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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.