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The ever-popular ‘Land of Smiles’

23 November 2020

Thailand

Thailand remains Asia’s most popular, diverse and vibrant travel destination. The rainforests, sun-kissed beaches, floating markets, UNESCO protected ruins and remote hill tribes have proved to be an enduring magnet to many. Thai culture has much to reassure us in these strange times. Thai’s show respect and family almost always comes first. Strong negative emotions are rarely displayed – hence the ‘Land of Smiles’ - and who couldn’t do with a smile right now? Thai’s place spiritual importance to different parts of the body, too, so aren’t touchy-feely at the best of times, bidding farewell with a gesture known as the wai, without a handshake insight. Social-distancing will not be a problem here.

 

Phuket island

It may well be the biggest, busiest island in Thailand, but this means that the ‘Pearl of the Andaman’ has every convenience you can think of – making for a destination that is at once a reassuringly familiar and exotic escape. Celebrity-chef restaurants? Six-star resorts with private butlers? Designer boutiques? You’ll find them all here. Phuket also has many of the best beaches throughout the entire country. Mai Khao to the north is quite - harder to reach than some - but worth it at nearly seven miles of uninterrupted golden sands. You’ll see little in the way of people but maybe the odd water buffalo by the side of the road.

Laem Sing is a treasure, a peaceful beach for swimming and sunbathing with fewer tourists, hidden between Surin and Kamala. A 15-minute drive to the north takes you to the first-ever Banyan Tree resort, Banyan Tree Phuket, part of a huge complex, one of the safest locations on the island. The exceptional Double Pool Villas are huge, hidden behind high stone walls with private pools, lush tropical gardens and indoor/outdoor bathrooms. There’s also a flagship destination spa. Further south, Rosewood Phuket on Emerald Bay is closer to the island’s most popular beaches.

Styled like a traditional fishing village, it's very family-friendly and eco-friendly too (each of the suites and villas have roof gardens). The Ta Khai restaurant is one of the most talked-about dining experiences on the island; book a barbeque sala for something different. Over to the east, COMO Point Yamu is the super-stylish resort set above Phang Nga Bay, the iconic location where James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun was shot. Enjoy the sensational COMO Shambhala Retreat and the COMO Beach Club, a 20-minute shuttle boat ride away on stunning Naka Yai, one of the most exclusive venues in Phuket. Take a trip to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, 15 minutes away by car, stopping en-route at Bang Pae Waterfall to enjoy a picnic prepared by COMO chefs.

 

Koh Lanta, Krabi

Koh Lanta is commonly regarded as one of the best islands in Thailand – colourful, chilled-out and low-key. It's also quite big with more than 50 marine-park-protected islands in the archipelago. Less than an hour's boat ride from Krabi, it has nature reserves and beaches where you won't see another soul and calm waters. Kantiang beach has two gem beach bars but it’s Long Beach that is the most serene spot, fringed by pines, with unmissable sunsets. Pimalai was the first five-star hotel, set in tropical forest on the edge of white-sand Ba Kan Tiang Beach near Lanta Marine National Park.

Now a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, its rooms and villas are well spread out between cashew trees on the hillside. It has a timeless appeal - there are no jet-skis, no speedboats, just the waves along the half-mile stretch of shore, elephants wandering down with their mahouts for a bath, romantic lanterns lit by night. There are also some fantastic villas on the island too.

 

Koh Samui

The original Thai island experience. Where once it drew backpackers and ravers for its full-moon parties, now it has smartened up. Small enough to be circumnavigated in just a couple of hours by car, the island has world-renowned luxury beach resorts and yoga retreats, excellent cookery courses, scuba diving and even golf. It is of course the beaches that prove the greatest draw. Chaweng is well developed and lively, Maenam more unhurried, with spectacular views of Koh Phangan, but its Bophut that is the most fashionable. Here you’ll find Fisherman’s Village, lined by old wooden Chinese shop-houses, now converted into elegant shops and coastal restaurants with stunning views of the Gulf. Anantara Bophut Koh Samui Resort is a beautiful resort, just a stone’s throw away from Fisherman’s Village and ideal for families, with children aged 0-12 years able to stay and eat for free when sharing with parents.

Not far to the north, past the Buddhist temples of Wat Phra Yai Ko Fan (Big Buddha) and Wat Plai Laem, Six Senses Samui is set on a steep headland, the most rustic of the luxury resorts. The Six Senses Spa has an astrologist and traditional Thai healer, whilst ‘Dining on the Rocks’ is a romantic spot, set on four wooden platforms suspended above the shore. Travel south along the coast to Lamai Beach, where you’ll find the total privacy and excellent facilities of the all-pool-villa Banyan Tree Samui.

 

Good to know

Rosewood Phuket is now open and COMO Point Yamu is set to reopen on 1 December 2020.

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