Casa de la Flora is a modernist masterpiece in Khao Lak, with beds and bath tubs fit for four and a playful restaurant and a bar scene. The spa is as tropical as its surroundings, dishing out coconut body scrubs and banana body wraps. Go and get your five dailies.
Get this when you book through us:
A molecular cocktail each at La Aranya. SilverSmiths can have some Thai tapas, too; GoldSmiths get a bottle of sparkling wine in their room on arrival
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $244.88 (THB7,431), excluding tax at 18.7 per cent.
Rates usually include à la carte breakfast, free minibar drinks (beer, coke and juices) and use of the library, fitness centre, mountain bikes and watersports equipment (time restrictions apply).
Save room for Casa’s free afternoon tea, served between 3pm and 4pm each day; the little sandwiches and pretty pastries will tide tired beachgoers over ’til dinnertime. Boozehounds will enjoy the sparkling wine served at breakfast.
At the hotel
Beach (public; access depends on the tide), library, fitness centre, watersports and free WiFi throughout the hotel. In rooms: iPod dock, Apple TV in both the bedroom and living area, Apple Mac Mini, free minibar, Nespresso coffee machine, Thann toiletries. Each villa has a private pool and 24-hour butler service. There's a stash of on-loan bicycles, free for up to two hours daily.
Our favourite rooms
Opt for a Beachfront Suite Pool Villa and you'll get a sea-spying room and a separate cosy living area. Our top picks are villas 2111 and 2121, on the far side of the resort and furthest from the pool and restaurant. Duplex Grand Pool Villas command the same sweeping wave views, with the added advantage of a second floor for prime ocean-spying; nab 2311 or 2322 for the most privacy. Each room is named for the flower that inspired it.
There’s a sleek little pool with a pool bar (and the occasional aqua yoga sessions); villas also have their own private plunge pools. Of course, there’s also the beach. Guests can still stroll along the beach in monsoon season (May–October), but are advised to check for warning signs.
Spa la Casa has a trio of treatment rooms and a fleet of nimble-knuckled masseuses who know precisely what to do with fragrant Anne Semonin unguents. Opt for an aromatherapy massage, a traditional Thai massage or a body scrub, or be beautified with a manicure, pedicure or wax.
All your aches and pains: be spoiled in the spa, or walk to the local massage shacks on Bang Niang Beach, where breaking waves and reggae tunes provide the soundtrack to your treatment.
On arrival, arduous tasks will include selecting your preferred bath potions and pillows. There's a compulsory New Year's Eve Gala Dinner on 31 December 2017, costing THB8,000 a person (included in room rate for stays over this date).
Casa de la Flora does welcome children, but the hotel doesn't have any facilities for tots, so it's best left to grown up Smiths. The hotel can also provide free baby cots – call the travel team for more details.
Take a front-row seat with sea views and enjoy the tropical breeze.
Bright-white linen layers, pepped up with floral hits here and there.
La Aranya restaurant has a shaded sea-surveying section and a cluster of sun-kissed tables closer to the waves. The chef's fresh, fun Thai food is served with panache; we loved the seared salmon with sherry balsamic glaze and khaw phad larb (spicy fried rice with northern Thai spices).
Order fruity concoctions at the pool bar, in the restaurant or from the privacy of your villa – obliging staff will nip an icy libation to you. Don't go home without sipping a dazzling cocktail – we're talking flavoured mists and flammable bits.
Drinks are served until 11.30pm in peak season; 10.30pm in low. Last orders at the restaurant are taken at 10pm during high season; an hour earlier, off-peak. Linger over breakfast between 6am and 11am.
Order Western options from the all-day (6.30am–11pm) room service menu, which offers a choice of salads, pizzas, pasta, burgers and sandwiches. Room service halts half an hour earlier in low season.
You’ll find Casa de la Flora on Bang Liang beach – a quiet stretch of sand only interrupted by colourful massage stands, beachshack restaurants and the occasional reggae bar – in Khao Lak.
