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A splash of Andaman in the spa pool at the Amari Vogue

Krabi: Ritz-Carlton Walks on the Wild Side

Friday, June 20, 2008
ONE resort is scuplting a nine-hole golf course. Another is intending to set new standards in top-two percent tourism. And the Governor hopes, among other bright ideas, to build a bridge between the mainland and Ko Lanta.

Krabi is growing rapidly. Yet it plans to try to keep a balance with nature, because that's the reason why more tourists are turning to Phuket's neighbor as a destination.

Before the end of the year, Ritz-Carlton is scheduled to launch an ultra brand of resorts, Reserve, aimed at the top-spending two percent of Ritz-Carlton's clientele.

The first resort to bear the name will sit on the shores of Tup Kaek Beach, which is now becoming a challenger as the Andaman region's most exclusive destination.

When Phuketwan dropped by at Tup Kaek Beach, locals predicted that the Reserve would have world's largest rotating beds in each of 54 spacious villas.

''There will not be revolving beds or any gimmicks at all,'' responded Daniel Ford, regional Director of PR for Ritz-Calton, ''just luxurious, high quality product and service.

''It will be a very exclusive high-end resort focussed on providing excellent anticipatory service and the most stylish product and design.''

Each villa will boast a private garden and a plunge pool in more than 300 square metres of space.

"These resorts will be all about lifestyle and aimed at very high net worth individuals,'' Ford said. ''They will be the ultimate in exclusivity.

''Krabi will be the first hotel in the new Reserve brand extension, and we felt it was the perfect location and we are working with an excellent local partner.''

Along the beach, extending towards national parklands, are the Amari Vogue Resort, the Tubkaak Krabi Boutique Resort, the Tup Kaek Sunset Beach Resort and the Anyavee Tubkaek Beach Resort.

Around the corner at neighboring Klong Moung Beach is the 276-room Sofitel Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort, where the nine-hole golf course is now being added.

The Sofitel already hosts the largest swimming pool in Krabi, 7000 free-form square metres that makes up for having a road between the resort and the beach.

The 246-room Sheraton Krabi Beach Resort is nearby. Not far away, in Ao Nang, directly under a mighty karst, sits the 192-room Centara Grand Beach Resort, Krabi.

Brilliant horizons peppered with limestone peaks on land and sea, plus first-rate roads to everywhere except the delightful boat-only destinations, are rapidly making Krabi an Andaman brand to be reckoned with.

Krabi's decision-makers have been wise to learn from Phuket's failings.

There are no loungers or hawkers along the foreshore, although it's fair to say the beaches are shallow and tidal and more for walking than swimming, with Railay and perhaps one or two other less accessible beaches the exceptions.

Nature is what it's all about. Mind you, with Krabi suddenly becoming high-end, high-profile, similar number pressures to those faced by Phuket are bound to emerge.

But it is refreshing to breeze to Krabi on roads that and are wonderfully smooth and still being improved. (On Phuket, even roads fresh out of the mixer are bumpy. Why is that?)

Here's what we found at three resorts:

Sofitel Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort

Large and stylish, the imposing three-storey blocks of the Sofitel have been softened by a design that makes long corridor walks a delight for the eye with clever use of light and palm trees.

Even in the green season, a luxury room comes at 8000 baht while a package that includes the Opera honeymoon suite goes for 35,000 baht.

At that rate, you can dive off your balcony into the pool or enjoy a more private splash in an elegant walk-up Roman bathtub. Online prices are dynamic.

Open since November 2007, the Sofitel boasts three restaurants, five bars, a fitness center, a Turkish bath, a spa, a children's playground and conference facilities for up to 350 delegates.

The hotel's spacious foyer and the doormen in pith helmets evoke the atmosphere of a high-tech version of a colonial grand hotel. The golf course will provide another useful diversion.

Rising behind the resort is a large amount of land that we were told is destined for villa developments.

While honeymooners and others looking for seclusion and beauty can find plenty to enjoy in daytrips to Phi Phi or nearby Hong Island, the restaurants of Ao Nang are about as lively as it gets after dark.

Paddy's Irish Bar (Live Music Tuesday Nights) probably does very nicely.

Amari Vogue Resort

At the Amari, executive assistant manager Martin Kunzmann makes the point that Krabi, as an entire province, has yet to be seen for what it is: a rapidly-developing range of destinations along the charming Andaman coast.

As a relatively young resort, the 57-room Amari is ''not doing too badly,'' Kunzmann says, with an occupancy rate of about 50 percent in June 2008.

''Krabi is still cyclical,'' he said. Rates at present are 4000 baht, with one extra night free.

British and Australian visitors are a mainstay right now, although direct flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur along with Scandanavian charters direct to Krabi airport are the aim for the high season.

The quietly spectacular resort, in northern Lanna Thai style, is hedged by jungle and tumbles down a hillside in four levels.

There are five swimming pools, each with a different character, before you reach the shore and the Sunset Lounge and Bellini restaurant.

Spa staff head out to offer guests a free trial, a sensible way to induce people to try something new. Panoramic views from all of the pools pretty much justify the price of entry.

Kunzmann is a fan of nearby Hong Island's clear water, white sand and national park, which he rates more highly than overcrowded Phi Phi. Hong Island is just 20 minutes away by longtail.

Kunzmann also recommends a temple atop a nearby karst, accessible via 1200 steps. We will save that for the next visit.

The Tubkaak Boutique Resort Krabi

The Sunset was the first resort along the beach and the Tubkaak followed almost five years ago. When you see the natural stream that flows off the hilltop behind the resort to the sea, the charm of the area becomes evident.

Front office manager Teerasak Kanchanachongkol says a group of 13 islands have long protected the beach, and the natural water supply made it a haven from storms for local fishermen.

The resort's Bangkok owners have carefully built the resort among the trees, preserving the grace of the shoreline. There are 42 rooms of varying dimensions, with 110 staff.

The personal touch is what makes this resort special, says Teerasak. Regular feedback and customer satisfaction are what managers and staff are intent on achieving.

Nestled among a tamed wilderness, the Tubkaak concentrates on simplicity. Birds sing and insects hum in the treetops.

The library and bar is one of the few rooms with air conditioning. There is no fitness centre, and no motorsport on the water.

Individual rooms are cooled by insulation and large ceiling fans. Luxury is absent everywhere except the spa, so the Tubkaak rates four stars.

The surrounds of the outdoor showers and sunken bathtubs are, in some cases, almost as large as the bedrooms. The water is, of course, stream water.

Lack of that fifth star seems to be a plus. Nature? You are washing in it.

One modern touch: flat-screen television sets on the walls.

There are five categories of accommodation, with a base room rate of 7000 baht between May and October, rising to about 14,000 baht in the high season. Occupancy rates average 50 to 60 percent over the year.

Coming soon: What the Governor of Krabi told Phuketwan.

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Wednesday January 19, 2022
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