Gulf of Thailand Paradise Preserved – Santhiya Koh Pha-Ngan

Gulf of Thailand Paradise Preserved – Santhiya Koh Pha-Ngan

Koh Pha-Ngan, or just Pha-Ngan in local parlance, is a heart-shaped dot in a remote corner of the Gulf of Thailand, and an island with a split personality. For several decades now, it has been popular among world-trekking backpackers who have been known to congregate by the tens of thousands on Haad Rin beach, the southern tip of the island, for its now (in)famous monthly Full Moon Party.

Pha-Ngan-easterm coastline.

The steep eastern coastline of the island of Koh Pha-Ngan is covered with forests rising from its rocky shore.

But topography has been kind to Pha-Ngan. Almost three-quarters of the 168 square kilometer (65 square mile) surface of this tropical paradise are covered with mountainous terrain that has safeguarded it from the invasion of mass tourism. Its mainly inaccessible interior remains covered with great swaths of pristine rain forest. Its small local population and most of the tourism activity have settled on the narrow strip of sand and coconut groves that outlines the southern and western sides of the island.

 

Phangan - Santhiya

The bay of Thong Nai Pan is home to Santhiya Resort and Spa.

The eastern side, however, is an entirely different world, an unspoiled coastline of steep hills covered with dense tropical forests rising from the rocky shore. And at its remote northern end, the secluded bay of Thong Nai Pan, rightfully reputed as one of Pha-Ngan’s loveliest beaches, is home to the idyllic Santhiya Resort and Spa.

 

 

Recreating the Mystique of Siam

It’s a pleasant thirty-minute ride in the resort’s private speedboat from Koh Samui, Pha-Ngnan’s larger and more established sister, to Thong Nai Pan. Santhiya emerges from the white sand of the bay, visible only as sharply peaked roofs randomly peering through the lush tropical foliage.

Santhiya-Reception

Antique panels of intricately carved wood provide a backdrop for the reception desk.

The natural and cultural preservation ethos of Santhiya is instantly apparent, in myriad details that evoke the timeless elegance of its Thai heritage and harmoniously blend it with twenty-first century concerns for environmental sustainability and comfort expectations. The property is conceived to take full advantage its glorious ocean views while respecting the topography of the land and its existing mature vegetation. Its architecture, inspired by the soaring nineteenth century teakwood structures of the King Rama V period gives a timeless grace to the decade-old property.

Santhiya-Garden gate;

The privacy fence of my villa’s entrance patio is constructed from repurposed planking.

From the grand pavilions of the common areas with their elaborate filigree carvings to the guest quarters and the gardens, much is constructed from recycled wood.

In the gardens especially, the original function of the landscaping timber is still discernable. Former barn beams have become garden path railings, with orchids blooming from cracks in the wood. Gates are held by water buffalo yokes, and planking that was once the hull of longtail boats now fences the secluded patios of guest villas.

Santhiya - Villa 313 plunge pool.

My villa opens onto a  plunge pool with its own waterfall,

My own accommodation, a 110 square meter (1200 square foot) Ocean View Pool Villa (Number 313) is designed for optimal indoor-outdoor living and superb privacy. The glass-fronted teak pavilion has a soaring peaked roof that dwarfs the king-size four-poster bed. It opens onto a tree-shaded deck and a 7.5-meter (25-foot) long whirlpool plunge pool with its own rocky waterfall, a separate oversized bathtub and a sweeping view of the bay. At the rear of the bedroom, a walled-in courtyard houses a bathroom with the latest in water-saving fixtures and an open air shower. It is the ultimate tropical haven to return to after enjoying the varied attractions the resort has to offer.

Keeping Traditional Lifestyle Arts Alive

Santhiya - Chantara

At the Chantara restaurant, the classic Thai cuisine is at sumptuous as the decor.

At Santhiya, there is a concerted effort to preserve, and give guests every opportunity to appreciate, traditional lifestyle arts. The world-renowned Thai cuisine is not only showcased on the restaurant’s menu, but also transmitted to interested guests in cooking classes offered by master chef God Keawpeth. I thoroughly enjoy my private lesson with him as he demystifies some of my favorite dishes, including Tom Yam Goong (spicy prawn soup) and Phad Thai.

 

Santhiyana- Thai dances.

On Thai Evening, staff members perform traditional dances from the various parts of the country.

On the weekly “Thai evening” at the main restaurant, Chantara, a wide selection of classic Thai dishes is served buffet-style for an opportunity to sample lesser-known specialties. The evening also features a performance by Santhiya’s own dance group. Staff members, who come from various provinces around the country, are encouraged to transmit their regional dances to each other and to young girls from the local school, and to perform for the guests.

 

Santhiya - Ayurvana.

Ayurvana Spa’s enjoys a panoramic view of the bay.

