Eastern Jewels

It had been nigh on 20 years since I had last trod on Thai soil. Those years seemed an age away as I prepared to return, scheduled for a whistlestop tour of three destinations, three wonderful properties and so many culinary concoctions, I could have rolled home. The Melia Bangkok, the Banyan Tree Krabi and Trisara in Phuket would provide the backdrop for my week, all bookended by two wonderfully relaxed flights courtesy of EVA Air and their outstanding Royal Laurel Class. How the invite came about, is another story altogether.

Misfortune. It takes many forms. My erstwhile Editor received some bad news, meaning that time in the sun was recommended against. Misfortune indeed. He had a press trip booked to Thailand within that period that now seemed precarious as a result, and the place needed to be filled to rescue the trip.

Up steps Aaron.

The trip in question was to the far-flung shores of Thailand, a place I had once visited in what was seemingly a whole other lifetime. I say that as it was a trip taken with a former fiancée, in a pre-social media world. The present day is a hugely different place, and it’s fair to say I was eager to see the changes in this neck of the woods.

Eva Air

The trip was a whistlestop three-parter, encompassing Bangkok, Krabi, and finally Phuket. Bangkok had been seen previously by the 2006 version of Aaron in Asia, and it was a city that I enjoyed back then. That the Siam Paragon Mall, a newly built attraction when I was there previously, had just recently fallen victim to a shooting actually didn’t occur to me until I was sat on the flight over.

We flew courtesy of EVA Air, one of the national carriers of Taiwan. We were privy to their Royal Laurel Class, which is present on their 737 flights. The flight to Bangkok is actually via Bangkok to Taipei, but that’s a mere administrative addition to the tale. EVA has access to a grouped lounge with Canada and (if memory serves) Delta at London’s Heathrow, and it was with a relaxed gait and a smile on my face that I found myself sitting in said lounge, sipping a lovely glass of champagne whilst perusing amusing reels on Instagram.

Boarding the flight was as simple as one would expect from any flight taken above coach and I was quickly ensconced in my seat, left of centre aisle. The personal mini cabin is spacious and well-appointed. Likewise, the amenity kit is resplendent with designer accoutrements. And the pyjamas? Such lovely things. I will contextualise that by saying I only knew of their comfort from the safety of a hotel room, not being a person who frequently changes clothes on flights – I find the prospect of less-than-acceptable daytime attire on a flight a bit odd, but that’s by the by.  Food and drink were exceptional, with a choice of Western and Asian dishes across all meals and a healthy wine and cocktail selection. That, combined with the lie-flat bed and the huge individual entertainment screen meant that I passed a remarkably easy and dare I say enjoyable (almost) 11-odd hours in the sky.

Ushered by our awaiting driver, we hopped aboard the quintessentially Thai minivan (though this one certainly in the luxury segment) and made our way to our first port of call: the Melia Bangkok. Now I know the Melia brand from time in Spain and, as a Spanish brand, there is an Iberian twist on much of the property. A very white clean aesthetic combined with artistic representations of the city’s architectural icons makes for a fun and energetic style. The property is entered via a gate and the welcome vestibule leads to elevators that whisk you to the 23rd floor, which houses the reception and the link areas to the dining area and terraced roof, which includes a bar and a pool. All very lovely indeed.

One restaurant offering is a fusion premise combining, you guessed it, Spanish and Thai cuisine. The night we dined there, the food was plentiful, the wine free-flowing and the dishes genuinely representing clever and playful interpretations of the brief.

Bangkok was, as ever, the visceral hub that I guess it has always been and will always be. A heady mix of smell and sound. One needs to be so highly attuned to one’s surroundings when in Bangkok, as traffic is relentless and maybe the least forgiving to be found in the international landscape of metropolises worldwide. That meant the two safest places of refuge when wanting something a little more serene were the ever-efficient Skyrail system and the gated footprint of the Melia.

The rooftop bar provides a wonderful vantage point to soak in the size of Bangkok, all the while resplendent on a sun lounger with drink in hand. It was certainly the choice of many of the guests who were making good use of the facilities from what I saw across the two days. Winter weight and a lack of swimming skills meant I stayed firmly on the pool edge and fully attired, as a gentleman should be. Or something like that. It was, however, only a brief urban sojourn on this whistlestop eastern tour. The Melia did all that it needed to do, and in fairness it did it very well. Rooms were nicely styled and well appointed, if not huge. A curious bathroom configuration means that there is a sort of kitchen sink island in the middle of one’s room. Now, it’s not exactly problematic, nor does it hinder anything in real-world usage. Part of me, however, couldn’t help but ask a simple question: why?

Anyway, we packed our bags and were whisked across to the other Bangkok airport for a swift flight down to Krabi. The flight was dispatched with all the ease of most domestic flights, and was elevated above the norm by the in-flight availability of chilli chicken skin crisps. I’ll not take too much time waxing lyrical but suffice to say, these things are epic.

Another swift minibus journey and we were welcome to the Banyan Tree Krabi, our second home from home. The reception vista after you climb the gentle incline up to the check-in area opens up to the most glorious views out across their beautiful water feature, incorporating sunken seating to out the horizon at eye level. One gazes out to the cluster of islands that spring up just off the coast in the Andaman Sea. Divine.

Once safely checked in and confirmed we were who we purported to be, I was ferried to my room aboard the ubiquitous golf cart, seen at resorts worldwide since 1993.

The resort is ensconced at the end of Tubkaek beach and the north side of the property borders a nature resort. The buildings all aim to sit low in the foliage, meaning that the whole resort has a very boutique and intimate feel. In my room a vast walk-in closet awaits, and the minibar and service area is also featured. The main body of the room provides a sideboard at the head of the bed, meaning that from headboard to window, the views out to sea are uninterrupted. A vast bathroom is located from the bedroom, and from both the bathroom and bedroom can be accessed the jewel of the room: the balcony swimming pool.

