It’s not your standard beachside escape.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
If there’s one thing that Thailand has in abundance, it’s the glut of luxury beachside resorts for the discerning traveller looking for sun, sea, sand, and the best of Thai hospitality and F&B. However, the country’s well-established hospitality juggernauts have set – and adhered to – a certain pattern that can, with each subsequent opening, often feel like a facsimile of an old mould.
It’s exciting, therefore, that Hua Hin’s newest entrant to the five-star hotel scene, fittingly called The Standard, Hua Hin, sets its own, well, standard for what high-end hospitality looks like. “We welcome everyone, but we’re not a brand that is necessarily to everyone’s taste,” is what Marc Sittl, the hotel’s General Manager tells me. Joel ‘Jay’ Brumant, the EAM Rooms and GEM, agrees: “we’re not for everyone, which I think speaks perfectly to the design, entertainment, and concept of the brand. “Not everyone will like it, but those that do, we want them to stay.”
A renowned group of boutique hotels in the world’s most sought-after destinations, with branches in L.A., New York, Miami, London, and the Maldives, The Standard Hotels have long been known for their creativity and innovation, and it is that DNA that the team at The Standard, Hua Hin are hoping to bring to this coastal town, “but with a Thai twist,” according to Marc.
“The playfulness and cheekiness of the brand sets us apart,” Jay says. “It’s a brand from America, so everyone knows that we’re loud, expressive, and colourful; but more than just that, we’re also all about inclusivity.” Even before they opened their doors to the public on 1st December, the resort hosted a ‘drag bingo night’ with one of the country’s most celebrated drag queens, Pangina Heals (Pan Pan Narkpasert), who themselves commented on how unusual that is in Thailand’s luxury hotel scene.
From the onset, this more relaxed approach to five-star comfort can be seen as we enter the hotel, past their iconic, upside-down logo and straight to their Juice Café on our left, which has an entire wall that’s open to the elements to draw people in, and end-to-end floating shelves of classic vinyl records, instruments, and books in a riot of colours. The immediate invitation to sit, sip, and relax is indicative of the hotel’s efforts to be the heart of the community in their area – “we’re not elite about who can access certain areas and enjoy the property,” Jay tells me. “We want the local community; every single person around us, to come and enjoy.”
“We want to be the Hua Hin resort at home,” Marc agrees.
Past the Juice Café and its pebbled garden of decade-old trees is the al-fresco lobby, a welcoming space surrounded by verdure, with comfortable, bench-type wooden seating on which you can enjoy their refreshing welcome drink and bask in the lush gardens around, while attentive staff check you in. There’s a retail space next to the check-in counter, set up like a wall-less walk-in closet, where guests can explore the brand’s merchandise from the U.S., but also, according to Marc, “items from young, local designers,” which makes up “around 70-80 percent of items, to much success so far.” This is, I’m told, another way The Standard is dedicated to showcasing local talent: “we’ve always been known to be an incubator for up-and-coming artists, designers, etc. that want a platform to showcase their work; they’ve always come to the brand and used us as their base,” Jay informs me, drawing on his long years of experience with the brand in L.A. and the Maldives.
An incubator for art is a very apt way to describe the rest of the experience walking through the resort: as you wind your way down the 199-key property (with 105 rooms available now and more to follow), you walk past heritage trees with playful animal sculptures hidden among the foliage; a fluid installation sprawled across a lawn that triples as innovative seating and table options; and, in pride of place, a sizeable pool whose crystal-clear waters look out into the Gulf of Thailand, surrounded by a range of comfortable seating in cheerful blues and yellows. Of course, as a resort with a focus on art and design, everywhere you look is eminently Instagrammable, made clear by the many recognisable faces with their own camera crew dotted throughout the resort; faces that I last saw on my celebrity Instagram feed.
Grouped in intimate clusters are the resort’s 28 villas, with a choice of their Pool Villa, replete with a plunge pool and sundeck on which you can comfortably bake under the tropical sun; the outsized Bayside Villa, with its own pool, double rain shower (that I’m told can comfortably fit multiple people!) and bathtub under a skylight so you can bathe under the stars; and our home during our visit, the Canopy Villa, aptly nestled amidst the tree canopy, with its own private balcony that looks out onto the seascape. Our villa, a substantial 82sqm with a separate, open-plan seating area, was done up in earthy shades of creams and light browns, with natural wood and rattan furnishings, and an exceptionally comfortable bed that felt like a dream – and certainly provided plenty of good ones at night. My favourite element, however, was the rose gold disco ball above the immense bathtub, another nod to The Standard’s mischievous aesthetic. All the villas and rooms come equipped with a Bluetooth speaker so you can party with surround sound – while staying considerate of your neighbours, naturally.
