Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hotels in Thailand

Today’s travellers want more their holiday accommodation than just a place to sleep. Atmosphere, facilities and hospitallity all affect hotel choice.

Thai Hotel Association (THA)  and the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), embarked on a pilot project to establish a comprehensive and credible “Hotel Standard“.

Introducing Thailand’s boutique hotel, where wonderful stay begin.

Boutique Resort

Your own piece of perfection

The healthy growth of very individual places to stay around Thailand — we won’t call them hotels — has brought a welcome wave of creativity to travel in the Kingdom

What do boutique hotels have in common with Groucho Marx? Answer: Just as the famous American comedian didn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member, so hotels that fall under the rubric “boutique’ nowadays rarely refer to themselves as such. Originally coined in the early 1980s to describe an elite cadre of one-of-a-kind hotels, the word is at risk of losing its meaning under a tsunami of indiscriminate overuse.

Ultra-chic and minimalist, Costa Lanta manages to retain its Thai character.

Ultra-chic and minimalist, Costa Lanta manages to retain its Thai character.

Thailand boasts an assortment of ultra-individualistic hotel properties that feature regularly in leading international magazines such as Vogue and Wallpaper* as well as in compendiums of chic like Hip Hotels and Design Hotels. Most of the owners and general managers, however, don the mantle of “boutique-ness” only with a certain degree of reluctance.

“It’s like the concept of beauty,” says Yingluck Charoenying, owner and artistic muse for the quirky seven-room Huaplee Lazy Beach resort in Pranburi, a three-hour drive south of Bangkok. “You don’t go around saying you’re beautiful, but you don’t mind if someone else wants to call you that.”

Notions of boutique, like beauty, may lie in the eye of the beholder or brochure writer, but certain characteristics are nonetheless essential. Most important — and hardest to define — is the quality of uniqueness. Any boutique hotel, no matter what its size — and the debate about room numbers is ongoing — must exude a sense of intimacy. Other elements, some tangible, others not, also combine to create a property’s singular style statement. These include decor, ambience, theme, service, physical environment and technology among other criteria. Together, these factors create an elusive distinctiveness that allows a seriously minimal 11-storey hotel with 171 rooms in central Bangkok, the Metropolitan, and an unusual 22-unit complex on a remote island beach, Costa Lanta, to both qualify as boutique properties.

To help all you potential hotel guests navigate the maze
of adjectival superlatives associated with the boutique genre in Thailand, we’ve talked to owners and managers at diverse properties throughout the country. Obviously we couldn’t cover every venue, but the following hotels all express the “B” word in original and idiosyncratic ways.

People are calling us boutique, but all I intended was to build a very simple local hotel… more like a family home,” explains Rooj Changtrakul, who conceived the elegant 25-room Rachamankha ( that has opened in the heart of Chiang Mai’s old city. “Like when a temple or a house is turned into a place where people can come and stay.”

While I don’t know of many family homes modelled on Thailand’s oldest Lanna-style temple and arranged Chinese-style around a series of interconnected courtyards landscaped like a Japanese inn, Rachamankha certainly lives up to its owner’s aspirations. The hotel’s flavour derives from such touches as antique Chinese furniture in all the rooms, authentic Ming animal statues guarding the entrances, and a small museum’s worth of ancient artefacts from Myanmar, Laos and China.

Rachamankha, in Chiang Mai's old city, is home to artefacts from Myanmar, Laos and China, not to mention 25 elegant guestrooms.

Rachamankha, in Chiang Mai's old city, is home to artefacts from Myanmar, Laos and China, not to mention 25 elegant guestrooms.

Khun Rooj bought two old houses merely to salvage enough wood to make the thick Chinese double doors for each of the 25 rooms. He insisted the builders follow centuries-old techniques for baking the natural limestone plaster used on exterior and interior walls.

An avid collector of both antique and modern pieces for decades, Khun Rooj clearly delights in finally having a place where he can showcase his treasures — along with other heirlooms “borrowed” from his mother — to a wider, appreciative audience. He demonstrates an uncanny knack for combining the old. Say an antique Japanese hand warmer and 300-year-old Spanish bathroom tiles, with the new, a Murano glass lamp styled in San Francisco, to achieve an understated elegance.

We’re a contemporary hotel, but if someone calls us boutique, we fit into the picture,” avers James Low, general manager of  Bangkok’s sleekly modern Metropolitan ( “A contemporary boutique hotel is like an onion, it’s got a lot of layers. The layer of being very creative, the design Nineteen kilometres south of Phuket, The Racha centres its efforts on balancing mind, body and spirit in a friendly space.
aspect, the quality of the product, that innate style.” Other key components are an innate style and a sense of timelessness… a certain “look” that doesn’t date quickly.

