Aava Resort & Spa is the kind of hotel that we’d keep to ourselves if we could, thanks to its eye-bogglingly beautiful beach, brilliant Finnish owners and dandy Scandi styling. The chefs are supremely talented, rooms are romantic and there’s even an onsite bakery that rustles up perfect pizzas.
Get this when you book through us:
A fruit basket and homemade pastries from Aava bakery
5pm. Earliest check-in, 8am. Both are flexible, subject to availability (no extra charge applies).
Double rooms from £91.13 (THB3,780), including tax at 17.7 per cent.
Rates usually include an all-American breakfast, plus WiFi. Stay for five nights or more and you’ll also get free return airport transfers from Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Aava has managed to keep itself relatively under the radar, but it did once make Tatler’s ‘Too Cool for School’ list.
At the hotel
Beach, swimming pool, spa, bakery, boutiques, beach bags to borrow, library, stash of DVDs, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV, DVD player, minibar, tea- and coffee-making facilities, bathrobes, hairdryer and toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
We love the Poolside Villas for their ladder access to the pool and their private sun-deck with a sunbed, comfy sofa and a little table that hints at sunny private lunches. Of the Poolside Villas, opt for 3 or 4 if you want privacy (these two are positioned at the back of the pool, so get less swimmer traffic) or 1 or 6 – at the front of the hotel, close to the beach and restaurant – if you prefer to be in the thick of things.
The dark-blue-tiled pool is the watery heart of the hotel, overlooking the beach, next to the restaurant and flanked by Poolside Villas. There are big white loungers on the wooden deck between the pool and the beach; salas and beanbags dot the beach.
The spa only has one treatment room, so book your pampering session well ahead.
Pink bathers, to match the baby-pink local dolphins.
Pooches weighing in at 15kg or less and in possession of immaculate manners are welcome for THB300 in the Superior Bungalow, Poolside Villa and Family Villa; dog bowls are provided and maximum two pets can stay per room. See more pet-friendly hotels in Khanom.
The owners have two children and welcome little Smiths. Extra beds (free for under-13s) and cots (also free) can be added to rooms. The hotel offers free childcare – pick between the kids club or two on-loan, full time babysitters.
Opt for one of the four Family Villas, which are the biggest sleeping quarters at 70sq m. There’s a master bedroom downstairs; a terrace and a room with twin beds upstairs.
None, but Nino’s kids club is designed for little Smiths of all ages. Nino's is a little playroom above the restaurant, stocked with toys and games. It’s supervised throughout the day, and is open seven days a week from 9am until 10pm.
Little Smiths will go nuts for the pink dolphin tours. They'll also love having their feet nibbled by fish in the mountain river, at the island's natural spa. Staff can arrange temple tours or boat trips for families.
The pool is great for kids: it has a shallow end, Roman steps and on-loan inflatables. There's also a separate children's pool.
Aalto has highchairs and a children’s menu (kids eat free when dining with parents). Staff will happily provide fruit or vegetable purées for tiny Smiths
The hotel has two full time babysitters, who will look after your little ones without charge.
No need to pack
Toys and games are provided at Nino’s and there are inflatables and floats by the pool.
Families will love the little bakery: try the perfect pizzas or pick up a mid-afternoon treat for you and your brood.
Sit out on the deck, overlooking the beach. Too hot? There are shady options inside. For a memorable meal, ask staff to set up a private table on the beach (Saturday nights only).
Khanom cool: light, floaty layers and sandals you can kick off for cocktails on the beach.
Open-air Aalto by the beach and pool takes food pretty seriously: the hotel has a visiting mentor programme, which sees international chefs stay for a few months in high season to teach Aava's staff their art and refresh the menus. Breakfast is generous: fruit and pastries from the bakery, followed by a choice of main (bacon and fried eggs on sourdough with garlic and onion foam, perhaps); lunch is a selection of nine amazing salads; dinner is more formal, featuring ambitious fusion food. We would go back in a heartbeat for the 'spicy cow' signature starter: marinated tenderloin with rice vinaigrette, served on a bed of fresh and cured cherry tomatoes with cucumber ribbon. There are Scandi options too, such as the toast Skagen: prawns in dill-lemon mayonnaise, served on sautéed bread.
No separate bar as such, but you can have a drink in the restaurant or take a cocktail to the breezy beachside salas. We're thirsting for the Aava martini (vodka, fresh lychee and lemongrass, topped with apple juice) and the lemongrass mule: vodka, ginger, lime, lemongrass and ginger ale.