The hotel is an hour's drive from Phuket International Airport (phuketairportthai.com), which receives regular international flights from dozens of destinations. Try Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com), Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) or Air Asia (www.airasia.com) if you're coming from Europe or Asia, or from Australia, check out Virgin Australia (www.virginaustralia.com) or Jetstar (www.jetstar.com). Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) offers domestic connections.
Taxis in Phuket are pretty cheap and you’ll feel more of a beach-holiday vibe if you gad about by boat or on foot. If wheels are a non-negotiable, you can expect an hour’s drive from Phuket to the hotel: head north to Phang-Nga province on Petchakasem Road; when you reach central Khao Lak, you’re just 10 minutes away.
Worth getting out of bed for
Learn to make perfect pad Thai by having a cookery class with chef Jimmy, or take part in free aqua yoga sessions in the main pool. Have an indulgent spa treatment (we like the sound of the deep marine purifying facial or the creamy banana body wrap). Wander along the local beach, stopping off for a cocktail here, a second massage there. If you want to go further afield, staff can arrange private or shared tours (from THB4,500 each) to a variety of local beauty spots. Start with Similan Islands (nine uninhabited and eye-bogglingly green-and-beautiful islands), which offer amazing diving and snorkelling. Spy on rare chicken crabs at Taichi Island, which has a beautiful sandy beach, rocky outcrops and a mountain outlook. Hop on an early speedboat to Phi Phi Island and beat the crowds. Any Mr Smith worth his sea salt will be keen to visit James Bond Island; the tour includes a half-hour canoe trip through the lagoons, and you can admire the amazing mangroves. Landlubbers might prefer to go on an elephant trek by a local waterfall (or bathe the elephants), explore Phang Nga’s monkey temple and stalactites or to have a day trip in Phuket, with a temple visit, a market tour and a shopping session in one of the retail emporiums. If you tire of Bang Niang, Khao Lak has a wealth of other beautiful beaches, including motorboat-free Pakweeb, pretty Nang Thong and peaceful Khuk Khak.
Having eaten at La Aranya, stroll along the beach and choose from the buzzy little restaurants, many of which serve up succulent seafood. Drink cold beers and banana coladas and listen to Beyoncé at Smile Bar (+66 (0)87 627 0544) on Bang Niang Beach, which serves reliably good Thai food. It’s a popular spot, so booking ahead is recommended. (There’s a Khao Lak version of Smile at 5/15 Moo 7, Phetkasem Road; try the marlin if it’s on the menu.) Tired of Thai? Switch to Italian (and delicious wood-fired pizzas) at Pinoccio’s, also on Bang Niang Beach. You might not expect to eat Japanese food in Phuket, but when the sushi and sashimi is as good as Enzo’s (+66 (0)76 486 671) on Moo 5, Khuk Khak, why not?
‘Which scent would you like for you room?’ (Lemongrass)
‘Which shower gel would you prefer?’ (Scented wood)
‘Which of these pillows can we get you?’ (Heavy duck)
It felt a bit like the Spanish Inquisition (albeit with less torture and more cold towels), but as we sniffed at tiny bottles and twizzled the cinnamon sticks in our ice-cold coconut water, we started to relax and take in our surroundings at Casa de la Flora. The combination of cool concrete and warm wood had a decidedly Scandi-Modernist vibe quite at odds with the 38-degree heat and Khao Lak location, but far from feeling incongruous, it felt like a confident, worldly approach to architecture perfect for its well-travelled clientele.
Room scents and pillow combinations decided, we headed up a spiral staircase worthy of a Guggenheim and were shown to our room. A concrete bathroom and dressing room complemented a wood-lined lounge and bedroom – and a private pool and terrace overlooked the grassy roofs of our neighbours to the sea. The sun goes down in a matter of minutes this close to the equator, so we watched a speedy sunset, before being plunged into darkness and our own private pool.