For Low, “boutique” is less a laundry list of outward trappings than a subtle feeling. The former is easily reproducible — “anyone can pick up a magazine and follow the pictures” — whereas the latter isn’t. Like a high-end brand, a boutique hotel caters to a very select coterie of clients who know who they are and instinctively feel at home upon entering. By admitting only hotel guests or members, the chi-chi Met Bar sets itself apart from other Bangkok nightspots and heightens the sense of exclusivity.

Opened in October 2004, the Metropolitan’s carefully crafted aesthetic emanates from a variety of subtle touches like the hip black staff uniforms, designed by Yohji Yamamoto, and its two signature eateries, Cy’An and Glow, featuring small but extremely considered menus. The rooms blend technology — high-speed Internet access, Bose radio/CD players, 25-inch
televisions with DVD player — with style, in the form of 230-thread-count Italian sheets and drapy Armani-esque bathrobes, and spirituality — a meditation chair and yoga mat. Imported COMO Shambhala spa products and treatments make guests look and feel as hip as their surroundings.

Bangkok's entries into this exclusive market include The Metropolitan, with its oh-so-subtle design touches, and the Triple Two, with 75 guestrooms aimed at the business set.

Bangkok's entries into this exclusive market include The Metropolitan, with its oh-so-subtle design touches, and the Triple Two, with 75 guestrooms aimed at the business set.

Both The Metropolitan and Triple Two are clever conversions of pre-existing structures — a YMCA and a Chinese shop house-cum-office, respectively. Located on the lower end of Silom Road, the 75-room Triple Two ( proudly proclaims itself a boutique property for business-class guests. Nowadays, a hip Asian-style lobby is de rigueur for city hotels. The Triple Two version exudes a funkier homegrown feel than those of the bigger corporate properties. At Triple Two, contemporary minimalism combines with old-fashioned twists like black-and-white photos of old Chinatown to create a warmth and intimacy. Room rates too are geared towards a clientele at the less-pretentious end of the boutique spectrum.
Off in a category and location by itself is the Ibrik Resort ( More a home than a hotel — there are only three guestrooms, each with a balcony — its location on the Chao Phraya River offers a bit of a break from the city while still being right in the city. On the opposite bank and just upriver from the Grand Palace, it’s also close to the Patravadi Theatre in a smart little neighbourhood.

Nobody has ever classified us as a boutique hotel and honestly I don’t mind,” says Urs Aebi, general manager of The Racha, ( a new 70-villa hideaway set on a pristine island beach 12 miles south of Phuket. “I call us unique, but not necessarily boutique. The other day someone wanted to sell me boutique wine. Now you have boutique airlines. It’s an overused word.”

The newest of the environmentally and spiritually concerned of the Sanctuary Resorts, one of The Racha’s unique aspects is its serious commitment to the company’s mission statement: “[To create] responsible and sustainable tourism projects where people can balance body, mind and spirit in an environmentally friendly space.” Located on the undeveloped Racha Island, a 40-minute speedboat ride from Phuket, The Racha melds five-star amenities with a Zen-like ambiance. Each of the spacious all-white villas looks out over a quiet bay.

Based on the idea that small, out of the way and full of character are vital when it comes to resorts, Aleenta in Hua Hin has lofty goals.
Of course it’s always easier to feel spiritual while floating in one’s own private pool or indoor Jacuzzi, but The Racha spa can entice even the most recalcitrant spiritual seeker with its Master in Residence programmes. Specialists spend a month at The Racha teaching tai chi, yoga or other more esoteric mind-body disciplines. The Racha pays much more than lip service to environmental protection and recently instituted Thailand’s first reef-ball project designed to regenerate the region’s dying coral beds.

Also in Phuket, the 76-room Twinpalms (www. is borderline when it comes to “boutiqueness” though its modern, tropical flavour and the sense that it is smaller than actual fact work in its favour. Located on Surin Beach, Twinpalms offers big-hotel amenities such as a small spa with local touches like the original art throughout.

When Costa Lanta ( opened a couple of years ago, its five female owners turned the traditional notion of island accommodation on its head and catapulted it into the 21st century. They transformed the ubiquitous Thai bamboo bungalow into an ultra chic and minimalist design statement using concrete, elegant white linens and only the best fixtures and fittings. Guests have the option of opening their room’s thick wooden doors and sleeping under a mosquito net or nestling under the soft white duvets and turning on the air-conditioning. All 22 stand-alone units — 53 square metres, including private terrace — are identical except for their proximity to the quiet pine treed beach.

