Very recently, on an island not far away, a tired city girl was happy to escape Bangkok for the first time in over a year. Released from the border lockdown, many people here had rushed to Europe (so easy to get into!) and all returned infected with Covid (and therefore straight back into quarantine). But reader, call me chicken; I wasn’t ready to embrace the germs of international travel. So, I chose to go somewhere in Thailand that I hadn’t been yet – Koh Lanta, a southern island off the coast of Krabi that’s just a bit off the beaten path.
Pimalai Resort & Spa has been flying high for 20 years as the most luxurious and well-known resort on Koh Lanta, with prominent ads showing a vast property covering a sweeping hillside and lengthy beach. What lay within all that enormity, I wondered?
The first thing I discovered was that it’s easier to get to Koh Lanta if you’re already in the Phuket or Krabi area, about a two-hour car ride away.
Coming from Bangkok is a different story. Though it’s a short plane ride from Bangkok to Krabi airport, it’s another two hours by hotel van, hotel boat, then another van for the transfer to Pimalai resort at the far end of the Koh Lanta. If you’re on a morning flight from Bangkok and arrive in Krabi around midday, there’s no time for lunch break, so we made sure to eat a proper breakfast at Bangkok airport before the flight and then grabbed some fresh croissants and coffee at Krabi airport for the long midday transfer. Chilled water is provided throughout the airport transfer, of course.
We were more than ready for sunset drinks on bean bags and a filling surf and turf dinner in the sand at the resort’s Rak Talay beach bar and restaurant.
It turned out that the two other resort restaurants were closed for the rainy season so we spent a lot of time between the chilled out beachside Rak Talay and the more formal hillside Seven Seas restaurant where buffet breakfast was served alongside spectacular panoramic sea and mountain views.
The beach bar and restaurant are a relaxing place to hang out and soak in the fresh sea air and calming beach vibes. At night we could see distant lights and sometimes a small fire show sparkling from restaurants and smaller resorts at the other end of the long, pristine beach.
Some beautiful smaller islands dot this area, including stunning Koh Haa, a cluster of limestone cliffs encircling a lagoon, that was visible from our beach. Sadly, we could only stare at it from afar as we’d arrived the week after the islands and boat excursions were officially closed for rainy season.
We didn’t mind, as it gave us more time to luxuriate in our spacious ocean-view pool villa. The two-bedroom duplex unit was one of the largest room types, and featured a bedroom, separate living room, kitchen and outdoor dining room on the upper level and another bedroom on the lower level. It was great to simply relax in our own private pool and cabana
I couldn’t wait to get a signature massage at the Pimalai Spa, where the spa menu offers a standard selection of relaxing and pampering body and face treatments. I chose the 90-minute signature oil massage, with a choice of aromatherapy oil. I was drawn to the deep, warm notes of the avender eucalyptus blend, which relaxes and restores the body and mind. My lovely therapist was very thorough and did her best to release a stubborn knot in my shoulder, which was tightly clenched.
Getting to the spa treatment room through the spa garden was a fantastic journey through Jurassic gardens of towering palms, waterfalls and babbling brooks flowing into moody koi ponds. The magnificence of the palm trees here is awe-inspiring. If you like tropical plants, you’ll love the lushness of the Pimalai Spa garden.
For a 20-year-old resort, the facilities and the grounds are in excellent condition. Compared to some newer, more glitzy and more trend-driven hotels, Pimalai maintains a subtle classic Thai luxury feel that’s both timeless and comforting.
We also noticed that the service at Pimalai is outstanding. I’m not exaggerating when I say that everything ran with the smoothest efficiency (which can’t be easy for such a huge property), and the staff were able to answer every question or take care of any need with cheerfulness and speed.
The Rak Talay staff were especially fun. Our waiter, Ambuss, took a shine to us and sort of adopted us as his pets. He was delighted whenever we showed up at the restaurant, and made sure he secured for us “his very special table”, nestled under a tree on the beach, when the other beachfront tables were fully booked. He was even sad to miss us on his day off. “I’m so sorry I won’t be here to take care of you tomorrow, it’s my day off,” he said, mournfully, “but I’ll be back the next day!”
The second night we had a Thai feast. Guided by enthusiastic Ambuss, we tried the southern Thai dishes, which were flavourful and delicious, served in heaping portions. Ambuss told us what was fresh that day and what dish combinations would work best together, even running back to the kitchen to ask the chef for recommendations. I was happily tucking into this gorgeous meal of giant prawns, curried fish, spicy Tom Yum soup and sauteed local spinach when Mr. Barefoot emitted a jarring comment.
“You wanna do karaoke? Let’s go have some fun!”
I like music too, but it’s mystifying that Mr. Barefoot wants to find a karaoke bar whenever we are on an island in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest town (this is not the first time).
“Dude, I don’t think we’re in Bangkok anymore,” I replied, gesturing at the empty beach.
Even the eager-to-please Ambuss had to admit there were no karaoke bars anywhere around this neck of the island and we might need to take a very expensive hotel car ride to some place very far away to find one (but he would be happy to find out and help arrange it for us if we wished).
I was secretly relieved. But Mr. Barefoot was not going to let my wet-blanketness rain on his parade. Next evening, I was slurping boozy sunset drinks poolside in our villa when Mr. Barefoot emerged from the living room and announced, “Hey, you wanna do karaoke? I’ve connected my karaoke app to the sound system here! It’s time for Golden Oldies!”
Next thing I knew, 80’s Greatest Hits thumped through the villa and hijacked my body, and I was banging my head and pumping my arms while Mr. Barefoot sang his heart out to an audience of terrified forest animals. For the next half hour, as the sun sank into the sea in front of us, a bird flying above would have seen two little figures bobbing and bouncing and prancing around our pool, singing away in total abandon, as if nobody was watching. Because nobody was watching! (the squirrels had run away). Who needs to go to a karaoke bar when you can embarrass yourself full throttle in your own jungle hideaway?
On the last morning, I was jolted awake by early morning thunder. Padding sleepily into the bathroom, I glanced out the floor-to-ceiling window to find a giant rainbow filling the sky above the sea. The biggest, brightest rainbow I’d ever seen, more like a child’s cartoon in crayons than rays of light and moisture. Before I could even think to take a photo, the thunderstorm swept in the from the sea and the rainbow dissolved before my eyes into the darkened sky. Joy is so fleeting! Now back in the city, I still try to visualize that rainbow in my mind, and take it as a sign from the universe – life is getting brighter.
Have you been to Koh Lanta? How was your experience there?