotel.
The receptionist met me with another iced towel, and a small bottle of sweet rosella juice. It’s a nice touch, and sitting in one of the stylish wooden chairs in reception filling out my accommodation form, rather than queuing up as you do in many hotels, helped me to feel relaxed from the start.
You can hear the gentle pounding of the surf as soon as you step into the hotel grounds – but that, along with bird song and crickets, is one of the few things you can hear: The hotel is set back from the road, so there is no sound of traffic; nothing to disturb your idyll.
The hotel has a good-sized swimming pool just off the beach, and it was a matter of moments to walk from my villa (more on that momentarily) to the pool, and to the beach. And from my room? Less than 60 seconds and I could be paddling in the sea.
The sound of the waves caressing the sand was a constant background to my stay in Manathai Khao Lak hotel. This relaxing beat keeps you to time without rushing, and I found it incredibly soothing. I was in one of the villas closest to the sea, and I imagine in some of the rooms closer to reception you might not hear it as strongly. For some this noise might be a negative, but for me it was wonderful.
With thick, lush jungle either side, and the sea at the back, the hotel is secluded, and the beach at the back has a private feel. The property is kept to a very high standard by a small army of groundsmen and women. Being back so close to the jungle and beach (though not by any means roughing it!) reminded me I do miss some aspects of living on Koh Phangan.
I was touched by a lovely Australian couple who, after I smiled at them whilst walking past, invited me to join them for a drink. They were worried about me because I was on my own (they didn’t know me!). They’d seen me around the place and wanted to make sure I was ok.
After I assured them I was very happy and perfectly fine on my own (possibly over-explained how I actually quite liked that), I sat and chatted with them for a bit – they were enjoying a week away from their home in the Blue Mountains in Australia, and were loving the hotel.
My visit was in June, when there can be quite a lot of rain, but temperatures are also fairly hot in the early 30s most days. In the few days I was there I was lucky enough not to see much rain, but the one day I had some it was surprisingly lovely – I sat on my terrace, on my porch swing, and watched the rain drops on my small private infinity pool. I know!
It’s worth remembering that the sun can still burn even through the clouds in Thailand – I’ve been badly burned on only two occasions in two and a half years, and both of those were on cloudy days when you couldn’t see the sun. Just a warning!
A Pool Villa – Accommodation Where Every Detail Was Thought Of!
You’ll know if you read this blog that I stay in a LOT of hotels (in the first six months of 2015, I’ve spent over a third of my time in a hotel). It’s taken the shine off staying in hotels a bit, as they’ve become associated with work. But stepping into the room at Manathai Khao Lak, I was thrilled by the space.
The rooms are very well appointed, and I loved the décor, all natural creams, browns, metal and wood. There were some lovely features, like rattan birdcage style lamps that made it feel Thai but also modern and unfussy.
The room I stayed in (well, private bungalow) was huge, with a king-sized bed, a ‘daybed’ (sofa 😉 ), a coffee table, a work desk and good sized chair and a large flat screen TV that I could plug my USB stick in and so watch whatever I’d brought with me (Criminal Minds in case you were wondering).
The bathroom was also a huge space (you could have held a drinks reception in there!), with a separate loo and rain shower, as well as a bath. The bath looked bigger than it was – I’m not tall and it was a little cramped (but to be honest, not many people are going to be using the bath with that amazing shower). There were two basins, and many mirrors everywhere. There was also a dressing area with a dressing table and chair, next to the massive wardrobe, that held everything from slippers and a dressing gown to a torch and the safe.
But the highlight? The terrace. Because this had the private infinity pool. Not massive, but enough so you’d definitely need to swim a few strokes to get from one end to the other, and deep enough that my head was just above the water when I stood up (I’m 5ft2in). Handy for me because I recently bought my first bikini, so I felt safe enough to wear it as my little pool was screened from public viewing!
I also loved the porch swing, which was definitely large enough for two people, as I was able to curl up on it like a cat and have a nap. It’s also where I did a fair bit of my computer work: the wifi was excellent and the terrace had a wonderful breeze coming off the sea.
The Food: German Chef Meets Vegetarian
I was a bit concerned about the food when I first saw the menu, because basically, there wasn’t much for vegetarians. I met the Executive Chef at breakfast on the first day (as you do) and we had a chat about the menu, and he said he would have a go at creating a set menu for a vegetarian. He saw it/me as a challenge! They were also happy to flex the menu to make sure I had options at each meal.
In the set meal I had a rich and delicious spiced Asian pumpkin soup, followed by a tomato and mozzarella salad. The main was an excellent mushroom risotto – and I feel I’m qualified as I’ve eaten a lot of mushroom risotto in my time – with local mushrooms, truffle oil and parmesan. This had strong and robust flavours and was delicious. The finale was a crêpe suzette (sadly not alight), not something I’ve had often, but the pancakes were tasty and the orange sauce was very good. I especially liked the fresh mint and almonds that cut through the sweetness. Oh, and vanilla ice-cream was quite literally the cherry on top. As I was on holiday, I even had a glass of the house Sauvignon Blanc which was light and refreshing.
The setting of the main restaurant, which is on the beach looking at the sand and surf, is stunning. On a clear evening you can see the sunset while you drink a cocktail (I had a mojito), and during the day there is plenty of space to sit around the pool or on the golden soft sands of the beach on a sun lounger or a beach towel (the hotel provides plenty of these). I had a walk along the beach (which was very quiet) each day, and loved paddling in the sea as I did so. I would say the waves are quite intense; I personally wouldn’t have swum in it.
Cooking up a Storm
I didn’t leave the hotel, but that didn’t mean I just lazed about, oh no. I gave the Muay Thai class a miss (though I sort of wish I hadn’t), but I did a half day cooking course, where I had the personal attention of a lovely Thai chef, A. I made papaya salad, coconut soup (tom yam), green curry, and bananas in coconut milk. It was pretty tasty!
Leaving on a Sigh and a Promise
I had a wonderful few days, and was sad to leave the gorgeous hotel, and all the fabulous details (did I say the housekeeping staff lit an oil burner in the bathroom every morning so it was scented with lemongrass for the whole visit?!).
The mini-break made me remember the importance of time off – which I know intellectually, but can never have enough reminders of. When you live the kind of lifestyle I do – travelling to a different country several times a month, in hotels (very good ones, often) all over the world, you can feel like a holiday in a hotel might feel too much like work. But there are plenty of ways that I can get round that, with just a little thought.
I’m looking forward to the next one already…