The view from Rayavadee in Krabi
Huge snaps to my wife S for updating this blog while I’ve been on the road. For the past 10 days, I’ve been flouncing my way across some of the prettier parts of Southern Thailand on an assignment. (In a nutshell, I was scouting the area’s boutique hotels and resorts for a client.)
I started my trip in Koh Samui. My colleague and I spent a couple nights at the SILA Evason Hideway, which is a swanky rustic-chic property with beautiful pool villas and personalized butler service. Its restaurant, Dining on the Rocks, is worth a visit. It’s easily one of the most unique and beautiful restaurants I’ve ever been to. Sub-divided across multiple platforms overlooking the water, every table offers a stunning view. If rustic-chic isn’t your thing, I’d recommend checking out The Library resort. While it’s located on busy Chaweng beach (which is either a good or bad thing depending on your personal preferences), this modern, ultra-cool and sleek retreat is both private and comfortable. The red mosaic pool is very sexy, as is the all-white library, stocked full of the best international art and design books. All rooms come with gleaming white iMacs and plasma screen TVs, extras that media addicts like me really appreciate. The food at the Library was also pleasant and affordable. Sadly, few of the meals we had in Samui really blew us away. (We were really looking forward to dining at the much ballyhooed Betelnut, whose chef, Jeffrey Lord, became famous at Poppies, a veritable Samui institution. In the end, though, I found his fusion food a little amateurish and clumsy.) In fact, the best meal we had on this island was a breakfast at Padma, the main restaurant at a chic all-villa property called Karma Samui.
Clockwise from top left: island-hopping; the library at Library; Amanpuri; the view from Baba; brekkie at Zeavola; Catch beach club
From Samui, we hopped over to the Pearl of the Andaman, Phuket. As I’ve mentioned previously, I spent the summer of 1993 working in Phuket, so I have a strange love-hate relationship with the place. I love the island’s natural beauty but hate that this gorgeous place has become so over-developed and overrun with tourists over the years. I remember Surin beach when it was a sleepy, sexy strip of sand with only a handful of cheap cafes nearby. Now, the area is dense with expensive resorts, restaurants and shops (there’s even a mall). Fortunately, not all of these new developments are eyesores. Both my colleague and I were really taken by the Twinpalms Hotel and its ubercool Catch Beach Club, located right on the sand at Surin. The beach club is airy, clean, cool and serves simple but good food and satisfying cocktails. There’s live music every night. Up the road from Twin Palms is Amanpuri, the grandmama of all chi-chi resorts in Southeast Asia. Good news is grams still looks like a million bucks and her clients are all worth many times more. The restaurants (a Thai and an Italian) are still among the best on the island. A good place to chow down on some Modern Thai food in sleek surrounds is Silk, in Surin Plaza. Sadly, one of my one-time favourite restaurants has now become nothing more than a tourist trap. I took my colleague to dine at Lotus, at Bang Tao Bay, and was utterly disappointed. What was once a great, affordable place for good seafood has now become yet another lousy rip-off.
I was planning on grabbing a meal at Lim’s over on Kalim Beach because some friends had raved about it. Somehow though, the night I had reservations I got sidetracked and ended up dining in Baba, the restaurant at the ultra-chic Sri Panwa resort. The cocktails at this luxe retreat were perfect and the view was stunning (of course, the half-naked Eurasian hottie frolicking in the pool in front of us only helped raise the hip factor). The restaurant’s chef, Christian Karl, who was previously at Nobu in London, prepared a smart and delicous tasting menu for us. Another restaurant worth the trip is Rivet, the industrial, urban steakhouse in the newly rebranded and re-opened Indigo Pearl resort. There, I had a delicious pumpkin soup with crab cake and caviar followed by a juicy US ribeye, served with onion rings and creamed spinach.
Clockwise from top left: beach and sun; dining at Zeavola; pad thai at Costa Lanta; the restaurant at Costa Lanta; Destination Air; Tubkaak
From Phuket, we jumped a boat and spent a few days island-hopping. On Phi Phi island, we stayed at the gorgeous Zeavola resort. Owned by the wonderfully exuberant Khun Quanchai Panitpichetvong, this resort is built to look like an ancient Thai village, but with modern (and luxurious) touches. There are two F&B outlets, a casual beachside cafe and a sexy, open-air restaurant with lovely design elements. The food is good too. For dinner, I had a yummy crab pasta with asparagus. For brekkie the next day, I had a fantastic dish the hotel calls “Thai Royal Eggs”, which was fried eggs with minced chicken, sausages and other yummy stuff served on a cast-iron pan. A really cute touch that I liked was that the brekkie menu here is printed on a wax-lined bag. Inside the bag are freshly fried dough fritters, which are served with your choice of sweetened condensed milk or a pandan jam. The following day, we ferried over to Koh Lanta and stayed at the chic but minimalist Costa Lanta. The female owners clearly enjoy their food and booze because both the cocktails here and the food was excellent.
Our last stop was Krabi, where we checked out three resorts, among them Tubkaak, which was pretty and charming, and Rayavadee, a very pricey secluded property that I had visited previously for a friend’s wedding. Amusingly, the best food I had in Krabi was neither a Thai meal nor was it at any of these chi-chi hotels. It was at at an Irish pub named Paddy’s, where I had one of the best burgers I’ve had in ages. On the last night of our trip, I happily tucked into a very satisfying and really delicious bacon cheeseburger, washed down with a cold wheat beer. My colleague had a homemade pie, which she wolfed down and stated was great. The fries were also excellent here, fried to just the right level of crispness. Simple but stupendous.
We left Krabi very fashionably. My colleague described our departure as “very James Bond”. We had booked seats on Destination Air, a tiny little airline that runs seaplanes around Southern Thailand. From our hotel, we took a longtail boat into the middle of the ocean. Right on schedule, our plane swooped down to pick us up and bring us to Phuket’s airport. It was a great and gorgeously scenic way to leave Thailand, flying directly over the islands we had just spent 10 days skipping through.