Pimalai Resort & Spa features sweeping views. // © 2011 Janice Mucalov
Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay (between Phuket and Krabi) is sprinkled with hundreds of awe-inspiring, craggy limestone pinnacles or karsts rising mushroom-like from the pea-green sea. The bay is famous for its scenic beauty — remember the Bond movie, “The Man With the Golden Gun,” or “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio? Graced by white-sand beaches and lush rainforest, several islands here are untouched by mass tourism. Clients seeking a deluxe, off-the-beaten-path escape can find at least two five-star resorts in this pristine unspoiled setting.
Pimalai Resort & Spa
From Krabi, a one-hour speedboat ride through the karst-studded bay takes clients to Pimalai Resort & Spa on Koh Lanta. Stepping off onto the resort’s floating dock, guests are welcomed with flower leis and ginger-infused lemonade before being driven by buggy to their room or villa.
Accommodations at Pimalai, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, consist of 121 rooms, suites and villas. The finest are the new Thai-style villas clinging to the top of an emerald hillside. Each has more than 2,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, including a private infinity-edge pool (complete with fish fountains).
Breakfast is served on a stunning outdoor terrace. A buffet displays everything from fresh fruit smoothies to made-to-order eggs Benedict. For dinner, I chose Pimalai’s seafood restaurant one evening. Seated at a table made from gnarled tree branches, with my toes in the sand, I ate fresh-grilled rock lobster. Other evenings, we sampled good inexpensive Thai restaurants outside the resort found within walking-distance along the beach.
Then there was the scuba diving, some of it at dive sites regularly mentioned on the world’s top 10 lists. Through Pimalai’s PADI gold dive center, I cruised out on a large comfortable boat to dive among cathedral-like caves and coral gardens. Bikes are also available for free to cycle around the island.
Six Senses Yao Noi
In the middle of Phang Nga Bay, Six Senses Yao Noi is a new 54-villa retreat on the island of Yao Noi, a one-hour speedboat ride from either Phuket or Krabi.
At Yao Noi, the weathered, thatched-roof villas are made of sustainable woods, and only bedrooms are air-conditioned. Open-air bathrooms have outdoor bamboo showers (I lathered up underneath the stars with natural lemongrass bath products poured from ceramic pots). Towels drape over knotty wood ladders, and coat hangers are made of branches, hung on rope closet rods. But each villa has free Wi-Fi and an espresso coffee machine, along with a television hidden behind a wood panel in the bedroom wall. Organic mosquito lotion is also provided.
Where the resort really shines, however, is in its cuisine. The executive chef is helped by 28 chefs who prepare the freshest, most exquisite meals, with ingredients from the resort’s organic garden. Thai cuisine is served in one restaurant, while the other dining room — with a creek meandering underneath a glass bottom floor — specializes in Italian gnocchi, pasta and organic kamut spaghetti dishes better than I’ve ever eaten in Italy.