We head to an undiscovered region of Thailand’s south-western fringe, and find utopia at the Anantara Si Kao Resort.
By Reena Karim
I settled into a wicker lounge chair, my toes buried in sand, and eyes focused at the shifting scenery in front of me. The limestone cliffs jutting out of the Andaman went from being crystal clear to being completely shrouded in thick mist, only to return as silhouettes as the rain slowed down to a drizzle, and then completely disappearing again. This panorama was a time-lapse footage we see on television. Except, this was real, and I was experiencing these splendours at the Anantara Si Kao Resort.
Joining me in admiring the view at the resort’s Beach House was Sraithong Boonburaphong, or Sai, the Director of Sales and Marketing. Despite having seen this sight numerous times Sai admits she never grows tired of it. The Beach House, the hotel’s casual dining hotspot, was just the place to admire this spectacle, and enjoy mixologist Deepak Soni’s fruit-infused concoctions.
Si Kao is a district located in the North-western province of Trang, and is a part of Thailand that remains truly undiscovered. Much of this area falls under the Hat Chao Mai National Park, which is also home to Anantara Si Kao – the only resort on the protected reserve.
Sprawled on the edge of the national park and facing the Andaman Sea, the Anantara is positioned in a cove of its own. Surrounded by lush mangroves and wetlands on one side, and pristine coastline on the other, the resort gives you a taste of the island life, while very much being on the mainland. With the convenience of the Trang and Krabi airport close by, the area makes for an ideal year-round the destination.
The property is fans out between several low-rise buildings, skirting the coast of Changlang Beach. Its architecture – rich brown tiled pitched roofs, open spaces, landscaped gardens by Bill Bensley, soothing water fountains, and earthy colour palettes – is designed in harmony with its beautiful surroundings.
The 140 deluxe rooms, suites, and pool villa range from 45 to 400 sq.m in size, and come with private terraces and balconies with ocean, gardens, or pool views. General Manager Dylan Counsel informs me that the resort has a separate area which is designed for couples, and features an infinity swimming pool reserved only for adults. Families with kids in tow have access to the main swimming pool.
I was placed in a comfortable Deluxe Sea View room, located on the second floor and offering a prime vista of Pak Meng Beach. The 45 sq. m space included a plush king-sized bed, elegant teakwood furniture and complimenting upholstery in vibrant colours, entertainment centre with satellite television and DVD player, fully stocked mini bar, tea and coffee-making facilities, and spacious wardrobe. The suite also had a well-appointed bathroom with separate lavatory, shower, and vanity areas, as well a roomy bathtub with sliding glass doors that opened towards the bedroom – a romantic set up for a couple.
Somewhere between our first and third cocktail, Sai and I enjoyed a hearty lunch at the Beach House comprising of Pak Liang Pad Kai, a leafy vegetable stir-fried with egg – a southern Thailand specialty – shrimp in tamarind sauce, Thai sour curry soup, Panang curry, and steamed rice.
Later, we headed out for a walk through the property, past the main swimming pool and the pool-front suites, the newly-constructed fitness and recreational area which included basketball and tennis courts, as well as a boxing ring. From there, we circled the resort’s main banquet hall, and finally made our way to the lobby via the tree-lined canopied driveway.
I then continued on my own, happy to make a few discoveries such as the second swimming pool, the Anantara Si Kao Spa, the Kid’s Club, and an exciting hedge maze.
Of Sunsets and Sundowners
Later that evening, Sai and I met back at the Beach House, where we were greeted with complimentary French martinis. At sundown, this part of the resort, with its chilled out boat-house feel, outdoor swing beds, and DJ music seemed like the place to be. The area was now buzzing with couples and families alike, who were just getting started on their appetisers while getting entertained by the live Filipino house-band that took over later.
By now it seemed every one of the amiable staff there knew me by my name. Their hospitality was genuine, as they took personal care to ensure I was having a great experience, especially when it came to refilling my bowl of crisps which I emptied ever so quickly. Soon the bubbly Bunty Mulajker, the Guest Experience Manager, showed up and went about greeting each and every guest to ensure they were having a pleasant evening. His infectious laugh is sure to strike a chord with you. The warm hospitality and earnest care shown by the staff here is something that really leaves a lasting impression. The Anantara experience is essentially its service, which, as corny as it sounds, comes from the heart.
It was soon dinnertime, and the hotel’s Executive Chef, the Chennai-native Mohan Nalamveetil made an appearance from the kitchen. I had the opportunity of meeting him earlier during the day, where we discussed the dinner menu, and I requested him to treat me to some of his favourite dishes from his home state’s famed Chettinad cuisine. He was only too happy to oblige. Our palates salivated to fish molee with curry leaves and mustard, chicken Chettinad, Ambur biryani, raita, and roti. Chettinad cuisine is renowned for its fiery flavours and distinctly aromatic dishes. It is no wonder that our spread caught the attention from diners from neighbouring tables.