The restaurant is open until 10pm; breakfast is served from 7am.
Order items from the restaurant menu to your room between 7am and 10pm. You can order perfect pizza from Aava’s bakery between 10am and 9.30pm (make ours a margarita).
Aava occupies a brilliant spot on Nadan Beach, Khanom, in an area that has somehow remained off-the-radar, despite its considerable beauty. Though Khanom feels remote, it’s pretty easily accessible by boat or plane from the mainland or Koh Samui.
Surat Thani Airport (www.suratthaniairport.com) is the closest, an hour and a half away by car. Phuket Airport (www.phuketairportonline.com) is a four-hour drive. If you’ve flown into Koh Samui, you can hop across to Khanom in a ferry (see below).
Khanom is the nearest town, 10 minutes away and the hotel has plenty of onsite parking – but this is a beach escape, you won’t need wheels.
If you're coming by ferry from Koh Samui, you'll catch the boat from Nathon Pier on Samui to Don Sak pier on the mainland. From there, it's a 20-minute drive to the hotel (staff can pick you up).
Worth getting out of bed for
You can’t go home without seeing a pink dolphin. Head out in a longtail boat with a local fisherman and keep your eyes peeled for baby-pink fins (camera essential). While you have the boat and your captain at your disposal, stop off at the sacred island to see the statue of the famous Buddhist monk Luang Por Tuad. You can also go on a trip to visit the fish spa, in a beautiful mountain river – expect the best natural pedicure of your life. At the entrance to the hotel, the owners have created a sort of Aava village: if you need a retail fix, visit the tailor (responsible for the staff’s elegant uniforms), pick up kaftans and beachwear at Island Girl or buy gifts for the folks back home at the souvenir shop. Stake out Aava’s single treatment room for a few hours – have a Thai or oil massage – and steam up in the traditional Finnish sauna. While you’re on a health kick, find out about the hotel’s weekly wellness programme, which includes Tai Chi on the beach, Muay Thai on the terrace (kids can take part, too) and yoga (some activities are free; chargeable options cost between THB500 and THB700 a session).
See why Thum had a restaurant named after her at Khanom Hill Resort: she’s still in the kitchen, effortlessly rustling up delicious traditional Thai dishes such as steamed fish with plum sauce, fried rice with shrimps and noodles with broccoli and pork (+66 (0) 8195 63101). Thum is just a short walk from the hotel at 60/1 Moo 8 Khanom. Krua Tangke Seafood (+66 (0) 8928 89099) at 81/2 Moo1 Thongnian does what it says on the tin: expect the most succulent prawn and squid, plucked from the waters that day by local fisherman.
Sink some cocktails and listen to reggae on the beach at Jam Bay, a short stroll from Aava on Nadan Beach.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this dreamy hotel on Nhadan Beach and unpacked their pink-dolphin Polaroids, a full account of their luxury beach break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick postcard from Aava Resort in Khanom…
You wouldn’t expect your backpacking holiday to result in the birth of a boutique hotel, but that’s exactly what happened to Aava’s owners, Atte and Kati, who left Finland to go backpacking around Thailand. When they clapped eyes on Khanom, they knew they’d found something special; six years (and two kids) later, they’re still here, having purchased a patch of land on what is arguably Thailand’s most beautiful beach.
Their hotel is a felicitous marriage of Finnish design and Thai hospitality. Vertti Kivi, Finland’s top designer, read about Atte’s hotel project in a Finnish financial newspaper and volunteered his services. Kivi’s contemporary approach and the owners’ emotional response to the land – ‘Aava’ means open, spacious and calm place in Finnish; it also expresses the idea of being on a flat ocean, with only the ocean around you – has resulted in a hotel styled with clean lines, geometric shapes, softened by wood and greenery. Each room is decorated with a feature wall with painted tiles from Finland: an abstract flower in one room; a lagoon in another. There are Thai touches too, such as the wooden walkways lined with bamboo and strung with white overhanging lanterns, and some genius flourishes, including the one-way glass in the rooms: nobody can see in, but you can see out. Another happy result of the glass wall is an abundance of natural light (but just remember to draw your curtains at night – the glass effect doesn’t work when it’s dark outside, light inside).
Of course, a hotel is more than its architecture and furnishings. At Aava, you’ll be charmed by the owners’ low-key brand of hospitality, you’ll be wowed by the chefs and the beachside dining, you’ll be seduced by Khanom’s serenity and you’ll be spoiled rotten in the spa. Even the resident dolphins are out of the ordinary, thanks to their rare baby-pink complexions…