Then there is the Ayurvana Spa, an intimate retreat of private treatment rooms and covered terraces overlooking the bay. Their ninety-minute signature massage combining hot oils with the best of traditional Thai and international methods is one of the finest I have enjoyed anywhere. But equally memorable is my return visit for an lengthy cooling massage with freshly extracted aloe gel, which greatly relieves my discomfort when I return from a morning of snorkeling to discover that yes, you can sunburn while floating below the surface of the water.

With its idyllic location on one of the most pristine islands of the Gulf of Thailand, strong commitment to the conservation of its natural and cultural heritage, and outstanding Thai hospitality, Santhiya excels in putting in a contemporary context the mystique of the exotic Kingdom of Siam.

Good to Know

  • Getting there – There are near-hourly flight connections from Bangkok to the nearby island of Koh Samui (a one-hour flight), as well as a couple of daily flight from Chiang Mai (a two-hour flight) and Phuket (one hour). The main carrier serving the island is Bangkok Air, although Thai Air also has twice-daily service. From the airport, the easiest option is to have Santhiya arrange a shuttle for you to the Petcharat Pier, where you catch the resort’s speedboat.
  • Getting in touch – Santhiya Resort and Spa, 22/7 Moo 5 Bantain, Koh Pha-Ngan, Surat Thani, 84280, Thailand. Contact: e-mail reservation@santhiya.com. Tel. +66 77 428 999, mobile +66 81 968 2026.
  • The property includes 59 private villas and 40 rooms nestled among seven hectares (18 acres) of lush tropical grounds cascading down a to private bay. It can accommodate up to 202 guests and employs a staff of 200.
  • Beach – The pristine private white sand beach is lined with cushioned lounge chairs beneath white canvas umbrellas. Cheerful attendants are always on hand to offer fresh towels and bottled of chilled water. Complimentary equipment is available for guests interested in snorkeling, sea kayaking or sailing around the bay.
  • Pool – The stunning 1,200 square meter (13,000 square foot) bi-level free-form swimming pool with its own 30 foot (10 meter) manmade rock waterfall stands at the edge of the beach. A second lagoon-like infinity pool is built high on the hillside. This pool, which features handcrafted floating beds reminiscent of traditional Thai boats and an endless sea view, is reserved for the exclusive use of the guests in the adjacent Supreme Deluxe building.
  • Restaurants – Chantara, the property’s main restaurant has a refined menu that combines a variety of classical Thai dishes and continental offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and an extensive international wine list. At the edge of the beach, the casual By the Sea iproposes a lighter fare of grilled fish, meat and vegetable, and exquisite fresh juices and smoothies.

Location, location, location!

Santhiiya Resort and Spa

Chiang Mai at its Lanna Thai Best – Tamarind Village

Chiang Mai at its Lanna Thai Best – Tamarind Village

I can think of no better place than Tamarind Village to channel Chiang Mai’s glorious Lanna Thai past. Located a mere five-minute walk from the iconic Wat Chedi Luang, the charming boutique hotel is a haven of timeless grace in the very heart of the Old City. And it is a prime example of the positive impact of responsible tourism in the preservation of local cultural heritage.

Chiang-Mai-Tamarind Village courtyard.

An ancient tamarind tree dominates the main courtyard of Tamarind Village.

In 2002, award-winning architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu used a rare 4,000-square-meter (one-acre) vacant lot just off Rajdamnoen Road, one of the most vibrant historic arteries within the medieval moat, to construct the first Lanna-style hotel in Chiang Mai. Here, he revived the use of centuries-old design, building techniques and materials to translate distinctive Northern Thai architectural elements into an inviting contemporary version of a traditional village. Today, Tamarind Village is credited with playing a key role in the current revival of the popularity of traditional architecture throughout the area. Ong-ard’s contribution was recognized in 2007, when Tamarind Village was awarded a commendation in the prestigious UNESCO Asia-Pacific awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

A Village Around a Tree

Chiang Mai-Lanna Thai contemporary.

The revival of centuries-old architectural elements creates the contemporary version of a traditional Lanna Thai village.

From Rajdamnoen Road, a path shaded by an arch of soaring bamboo leads to the discrete gate of Tamarind Village. Named after the towering 200-year-old tamarind tree that dominates the property, the complex of public areas and guest quarters is laid-out around intimate courtyards filled with flowering trees. With its typical whitewashed plaster walls, dark timber beams and peaked roofs of thin clay tiles, it is a reflection of the simple elegance of the local Lanna Thai culture, in harmony with the ancient temples and historic sites that surround it.

Chiang Mai-Tamarind Village pool.

The common areas open onto an ornamental swimming pool.

The common areas are dominated by a swimming pool tiled in royal blue ceramic for an ornamental garden feel. Its length is outlined by a covered walkway leading to a vast reception and lounge area. Under a peaked tiled roof held by high masonry pillars, the entire room opens onto the pool on one side and the main Village courtyard with its ancient tamarind tree on the other. The lounge is decorated with distinctive crafts from the nearby hill-tribes, and from the tall paintings behind the reception desk to antique side-tables holding oversized ceramic bowls filled with sumptuous arrangements of orchids, every detail pays homage to the Lanna Kingdom artistic legacy.

