Pimalai’s Hilltop Villas are self-contained resorts in their own right. // © 2017 Pimalai Resort & Spa
Feature image (above): Even during busy periods, Pimalai’s public areas — such as the main pool — feel airy, spacious and private. // © 2017 Elyse Glickman
There’s the paradise you think you know, and then there’s the paradise you don’t.
During a flight delay, my group and I bided our time by scanning tourist magazines for articles about Thailand’s Koh Lanta island, a hidden paradise that’s home to Pimalai Resort & Spa, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
There was an abundance of glossy magazines promoting Phuket’s upscale restaurants, resorts and boutiques, but few covered Krabi Province and Koh Lanta. I considered this a good sign, as Koh Lanta’s version of paradise did not involve large crowds or obvious beach attractions.
My hunch proved to be correct. When we arrived on property, we were met with a warmly lit reception area and greeted with cold towels, “pandan” (a tropical plant) juice and flower leis. It soon became apparent that Pimalai is not a run-of-the-mill five-star resort. Although its foliage and architecture were not visible on our golf cart transfer to the main lobby, the mingling aromas of flowers, grass, fruit and rain on the spiraling driveway worked their magic. Time slowed down.
I was whisked up to one of Pimalai’s Hillside Ocean View Pool Villas, which includes two large bedrooms dressed in white linens, dark woods and mango-colored accents. Other in-room amenities include a private soak-size infinity pool and a stand-alone living room flanked with a well-appointed mini-kitchen.
Franck de Lestapis, general manager for the resort, explained that these top-tier dwellings — which are ideal for an extended stay — were devised exclusively by a Thai team of architects, landscapers and interior designers and would soon be updated.
Although this suite was a dreamy place to sleep after a long travel day, waking up was even better. I noticed another genius element of the property’s design: blissful isolation, even with other guests around.
This feeling continued into the public areas, from the main pool area and beach to the Thai-themed Spice & Rice restaurant, where an included, expansive breakfast is served.
In addition to an excursion menu of numerous scuba packages and on-property activities (including cooking classes, yoga and the use of a sports activities pavilion), Pimalai also takes full advantage of Koh Lanta’s natural wonders with off-property excursions to nearby national parks and the Koh Haa Islands. A per-person fee of about $75 includes a barbecue lunch or canape buffet, beverages, snorkeling equipment, park admissions and time to enjoy pristine, crowd-free beaches.
I took part in the property’s Lanta Shopping Tour. Although it wasn’t billed as a cultural sightseeing tour, I wound through several Thai-Muslim villages and the Old Town’s 1930s-era main street, lined with several boutiques that offered hand-crafted home decor items, clothing and accessories that were often sold by the artists themselves.
The rest of the stay was devoted to savoring the property, from a soak in my suite’s private pool to an indulgent 90-minute Royal Siam massage that integrated locally sourced ingredients.
Dining was top-notch, too. Our first dinner on property was pre-booked at Seven Seas, Pimalai’s Western dining venue and, though I was not enthusiastic about the prospect of bland hotel food (based on online reviews), those concerns fell away when my crisp salad and near-perfect main course of cod arrived. Then, at the end of our trip, we dined at Pimalai’s beachfront restaurant, Rak Talay, where our group savored a feast of green curry chicken, garlic and black pepper prawns and steamed fish with chili.
Although my stay was short, I was thrilled with the rich sampling of Southern Thailand’s quieter side of paradise and was encouraged that Pimalai embodied it with all of its luxurious attributes.