Of course, it would be unacceptable to stay at the beachside without visiting the beach, and the Gulf is only a short flight of stairs down from the resort, which also provides their own watersports programme, run by a local company. For those who prefer a more private affair, there’s also a sandbank of white sand in the resort itself, where you can lounge under the resort’s signature yellow-and-white beach umbrellas and enjoy a piña colada in peace.
DRINKING AND DINING
The resort has four F&B outlets, each with their distinct flavour (and flavourings). The aforementioned Juice Café is a health nut’s dream, with a smorgasbord of juices, smoothie bowls, and healthy bites to choose from, all delicious despite how wholesome they were; whereas if you were looking for something a little less healthy and a bit more boozy, the Lido Bar by the pool is the obvious choice, with American-style platters to nibble on in between doing laps (or posing by the water).
Lido, their charming all-day-dining restaurant, serves Italian favourites with locally-sourced seafood and produce, with such a wide and appetising selection that I was informed that it wouldn’t pall to eat there every day. I would recommend their artichoke salad and any of their pizzas, although their white pizzas are certainly unusual, and a step above. Praça takes a more casual approach to fine dining, while steeped in history thanks to the meticulously-converted Heritage Beach Home that is so quintessential to Hua Hin. Their outdoor area takes beachfront to the next level – book ahead so that you can secure prime seating on the sands itself, where you can tuck into authentic Thai dishes with the sand beneath your feet, the stars overhead, and the sea breeze blowing through your hair; a hedonistic experience like no other.
Health and wellness is baked into the brand’s vision, with The Standard, Hua Hin taking elements from their world-famous Miami property and integrating it into their innovative spa experience. A colourful and yet restful space that is designed to refresh both your mind and body, the spa is divided into two sections – a series of treatment rooms for traditional massages; and the mud lounge, which GM Marc calls “something completely new, and DIY.” Jay explains further: “Although the concept is taken from Miami, no one there had the creative spin on the lounge that guests here have done. It’s usually smeared on your bodies as a treatment, but here, people are drawing artwork on their bodies, and writing messages on their friend’s bodies, which changes the experience into something different altogether.”
The resort also has a state-of-the-art gym with all the amenities that any gym buff could want while on holiday.
Marc Sittl and Joel ‘Jay’ Brumant give the inside scoop on the property.
Which elements of your resort would you recommend most to visitors?
Marc: It depends on the type of guest that you have, and the mood the person is in. We try to have everything – if you want solitude, you can find it in one of the villa clusters and private seating, you can go to the beach under the trees; if you want something more entertaining for you and others, you can go to the pool bar and the outlets; the spa, again, is for relaxation. I would say, guests should come in, and just try and see what they like.
Which clientele do you believe the resort would appeal the most to?
Marc: The brand tends to be more couple focused; our property in Miami takes that a step further and is adults only. But we also have to keep in mind that Hua Hin is a family destination. So while we cater to families, the main focus would be couples and groups of friends.
Jay: As we move into the festive season and New Year’s, we’re going to introduce more party-type planning, with more adult-type programmes, pool parties, big-name DJs, the works.
Do you have plans to encourage Indian weddings in your resort, and how so?
Marc: Yes of course, weddings, engagements, etc. are of great interest! We are very well laid out for these kind of things, you’ve got great areas for photo moments, etc. We’ll need to have a very detailed conversation with the bride and groom, and their parents, on expectations and what we can offer, because while there might be some challenges in terms of spaces, we’re very open to buy outs.
Jay: I definitely love Indian weddings! I think we’re the perfect size and layout – we’re not too big, nor too small. A complete buyout of the entire space would be best, so you can activate different areas. We can include the programming into the whole package, and we have a rooftop space above Lido that we’re finishing out; I think we’re one of the few that has a rooftop event space overlooking the ocean. It’s amazing, it’s a prime spot.
Hua Hin is known as a town with a very rich and storied history. The Standard Hua Hin, however, is a brand known for its modern and innovative sensibilities. How do you feel the brand will re-energise Hua Hin’s image among local and foreign tourists alike?
Jay: I think it’s going to take some time, it won’t happen overnight. We are trying to compete with places like Pattaya which is party focused, but here you kind of have to balance the party scene with one that’s more of a relaxation getaway. I think we’ll manage it with the kind of people we bring in, the kind of clientele that we advertise to, and also the kind of artists and performers that we bring in. Our biggest thing is socialising and connecting people.
THE STANDARD, HUA HIN