Ed Peters discovers an inspiring resort, and not simply just another hotel plonked along the Thai coast.
Driving over the Sarasin Bridge from Phuket is like crossing into a different country. Advertising hoardings, fast food emporia, hotel signage and coach loads of tourists – looking like so many travelling aquariums – fall behind, and you are left in Thailand, pure and simple.
Less than an hour’s journey north lies Khao Lak. It bore much of the brunt of the 2004 tsunami, and nowhere more tellingly than at The Sarojin, which had soft opened on Christmas Eve, two days before the tidal wave struck. The Sarojin’s resilient owners, Kate and Andrew Kemp, got the boutique hotel back on its feet, named 53 of the 56 rooms after their staff in tribute, and passionately threw themselves into helping the local community. In short, The Sarojin is an inspiring place, and not simply just another hotel plonked on the coast of Thailand.
The attraction is not purely the design, which encompasses minimalist, contemporary rooms that avoid both the frivolous and the spartan, a square onyx pool, croquet lawn and beach, all centred round an age-old Ficus tree. It’s more the feeling that this is a friend’s private estate, whose retainers are truly concerned that you are enjoying yourself. “We ask our staff to treat guests as they would their mother,” explains Kate Kemp. “So greeting them, bidding them farewell, and making sure they’re looked after all the time comes naturally. It strikes a very nice balance.”
Best of all, The Sarojin is neatly placed for forays to the immediate region. Khao Lak and Khao Sok National Parks are both a short drive away, with towering limestone mountains, placid lakes, jungle trails and caves to explore aboard a jeep, canoe, elephant or Shank’s Pony. The rainforest here is reckoned to be 160 million years old, give or take a millennium, and the parks’ numerous waterfalls are popular places to picnic and swim.
White-water rafting adds an extra dimension of excitement, and the parks act as nature reserves, home to tapirs, bushy crested hornbills and monitor lizards. The parks’ vertiginous cliffs also supply plenty of challenges for rock climbers and abseilers. A day spent here is a timely reminder that much of Thailand remains undeveloped, and beautifully pristine to boot.
Out to sea, there’s even more to sample in the way of natural wonders. At the beginning of the year, the World Wildlife Fund confirmed the discovery of a new reef, covering some 270ha, about half an hour offshore from The Sarojin.
Following surveys and the establishment of conservation measures, the reef will be opened to divers this autumn. The new reef complements the Similan Islands, which lie about an hour to the west of the resort and are renowned for their marine life and corals as well as white-sand beaches and lush interiors. Visibility can reach up to 30m, making the area perfect for both experienced scuba divers and novice snorkellers.
The Sarojin takes its name from the mythical daughter of a Thai nobleman, whose legendary grace and hospitality attracted visitors from near and far. So it is with the Lady Sarojin, the resort’s 11-metre luxury motorboat, which plies the waters carrying both divers and leisure cruisers, voyaging out into the Andaman Sea and to the more secluded recesses of Phang Nga Bay. The latter’s hongs, or sea caves, reveal themselves only a low tide, when intrepid kayakers can paddle into their interiors which are like a lost world.
Rather less strenuously, two 18-hole golf courses – Tap La Mu and Thai Muang – are just up the road from The Sarojin, each combining some cleverly devised holes with stunning seaside scenery.
Fully exercised, there are still a couple of temptations at day’s end back at The Sarojin. Spas are the sine qua non of resorts and even inner-city hotels nowadays, but pathways cut a refreshing template, balancing the seclusion of its semi alfresco treatment pavilions with views out over a coconut grove, and dangling an enticing menu of treatments that combines ancient therapy with modern comfort.
Or guests can head straight to dinner, whether in the contemporary Ficus beside a lotus pond or at the beachside Edge. The choice doesn’t stop there, as staff, falling in with adopted maternal whim, will set up a meal wherever guests wish within the resort – in the gardens, a suite’s sala or right by the sea’s edge?
Following its own lucky escape two years ago, The Sarojin is now providing great escapes of its own.
A night at The Sarojin (www.sarojin.com) costs from US$262.50.