As the sun prepares to burst out in all its glory the cool early morning is an opportunity to enjoy breakfast on the terrace at the JW Marriott Khao Lak’s Waterfront restaurant. By enjoy, I mean really enjoy. The food is, of course impeccably delicious, fresh and covering a wide range of tastes. But nowhere can you enjoy a leisurely breakfast with such a mix of serenity. Tropical birds sing in the trees beside the restaurant and waves that started out in the Indian Ocean break on the pristine white beach, providing the soundtrack to the beginning of another perfect day in this enchanting paradise that is JW Marriott’s hidden treasure.
What does the day hold?
An extreme sports day white water rafting?
Scuba diving and snorkeling at one of the best dive sites in Thailand around Similan Islands National Park?
An afternoon shopping and sampling for clothes, food and unusual souvenirs at Ban Niang evening market?
Or perhaps a treatment in the resort’s Quan Spa and a leisurely swim round the biggest swimming pool in SE Asia?
Whatever it is, the attentive staff at the resort will arrange it.
The 210 room luxury resort opened late last year. It is owned by Zeynel Atmacan, an energetic German of Turkish origins, who seized the opportunity to take over a derelict property ravaged by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. The entrepreneur, who speaks fluent Thai and is married to a Thai, won the support of the Phang Nga provincial Governor, Yiamsuriya Palasuk.
Khao Lak was one of the worst hit areas of Thailand in the devastating tsunami which killed more than 225,000 and displaced over 1.2 million people in 11 countries in South Asia. A local memorial to the disaster is a police patrol boat that stands where it landed, over 2 kms inland and visible from the highway that connects the resort with the international airport in neighboring Phuket province. While over 8,000 people died in Khao Lak area out of 16,000 killed by the Tsunami in Thailand many locals would prefer to let time assuage their hurt without visible reminders such as Patrol Boat 813.
The JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa is proof of the resurgence of Khao Lak’s tourist appeal on what is claimed to be the best beach in Thailand. Between the azure Andaman Sea and a backdrop of lush rainforest the resort is a beautifully crafted low rise development in Thai-style construction with its landscape filled by pagoda-style roofs spread around 16,000 sq.m. of meandering waterway that is the largest swimming pool in South East Asia. The Lagoon connects the hotel rooms with the more formal swimming pool, the children’s pool, the Infinity pool side bar and the Aquamarine pool bar.
Water is a constant theme at the resort, from the sheer cascades either side of the main entrance of the main building to the seductive little pools filled with water lilies that add to the individual settings for the gazebos sprinkled round the estate.
The main building accommodates the hotel reception and a large seating area where managers often join new arrivals for a refreshing champagne cocktail. Polished marble floors enhance the lounge area which is scattered with exquisite local bronze statues. Downstairs are the library, gymnasium, children’s playroom and the Deli serving sandwiches, savoury fare, ice cream and pastries.
The rooms are spacious with the smallest having a floor area of 45 sq.m. and equipped with a king size bed or twin singles. Marriott mattresses are renowned for their comfort and are extremely conducive to a deep relaxing sleep no matter how many cocktails you have experimented with in the late night Czar Bar which boasts day time views of Andaman Sea and the lagoon pool. For a room-service breakfast or just relaxing, the sofa on the 8 sq.m. balcony offers a shady respite from the sun. The 40-inch wall-mounted TV is the heart of a communications system that Marriott International is rolling out around the world. Electronic devices including Laptop, digital camera and iPod can all be connected via plug and play technology to the large screen. You can even control everything from bed with the wireless keyboard supplied in the rooms! The technology equipment in room includes DVD player, IDD smart telephone with voice mail, electronic in-room safe and a mini-refrigerator.
The spacious bathroom has separate cubicles for shower and WC and the extra large long marble bath is beside the interior window to the bedroom.
With room rates from 4,000 Thai Baht ($ 124, RUR 3,875, GBP 84) for two with breakfast, it is a bargain. 17% taxes and service apply.
The resort has no fewer than eight food and beverage outlets ranging from the smart Ta-Krai offering Thai cuisine made using fresh local ingredients to the smart casual Mediterranean style Olive restaurant offering dining until 10 p.m. and sizzling live music and dancing into the early hours of the morning. Other offerings include the Sakura Japanese restaurant with an open kitchen where you can watch sushi and teppanyaki dishes being prepared and the Waterfront which serves from breakfast through to dinner and affording spectacular views of the sun sinking into the Andaman Sea.
The outlets are rounded out by the casual Deli and the two pool side bars. The Infinity offers light snacks and poolside beverages while the Aquamarine serves up delicious thirst quenching drinks while you are in the Lagoon.
The resorts chefs perform outstandingly every day proffering guests extensive buffets, perfectly turned out breakfast eggs and gourmet dishes executed with flair. They excelled one particular evening when a group of foreign journalists from Britain, Germany, the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong together with a clutch of expat writers from Bangkok were invited to one of a series of official openings. Seating at impressive banqueting round tables near the beach we enjoyed a magnificent buffet including lobster, char-grilled steaks pork ribs and various other delicacies while a traditional Thai ensemble performed with traditional puppets.
The party was regaled by speeches and Phang Nga provincial Governor, Yiamsuriya Palasuk spoke in English demonstrating his recent mastery of the language and evidencing officialdom’s desire to encourage a revival of the international tourist trade to this idyllic area, 80 kms north of Phuket International Airport and far from the madding crowd of Phuket itself.
After dinner the crowd were ushered down to the beach where we followed centuries of tradition by lighting candles in lantern kites and as the hot air generated by the candles created lift allowed them to float free into the night sky where they made an impressive site.
This traditional custom, we were told, is to release any negative energy in the enterprise and carry it up, up and away ensuring only good positive spirit imbues the new enterprise.
For my Russian colleague it brought memories of an earlier trip to SE Asia when he returned home with several such lanterns and, one evening at the country dacha, lit and sent them skywards to the consternation of his neighbors who phoned the militia to report UFO’s.
The kite tradition in SE Asia probably stems from Southern China but the charm, consideration and tireless enthusiasm to offer guests assistance in every possible way to make their stay perfect is pure Thai.
At JW Marriott Khao Lak you could be forgiven for thinking that at every turn a smiling, bowing hotel employee is waiting to greet you with “Sawasdee” and an offer to escort you to wherever you are headed – be it the pool, the spa or whichever restaurant takes your fancy.
This universal Thai greeting seems to encompass both hello and goodbye and is usually pronounced while performing a ‘wai’, the traditional Thai greeting. Thais usually don't shake hands but instead ‘wai’ which is raising both hands gracefully and unhurriedly, palm to palm, fingers together and close to the body, bringing them in a prayer- like gesture to the head while bowing slightly.
The grace, patience and happiness in serving of the staff is truly one of the great assets of this hidden treasure in a remarkable corner of Thailand.
See also One Night in Bangkok