As Rayavadee’s private speedboat skims across the crystal-blue waters and shimmies into one of this spectacular Thai hotel’s three bays, Mr Smith remarks that ‘Bond’ might have been a more appropriate surname to adopt for this scene. Yes, although I doubt James would have just had his mother phoning him on his mobile phone to wish him a wonderful honeymoon and not to forget to send the neighbour a postcard.
Part of Rayavadee’s allure is its exclusive location; only accessible by boat from Krabi, it’s fantastically private. It’s also breath-stoppingly beautiful: three azure-lapped sugar-white beaches are crowned by vast, jagged limestone cliffs, pocked and riddled with caverns and caves. Say ‘untamed tropical paradise’ and most people would draw something like this on their mental sketchpads. Few, however, would have the talent to do it justice. Met from our watery chauffeur with a warm welcome befitting old friends, rather than first-time guests, unsurprisingly we’re bursting with excitement about what delights are in store us on this very special leg of our trip.
Tropical in every sense, we’re led through this luxury hotel’s perfectly manicured, verdant gardens to our pavilion. You could be forgiven for mistaking the resort for a tribal jungle village, one belonging to a tribe with a fondness for Jacuzzis and spa treatments and a talent for landscape gardening. As we arrive at the colonial-style, mushroom-shaped villa, Mr Smith comments that it reminds him of places he fantasised about since childhood. I giggle and hope the word ‘Smurf house’ doesn’t translate easily into Thai. I should perhaps cite a more seductive cultural reference, such as mention that the film version of Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ was filmed near here? As for the aforementioned abodes, don’t worry, Rayavadee’s stylish sandy-coloured villas are best suited to discerning international sybarites rather than white-hatted, blue-skinned cartoon characters.
All of the award-winningly designed two-storeyed villas are fashioned from a dark wood complemented by neutral tones and subtle lighting, ensuring they’re in perfect harmony with the coconut palm-studded habitat. Downstairs we have our own living room, and up a curved staircase we find an incredibly spacious bedroom. But what’s grabbed our attention most? The floor-to-ceiling bay window overlooking those foliage-filled grounds? The fresh sweet-smelling orchids? Nope – the jars of homemade cookies that our guide tells us are restocked daily. Brilliant! The ensuite bathroom holds more bottled treats – little corked containers of pampering potions such as Rayavdee’s sea salt scrub and a jasmine after-sun. A deep, round bath decked out with candles fit for a cathedral, blows Rayavadee’s honeymoon credentials through the roof. And there is no shortage of romantic rendezvous at our villa – a suspended sofa on the groundfloor is perfect for out-of-water snuggling, and the double sunlounger on the patio is ideal for secluded tanning as a twosome. After admiring some of the other lovely touches (pebbles in the basin, a large wooden oar for a towel rail), I figure it’s time we get stuck into the roadtesting part of our reviewing.
Swimwear donned, we’re eager to dip our toes in a pool and feel the warm white sand of Railey Beach. Consulting our map of the resort, we notice two main red-brick walkways: M1 and M2. Don’t let the motorway-sounding names deceive: the most traffic you’ll catch on the resort’s interconnecting paths is the occasional bike – the main method of transport for the staff. Or maybe a golf buggy – after all, this 98-pavillioned, 60-acre resort is sprawling.
As soon as we get to the sapphire-coloured infinity pool that seemingly melts into the Andaman Sea, quicker than I can even think ‘a bottle of chilled water would be nice’, an attendant appears with one, while another expertly tucks luxurious towels into sunloungers, complete with plumped pillow. Tempting as it is to collapse there and gaze up at the palm trees, adventure-junkie Mr Smith reminds me that a walk to Princess Lagoon had been recommended. I picture a gently ascending path winding its way up through peaceful jungle. Our map has neglected to indicate any contours, so the almost-vertical incline that would give Chris Boddington a nosebleed, comes as a small surprise.
With one of the hotel’s expert guides enlisted, and permanent ropes to grab pointed out, it turns out to be great fun. It’s all very ‘Jurassic Park’ – thankfully without the rampaging dinosaurs – and the view, when we get to it, is stunning. Just as we’re admiring the sparkling aqua lagoon below and contemplating the drop down to it, I remember a pressing engagement back at the resort. ‘I would love to carry on,’ I tell our guide, ‘but I simply have to be back for my facial at 5pm.’
The Rayavadee Spa is reason alone to spend time in this heavenly Thai resort. Therapeutic Thai herbal ingredients, masterful masseurs, a vast array of treatments, and soothing ambience – I don’t feel too short-changed about cutting short our walk. An hour of pampering later and I’m feeling a little spaced out for my next appointment – one that’s continuing in this less-strenuous vein. Plans to meet Mr Smith at the Raitalay Terrace Bar for a game of Scrabble are boosted by a two-for-one on cocktails. Strictly in the interests of reviewing duty, you understand. Well, it’s practically mandatory at sunset, isn’t it? With a spring in our step, we return to our luxury villa to get ready for supper.
Another reason that so many well-heeled sun-seekers flock to Rayavadee is the food. With four restaurants, running a delectable gamut of flavours from Thai to International, even the most pernickety of diners will find something to please the palate. The Grotto is the most scenic of the four – cleft into the cliffside and carpeted with cooling sand, it frequently sees yacht-set doyens moor up and drop in for a candlelit dinner. We’ve booked a table overlooking the ocean at the hotel’s acclaimed Thai and seafood restaurant, Krua Phranang.
With enough hiking under our belts for one day, we hightail it there in one of the resort’s at-your-service golf buggies. En route, we glimpse a surreal sight – a chef’s hat seemingly gliding across the top of a hedge. Just as I remind myself I did only have one G&T, its wearer reveals itself to be a cook peddling his way to work. As we tuck into our delicious, fragrant, chilli-enhanced Thai meal supper we raise a toast to Rayavadee’s beloved bike-riding chefs.
The romance of Rayavadee is intoxicating. After an indulgent breakfast in Raya Restaurant the following morning it should be time to pack up, but instead, thanks to fantastically cheap air tickets we decide to rebook our flights. Shopping in Bangkok is swiftly sacrificed in favour of a few precious extra hours at Rayavadee. A later check-out time is arranged for us and a member of staff tells us our transfer to the airport is ready whenever we desire it. ‘Never,’ sighs Mr Smith, but sadly this isn’t an option.