‘Nightswimming deserves a quiet night,’ sang Michael Stipe, and the only thing stopping us from having one was me singing the same every time I came up for air. Mr Smith looked quietly irritated, but I put that down to jetlag and carried on. Given that our luggage was still on its way from Kuala Lumpur, I will leave the issue of whether we carry swimwear in our hand luggage to your imagination, but needless to say, it was a very private space.
Suddenly exhausted, we delighted in the chill of the air conditioning and climbed into the implausibly large, ridiculously comfortable bed, surrounded by a grand total of eight ‘heavy duck’ pillows and that crisp white bedding you only seem to find in hotels. We were asleep by 9pm, lulled by the sound of Jacuzzi bubbles in the pool behind our headboard.
I woke up bright and early for one of three complimentary yoga classes I’d signed up for. Sadly, the tranquillity of the class was shattered by some idiot on a running machine in the same room – an experience made slightly less annoying, if infinitely more embarrassing, by the fact the idiot in question was none other than Mr Smith, who was there at my suggestion and completely oblivious to the racket he was making due to the noise-cancelling headphones I had bought him. Needless to say I rolled my eyes with my fellow yogis and sidled out after the class without acknowledging him.
Reunited at breakfast, we sipped cappuccinos served with sugar encrusted cinnamon sticks and free-flowing bucks fizz. Faced with an extensive menu, Mr Smith plumped for quesadillas and I ordered the spanakopita eggs benedict, (largely for the sheer joy at saying the word ‘spanakopita,’) but not before we’d thoroughly savaged the Continental buffet, piling our plates high with incongruous combinations of everything from smoked mackerel to pecan pastries.
Sated, we headed back up to our roof terrace for a morning of sunbathing, punctuated by much-needed dips in the pool when it all got a bit sweaty. It was only afterwards that we noticed that the white parts of both my bikini and Mr Smith’s chest hair had turned a delicate shade of green. It took us a little while to work out that our habit of hanging over the infinity pool edge to people-watch had brought us into close contact with the algae growing happily in the chlorine-free water. Luckily a double shower, concrete bath the size of a small swimming pool, and our specially-selected ‘scented wood’ shower-gel proved more than adequate to return everything to its proper hue in time for lunch.
We took advantage of room service – spring and summer rolls – on the roof before my second yoga class of the day, this time on the seafront instead of the gym. It turns out crashing waves and birdsong make a much better backdrop for yoga than your noisy husband on a treadmill. I met Mr Smith at the pool bar where my yoga-teacher-turned-barkeep served us happy-hour cocktails as we watched the sun go down over the bobbing heads of German tourists taking a dip.
We sidled over to the table-lined lawn outside the restaurant and nabbed front-row seats for the hotel’s watery equivalent of a fireworks display – booming waves crashed against the promenade, splashing into the air to ‘oooh’s and ‘aaah’s from our fellow diners.
Mr Smith ordered the ‘007’, feeling slightly apprehensive having been served neat vermouth in response to a request for a martini on holiday once before, but with three green olives this debonair concoction turned out to be the perfect cocktail. I turned down offerings from Norway, France and Italy that cost more than the wine, and opted for the local mineral water.
In keeping with the architecture, Thai recipes were given the fine-dining treatment, which meant a choice of breads in a napkin-lined basket preceded crispy noodles with salmon, squid, scallops, prawns and kale for me, and a soft-shell yellow crab curry for Mr Smith. What it may have lacked in street-food authenticity it more than made up for in white-tablecloth indulgence.
The following morning, we checked out and headed off on the ‘Three Temples Tour’ to learn more about the Buddhist temples that embrace Hinduism and Chinese fortune-telling as well as tourists and locals alike. As Casa de la Flora disappeared in the rear-view mirror, it struck me that its approach wasn’t so different – Scandinavian architecture and French-inspired fine dining meets generous Thai hospitality for citizens of the world. There’s an incense stick burning in a temple carrying a wish that we’ll be back.
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