“Chang puak kird ni pa,” say the friendly Thai locals. In English the phrase’s literal translation employs the evocative imagery of baby white elephants to signify that the best things in life are difficult to find. Fortunately in a country so devoted to the art of relaxation, it is not so difficult to come across a varied range of stylish stays: infinity pools perched upon steep cliffs, open-air spas atop of mountains, canvas restaurants wide enough to feed breakfast bananas to the elephants.
Whether in the misty jungles off Chiang Rai or the heavenly island of Koh Samui, travelers can relax in five-star hotels, private villas, tented camps and otherworldly resort properties. Here are a few of the ones on my must-stay list.
Siam Kempinski Hotel: The grandiose lobby of this luxury resort in Bangkok leads to the crisp-yarded courtyard where the pool glisten across narrow channels. The Deluxe Pool Suites are tucked towards the back and offer an exclusive and convenient entryway into the water. The Kempinski is also home to one of the most unique dining experiences in Bangkok: Sra Bua the on-site restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy. (For more of my photos click here).
Paresa Resort: What can you expect from a Phuket resort named after the Sankrit phrase meaning “heaven of heavens”? One of the most breathtaking infinity pools in the world, for starters. Right at dawn, Paresa’s main pool starts to twinkle with fiber optic star lights. The resort’s one-of-a-kind Cielo Residences are clustered upon the Kamala cliffs with a private balcony and infinity pool overlooking the deep Andaman sea. Photo credit: Paresa Resort
Four Seasons Golden Triangle: Tucked in the forest up on a mountain in Thailand’s Golden Triangle region and accessible via a river, the Four Seasons here is nothing but 16 individual tented camps, making it one of the most exclusive resorts in the world. Awake to the sound of monks chanting in nearby Burma, then have breakfast next to the camp’s resident elephants, trek with them across the jungle, plunge into the river, and finish by indulging in a massage meant for Mahouts. (For more of my photos click here).
Six Senses Samui: You can be witness to the island of Koh Samui’s changing hues — from the crisp morning sun the delicate orange of the evening — all from the comfort of your bed. Staying at the Retreat bedroom villas at the tip of the island feels like being on top of the world. The resort’s on-site restaurant, Dining on the Rocks, overlooks a dramatic cliff scenery as it dives towards the majestic Gulf of Samui. Photo credit: Six Senses
The Siam: Home to the first pool villas in Bangkok makes The Siam the city’s first true luxury urban resort. The property creeps up the Phraya River and with its own boating dock for their private dinner cruise. Accommodations incorporate four traditional Jim Thompson Thai homes (two are villas and the other two form the on-site restaurant). The Siam was financed by the Sukosols, the colorfully talented family of a fabulously charitable matriarch and her clan consisting of a vocal prodigy, rock star-turned-actor and a record industry entrepreneur. (For more of my photos click here).
Rayavadee: Extending across 26 acres in the more remote Andaman costal region of Krabi, Rayavadee is surrounded by coconut groves and luscious tropical forest. Making it even more intimate, this resort is located on a peninsula and only accessible by boat. Accommodations consists of over hundred pavilions and private villas with breezy balconies and easy access to the three nearby beaches. The Grotto restaurant (above) rests right off Phranang Beach. Photo credit: Rayavadee
Mandarin Oriental: This grandiose property in Chiang Mai caters to those wanting their vacation to be an escape back through time. The resort features colonial and traditional Thai architecture to create an epic royal aesthetic that stretches all the way to the secluded private villas towards the back. Towards the front, the Mandarin Oriental has a very large, soft-lit landscaped garden used for special occasions like weddings and company retreats. (For more of my photos click here).
Banyan Tree: For a breathtaking view of Bangkok, look no further than the Moon Bar atop the Banyan Tree. Billed as a “sanctuary of the senses,” this luxury resort has all the requisites of a five-star stay: relaxing spa, world-class restaurants and prime location. The extra perks include access to a stunning 360-degree view of the city at the very top of the building and a dinner cruise through Phraya River. (For more of my photos click here).
Six Senses Yao Noi: The second Six Senses property to make it on the list, this resort chain definitely goes above and beyond creating an otherworldly Thailand stay. In the isle of Yao Noi, the Six Senses resort is tucked between the jungle and the beach and guests can walk right into either from their private villas or relax in their own infinity pool, outdoor shower and sunken tubs. Want to wake up with glimpses of the picturesque bay? Make sure to book the Ocean Panorama Pool Villa. Photo credit: Six Senses
Villa Yin: Another world-class infinity pool can be found at the Villa Yin, the stretch of cliffside pavilions clustered on the aptly-named Millionaire’s Mile in Phuket. Villa Yin’s 60-foot infinity pool stretches seamlessly into the Andaman Sea. Inside the setting is just as spectacular with modern furniture and dramatic design that should feel very inviting to art aficionados in need of an aesthetically-pleasing escape.
Four Seasons Koh Samui: Prepare to dip your toes into the white sand and calm waters of the Gulf of Siam at this beachside resort. And to add to the relaxing (even mystical) vibe this Four Seasons property offer, take a trip to the nearby Koh Samui landmarks like the Big Buddha and the golden Laem Sor Pagoda. The resort is also just a boat ride away from the famed Angthong National Marine Park with virgin jungles and one-of-a-kind coral reefs. Photo credit: Four Seasons
Ritz Carlton Phulay Bay: Located off the beaten path of Krabi, the Ritz Carlton Phulay Bay is made up of 54 one-bedroom pavilions perfect for lovebirds seeking some privacy. The Royal Beach Villa, for example, comes equipped with a sundeck, hydro jet-powered infinity pool, rainforest showers and private veranda to watch the sunset from the lounge beds. Photo credit: Ritz Carlton
Four Seasons Chiang Mai: The Four Seasons resort chain is as impeccable as they come, hence their third mention on the list. In Chiang Mai, the Four Seasons employs the area’s rice farms to replicate the authentic Northern Thailand experience. The resort has several accommodations options including pavilions overlooking the rice fields and more private pool villas. (For more of my photos click here).
X2 Koh Kood: The third property in Thailand from the design-heavy x2 resorts has not been completed yet, but it’s already garnering quite the buzz. Scheduled to open in 2013, the x2 Koh Kood is about as dreamy as can be imagined. Can’t wait until then? Check out the two other x2 resorts in Koh Samui and Kui Buri. Rendering credit: x2
BOY TOYS TALK BACK: Where would you like to stay while visiting Thailand?