After dinner, we continued the merriment with dessert and digestif. Accompanying our gooey brownie was Deepak’s bespoke and intriguing combination of watermelon and hazelnut liquor. We hung around the Beach House for a little while longer before calling it a night. We had an early start the next day and I needed all the energy I could for the long list of activities Dylan planned for me.
The next morning I was up by 7am, and met with Dylan, the resort’s CSR Manager Mark Isenstadt, and a few other hotel staff who were to join me to plant sea grass for the endangered local species, the dugong. During the course of our 20 minute ride from the hotel to Koh Libong, Mark explained the significance of this activity and how Anantara Si Kao is at the forefront of CSR practices within the hotel industry.
The dugong is a marine mammal – similar to manatees – that graze on sea grasses in the shallow waters of Trang’s shore. I am told there are just 200 of these gentle mammals that remain in this region. The dugongs are one of Thailand’s fifteen reserved species that face extinction, due to the loss of sea grass habitat. Anantara Si Kao, together with the national park research team plants sea grass in an effort to increase the sustenance of the animal.
We arrived at the national park and walked to the area where Mark had been planting sea grass for a year now. Luckily, it was low tide, and we were able to spot starfish along the way. Once there, I teamed up with Dylan and his mother to plant sea grass in the sand. The activity took just about 15 minutes, but it felt really rewarding.
“Next year we will be working very closely with the Marine Turtle Foundation in Phuket, to build a rehabilitation centre here for injured turtles,” Dylan explains. “CSR is very important to us, and we find that guests really want to contribute to local environment”.
We got back around 10am, and Dylan and I headed straight for breakfast. The bountiful spread was laid out at the Leelawadee restaurant, which offered both an indoor and outdoor patio seating area facing the gardens and the beach. The indulgent selection was spread out in various areas of the restaurant, and offered something for even the fussiest of eaters.
Immediately after breakfast, we met Sai at the hotel’s boat pier, and the three of us went off to discover the local attractions on our own speedboat. We started off with at the Emerald Cave, a natural lagoon hidden within the island of Koh Mook. In order to get to this oasis, we had to jump off the boat and swim 70m through a pitch dark cave – the waters beneath, illuminated by the sun, shone in the colour of emerald.
Right after, we headed to Koh Kradan for snorkelling. The clear blue waters allowed us to view the beautiful Andaman underwater landscape. The colourful marine life – unaffected by the overfishing – unique rock formations and coral reefs below made for a wonderful visual spectacle. Koh Kradan is also home to Anantara We head to an undiscovered region of Thailand’s south-western fringe, and find utopia at the Anantara Si Kao private Beach Club, which guests can access by taking the resort’s daily shuttle long tail and speed boats. This small island, with its soft white sands and rows of coconut trees, makes for an ideal day trip for guests, who wish to experience the island life. The Beach Club is located on a private beach and allows guests to relax under the shade of palm trees, while sipping on cocktails and enjoying good food. After a day of fun-filled activity we returned back to the mainland.
Later that evening I met with Dylan and Sai for sundowners at the Beach Club. Cocktails were followed by dinner at Acqua, the blue and white-themed Italian restaurant located on the floor right above the Anantara Si Kao Beach Club. We chose a spot on the deck, and dove right into our antipasto. Sous Chef Francesco Lollino prepared for us a delicious smorgasbord consisting of scallops, Parmigiana, grilled prawns, caprese salad, bruschetta, and bresaola (air dried beef slices). After this we sampled three different types of pasta, and then moved on to the mains – mine was a pan-seared sea bass fillet. Deepak followed this with a flambé ice cream.
On my last day there, the Diversion’s team tried to pack in as many local excursions as possible. It started with a visit to the local market, and then Bunty and I ended up at Pong-O-Cha, Trang’s most famous dim sum restaurant. Flocked by locals and tourists alike, this iconic joint is a Trang institution and serves up over 30 varieties of these bite-size delicacies. Do try their roast pork, which is a specialty. Afterwards we paid a visit to one of Trang’s many cake shops, and their bundt-like offerings are a must-try.
Later that afternoon, after all the excursions were done and all the activities checked off, I found a moment to sit down on the balcony of my suite and take in the warm rays of the early afternoon sun. I watched as fishermen floated on the estuary, flocks of white birds flew them by, and the postcard vista of the islands and the sea warmed by the spectrum of colours in the sky. Recalling this scenery, after I returned to the city, was like retelling a dream, such a futile endeavour. You just have to be there to experience it.