I use the word boutique because people instantly I know what it’s about,” explains Anchalika Kijkanajorn, general manager and owner of Aleenta (, a tiny resort in Hua Hin with a hugely stylish presence. Khun Anchalika once travelled extensively for work and stayed in the world’s
biggest cookie-cutter hotels. For her own holidays, she always sought out “the smallest, remotest, most characterful and most special” places. But since individualistic hideaways are often privately owned, she found first-hand how much their standards varied. “Sometimes I’d be lucky and hit the jackpot,” she laughs. “But sometimes I struck out.”

In building Aleenta, Khun Anchalika has created the type of vacation getaway she’d always looked for herself: “a hotel that’s not a hotel, something with heart that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.” Set literally steps away from a wonderfully deserted stretch of sandy beach, each of the 10 one-of-a-kind luxury suites and three stand-alone villas is uniquely designed and named. The three round bungalows with thatched roofs and whitewashed stucco walls evoke nothing less than luxurious African huts, whereas the two-storey beach house looks absolutely Mediterranean.

Casa Papaya is small — with only 12 guestrooms — family run and away from the crowds. The three-level open-air “clubhouse” houses the reception area, a bar and restaurant, a small infinity room and rooftop spa. Meanwhile every room is equipped with a variety of useful — and unusual — amenities such as Egyptian cotton sheets, board games, books, loofah sponges, herbal-eye cushions and two CDs of lounge and relaxation music mixed specially for Aleenta.

Khun Anchalika agrees with other owners and managers that words don’t make a place more or less a boutique. “I can also call myself ‘designed’, ‘chic’ or ‘hip’, but after all those adjectives are written, the whole idea about Aleenta is to make people feel they’ve got their own house on the beach.”

Boutique doesn’t always have to about sleek modernism, broadband Internet access, gourmet dining, or multi-thread count bed linen. The funky, bohemian Huaplee Lazy Beach ( resort represents the antithesis of slick formalism, yet its arty and relaxed ambiance is as carefully conceived — and individualistic — as any of its more upscale counterparts.

Tranquillity — via meditation and yoga classes — is the overall goal at the stylish La Flora, which is located in a large tropical garden.

Tranquillity — via meditation and yoga classes — is the overall goal at the stylish La Flora, which is located in a large tropical garden.

Located on the same stretch of beach as Aleenta, each of Huaplee’s six high-ceilinged rooms — three each in the two-storey cottages — and one villa is distinctively different from the next. Owner, artist, and designer Khun Yinluck loves collecting old, as opposed to antique, wooden items such as school desks, window shutters and door frames. She paints some items azure,

others white, and incorporates them into the decor along with what’s best described as an eclectic assortment of used wardrobes, wrought-iron chairs, deco mirrors and nautically inspired knick-knacks. Instead of discreetly hiding her mini-bar fridges behind Chinese cabinets or teak cupboards, Khun Yinluck covers them with pages from Thai fashion magazines and keeps them visible.

Whether it evokes the Greek island of Santorini or merely expresses its owner’s whimsical fantasies, the imaginative Huaplee Lazy Beach has attitude, character and a lot of soul.

Near Cha-am just to the north of Hua Hin, Casa Papaya is a 12-room, family-run resort. It’s definitely off the beaten track and, while not the most spectacular of resorts, would easily win awards as the most colourful.

On the ever-popular Khao Lak (www.sanctuaryresorts. com), La Flora lives up to its name inasmuch as it’s located in a large tropical garden. The gems among its 68 guestrooms are its 10 private deluxe villas, while La Flora’s spa continues the tranquillity theme with meditation and yoga classes as well as the usual array of spa services and treatments.

Opening in January in Khao Lak, The Sarojin ( is the latest in a long line of small but fully equipped resorts in Southern Thailand. Its 56 rooms are spread across 10 acres of land and its contemporary Asian feel means that it’s home to a two-level lotus pond, natural streams and a 25-metre infinity pool.

On the opposite side of the gulf in Pattaya, Sugar Hut (tel: [66-38] 364-186) is older in many senses but definitely fun in its adaptation of local architectural styles, with each of its rooms actually a small version of a traditional Thai house set amid a lush landscape. Small, it still feels like an escape from the big city. So should we search for another term besides boutique to refer to these unusual and dissimilar properties? Not really, according to Anchalika Kijkanajorn of Aleenta. “Even if you find the word that describes everyone, none of us small-hotel owners will want to be called that. We’re all individuals and want to be unique.” At the end of the day, what these small and not so small hotels call themselves is irrelevant as long as the guest enjoys his or her stay. And if they didn’t, try ringing room service and use Groucho’s famous quote: ” Room service, send up a larger room!”

By Jennifer Gampell Photography by Ira Chaplain