Well-heeled readers of the magazine may recall that I’m not really a water baby, so the pool may have been superfluous. But at a reasonably shallow depth, it allowed an evening dip looking out to one of the most spectacular sunsets I can remember seeing: the kind of sunset that reminds you what certain colours actually look like.

The resort is a real haven from the headier pursuits of the area, with a spectacular on-site restaurant, The Naga Kitchen, that serves as a hub for much of what is to enjoy at the Banyan Tree. Mornings will never be the same once you have sampled the huge array of foodstuffs and treats on offer, and indeed, one would need a week longer to really sample the full gamut of what was on offer. Pastries, sushi, sausages, mimosas, and perhaps the jewel of the breakfast crown, freshly made roti on the quaint street vendor-esque cart just outside the restaurant entrance. Yes, it’s a slightly gimmicky set up, but, quite literally break bread, and one will make allowances.

The resort also possesses a traditional Thai longboat that is available for island tours and excursions. We made use one morning and the automotive editor in me revelled at what was essentially an Isuzu four put with a honking great turbo strapped to it, in turn strapped to what is essentially a scaffold pole with a propeller. The tour did provide some wonderful vistas and added massively to the stay. Again, rather remarkably, a water-based activity gets a tick from Aaron.

On to the next. Our final destination was a shortish hop across to Phuket, whisked again via minibus, which in Asia remains the best way to ride. Opulence has never been a word associated with the minivan, other than perhaps in Thailand. Comfort was never an issue.

We arrived in Phuket and drove past the innumerable beach bars and shops. We rose a little on the landscape, traversing other minibuses, locals on mopeds, and most precariously, tourists on mopeds, before being ushered through the secure gate that led us into the Trisara resort.

Sprawling across the hill and down to the beach, the resort encompasses private suites and villas that dot the property surrounding a central restaurant and ‘plaza’. The reception area gives a small peek into the vastness and the privacy of the property. One can’t quite make out any of the accommodation but can revel in the views of the lush vegetation and the beach a mere stone’s throw away it seems. Well, maybe not, but I’ve got a pretty good arm.

The resort is nestled in 14 acres, which, given the small guest quota, means that resident guests benefit from real tranquillity and privacy. None of the accommodation overlooks any other, and each includes luxurious indoor and outdoor spaces as well as private pools.

Formalities completed at reception, safely seated on the (you guessed it) golf cart, I was whisked to my accommodation.

My gracious host opened the wooden door leading to the bungalow and I followed as we passed the private pool, the Alaskan King bed, the banquette seating next to the bath, the outdoor shower, the salted caramel praline cookies that these heavenly angels replaced every goddamn day.

A resort of this kind probably could exist with just the accommodation. With the legalisation of marijuana on these shores, I can think of many, many things worse than holing up in one’s room, ordering some room service, drinking a cocktail sampling some local wares and then demolishing those cookies. I mean, they’ll be there magically replenished the next day. However, Trisara offers many experiences that are must-tries on the Island. Their restaurant PRU holds the island’s only Michelin star, and we were treated to their tasting menu one night. With an open kitchen with eye line views out to sea, the ambience is very much modern chic and the food, a mixture of local ingredients with contemporary interpretations. What we had was a wonderful evening sampling flavours that are certainly not commonplace anywhere else I would hazard to guess. Aged Durian fruit and caviar? Anyone? Me, it turns out. There is a ‘sister’ restaurant, Jamba, located in their kitchen garden a little journey off-site where we again, sampled a wonderful tasting menu that surprised and satiated in equal measure.

For foodie travellers, I couldn’t recommend Trisara enough, not least as in addition to the two halo eateries, their on-site restaurants are also spectacular. Our welcome meal consisted of so many dishes I was worried there wouldn’t be space for cookies.

I have never been a massive advocate of massage. I do, however, enjoy a Thai massage and the associated brutality. Maybe that’s a chat I should have elsewhere. Anyway, I was treated to a massage in the resort’s exemplary spa building. Again, nestled, subtly within the grounds, one is whisked in and through the process, and had I not known another attendee was in residence at the same time, I would not have known anyone else was there. The massage was, of course, spectacular. I nigh-on melted off the table and was pleased to be told how fun it was by the masseuse, who found that my muscle tightness and the therefore necessary force required for the massage was seemingly a joy for us both.

So that was that. Thailand in six short days. Three destinations, three resorts. One airline. All provided their own personalities and uniqueness to make the trip, though short and jam-packed, not for one minute a chore.

EVA Air is a wonderful provider and the journeys in both directions were a testament to their level of service. The planes and associated benefits be it menus, films or amenity kits, all were of a level that would have me happily return on board one of their fleet. The hotels, whilst all different, each provided well-serviced and supremely well-catered stays. The Melia is a superb addition to the Bangkok scene and with the Spanish twist, provides something genuinely different across the city. The Banyan Tree provides wonderful seclusion and access to the Islands off the coast, an experience difficult to repeat anywhere. And Trisara. Well, Trisara provided luxury and privacy the likes of which is hard to find across the globe, let alone in the bustling hub that is Phuket. I couldn’t recommend each one enough, and I look forward to the next invitation to cross my desk.

For flight reservations: www.evaair.com

Aaron Edgeworth

Gregarious, opinionated, a destroyer of cocktail menus and invariably late. Motoring Editor Edgeworth leads the team providing automotive content stemming from years of passion and part time work. A keen eye for design and a horder of factoids combine with a love of architecture, good food and the occasional party. Mostly found avoiding public settings.

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