Contemporary Lanna Thai Flair

Chiang Mai-Tamarind Village Lanna Deluxe.

My Lanna Deluxe Room combines Lanna Thai architectural elements and decorative touches with contemporary comforts.

My second-floor Lanna Deluxe room (Number 1201) lives up the promise of its name, with its whitewashed rough-plastered walls, high cathedral ceilings and dark grey polished concrete floors. The comfortable dark wood and rattan furniture creates an effective backdrop for the striking display of lacquered boxes and intricately embroidered tribal children hats. Behind a partition of floor-to-ceiling closets, the bathroom successfully preserves the feel of rustic simplicity while delivering all the contemporary trappings of a luxury property. It is partitioned into three distinct areas, a water closet, a roomy shower, and in the center, a vanity made from a deep copper washbasin of the type used by rural populations, resting on an antique table against a backsplash of jewel-colored ceramic tiles.

Timeless Romantic Retreat

Chiang Mai-Tamarind Courtyard Dusk.

At dusk, the golden chedi of a nearby temple shines over the Village wall.

But the ultimate charm of Tamarind Village rests in its tranquil atmosphere throughout. It’s on the roofed balcony of my room, where I settle into the deep cushions of a loveseat built into the railing to gaze through the branches of the ancient tamarind tree as the last rays of sunshine brush the golden chedi (pagoda) of the seven-centuries old Wat Umong right over the Village wall. It’s all along the garden paths lit at dusk with dancing oil lanterns, and the swimming pool where their reflection shimmers in the water. And it flows in on the gentle evening breeze, carrying with it the sounds of temple bells and the spirit of a culture reaching back a millennium.

It is even in the restaurant, Ruen Tamarind, on the far side of the pool, with its series of French doors opened onto a waterside terrace for candle-lit indoor or outdoors dining. The serene attentive presence of the staff as well as the menu contributes its own homage to the Lanna past.

Northern Thai Delights

Chiang Mai-Ruen Tamarind

Ruen Tamarind poolside dinning.

At Ruen Tamarind, an extensive selection of Northern Thai dishes from original family recipes handed down through generations complements the classic Thai and international offerings. To make the most of this culinary opportunity, I order all my meal from the Northern Thai menu, including breakfast when is forgo the standard buffet offering in favor of traditional Thai soup, a delicate broth filled with nuggets bursting with flavor. I discover superb dinner dishes as well. My favorites are deep-fried bamboo shoot stuffed with ground pork, served with a hot but sweet peanut sauce and fresh-water fish filets marinated in curry, then served in banana leaves en papillote over jasmine rice.

The Village Spa

Chiang Mai-Village Spa

The reception lounge of the Village Spa.

The Village Spa is a serene sanctuary located on the second floor of the most secluded courtyard at the far end Tamarind Village. Its public space embraces the Lanna Thai architectural concept of open galleries under a tiled roof. Loveseats are built into the gallery’s railing to face the doors of the six treatment rooms. This is where I am invited to enjoy a complimentary traditional footbath and foot massage before entering my treatment room.

Chiang Mai -Village Spa Treatment.

A treatment room at the Village Spa.

In consultation with the spa supervisor I select the treatment that best suits me, and from an assortment of essential oils, the scent I prefer for my massage. The spa uses only herbal products drawn from the Lanna Thai heritage of natural healing. To restore my travel-weary body, I chose the 90-minute Village Signature Massage, a heavenly combination of deep tissue massage and applications of heated herbal pouches that soothes and relaxes every fiber of my body and leaves my spirit in a state of zoned-out bliss. I do wish I could package the experience and bring it home with me.

Exploring the Old City

Chiang Mai-Wat Duang Dee offering.

Traditional daily food offering to the monks of Wat Duang Dee.

The Tamarind Village concierge is also its resident expert on Lanna history and northern ethnic crafts. She leads me on a fascinating morning walk in the neighborhoods of the Old City. Our first stop is Wat Duang Dee, a small temple where we deliver the hotel’s traditional daily offering of food to the monks and receive their blessings. Then we walk on to some of the nearby historic sites. This complimentary tour is available daily to hotel guests by previous arrangements.

 

Good to Know

  • Tamarind Village is at 50/1 Rajdamnoen Road Sriphoon, Muang, Chiang Mai, 50200 Thailand. Contact: e-mail reservation@tamarindvillage.com. Tel. + 66 53 418896-9.
  • The 45-room property includes three suites. It consists of two-level structures set around three courtyards. It can accommodate up to 90 guests and employs a staff of 60.
  • There are no elevators on the property. Consequently the upper-level rooms do not allow for mobility-impaired guest access.
  • If your itinerary includes a weekend-stay, the famous Sunday Night market is ideally located just a few steps away from the bamboo archway entrance of Tamarind Village.
  • The hotel is a 15-minute taxi ride from Chiang Mai Airport.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Tamarind Village