Exploring the Idyllic Beauty of
There is a place that is so vast, so ineffably beautiful, the scale of it so incomprehensible, that it feels like the playground of the gods. It’s more commonly known as Southern Thailand, specifically the province of Krabi and the island of Phuket. Imagine the world’s most stunning landscapes, the most bleached-white sand, the most crystalline blue-green water, and verdant mountains that rise up from the sea and never seem to end. This is the Malay Peninsula. The sheer magnitude makes you want to do something unforgettable. (If you need a place to propose, just saying.) Since the tsunami that devastated parts of the region fourteen years ago, the area has seen remarkable regrowth: Communities have been rebuilt, beautiful beachfront resorts and wellness retreats dot the shoreline, and the food is as fresh and spicy as it’s ever been.
There are over eighty islands sprinkled out over the Andaman Sea—an equatorial idyll that makes up part of the Thai province of Krabi. The archipelago is a study in beautiful contrasts: powdery white beaches and gentle blue water juxtaposed with ominous caves that time has carved into the bottom of massive, threatening cliffs. It’s a place you have to see to believe.
Stay: Phulay Bay, a new hotel in the region, is reason enough to travel ten (to fifteen) hours on a plane. The property is massive but somehow still quaint (it has only fifty-four rooms). Head to the colossal infinity pool or beachside bar, and take in a view of the nearby Phi Phi Islands. The hotel’s design is Moroccan with elements of Chinese thrown in (it sounds out-there, but it works). The resort, which is curiously painted amethyst purple, is made up of private villas (and inside those villas: the largest, cushiest, softest beds the world has ever known, private pools, outdoor showers, and individual butler service). This is no ordinary hotel, and it’s worth spending at least an entire day on the property. The options—sunrise yoga, meditation, the hotel’s fantastic spa—are great, and the setting is sublime. Dinner at Sri Trang is traditional Southern Thai: spicy curries in a fresh coconut milk base, stir-fried diced pork with chilies, fried prawns with tamarind, and sticky redberry rice that will leave the air around your dinner table fragrant.
Do/See: The Phi Phi Islands—an archipelago of jungles, jutting cliffs, curving white beaches that look Photoshopped—is an hour-long boat ride from the Krabi Boat Lagoon Marina on the mainland. Local companies offer private charters, many on traditional Southeast Asian longtail boats, and will tailor the day to what you’re looking for—and what you’re looking for is some version of snorkeling, watching Thai macaque monkeys chasing one another in the trees by Railay Beach, and stopping by Koh Phi Phi Leh, a smaller island where many of the beaches are almost empty. Ask your captain to take you by Viking Cave, an ominous spot at the bottom of a limestone cliff famous for its ancient carvings. You will inevitably visit Maya Bay, Koh Phi Phi Leh’s most popular nook and the site of the film The Beach, but whatever you do, get there early. By noon it’s a cacophony of tourists and longtail motorboats.
Thailand’s biggest and most famous island looks like it just cracked off from the bottom of Thailand (but is still tethered to the mainland by the Sarasin Bridge). Phuket is a dichotomy: There’s the chaotic, energetic side where the sugar-sand beaches, nightclubs, and street-food vendors attract tourists who’ve come to stay up all night. But there’s a quieter side, too. The northern end of the island is where you’ll find long strips of beach dotted with small fishing villages, plantations dense with rubber trees, and mountains that jut out of the earth like monsters frozen in stone. The whole thing is exotic on the grandest of scales.
When you first arrive at Amatara Wellness Resort, you know you’ve done a good thing for yourself. The minute you walk into the open-air lobby, you see the Andaman Sea. But not just part of it. You see what could likely be the entire thing. Located in Cape Panwa, the southernmost area of Phuket, known for its peacefulness and laid-back vibe, the hotel is a small hamlet of tiny villas on a hill. The ethos of the place is feeling good and taking care of yourself. (You can even opt for a personalized health package that includes tailored activities, like sunrise yoga and organic detox meals.) But the gem of the Amatara Wellness Resort is the spa. Imagine a huge—make that gigantic—ornate Thai version of a hammam, where you’ll get scrubbed, steamed, massaged, iced, and scrubbed again, until you leave feeling like you have no bones.
The new Rosewood Phuket, situated across the island at Emerald Bay, also takes wellness seriously. Very seriously. The Asaya package, a catered fitness-spa-healing program, includes alternative therapies, like Reiki and sound healing. Health aside, it’s worth it to stay here for 1) a meal at Red Sauce, the hotel’s amazing Italian restaurant, run by chef Luca De Negri and 2) the views oh my god the views.
Chivitr Health and Wellness Retreat is a sprawling spa set on a hill that mixes ancient Thai health practices with modern technology. The place is epic. The treatments are world-class and the owner, Pornthip Noppakoon, treats her guests like her family. She built everything from the ground up, furnishing the treatment rooms and guest suites with her personal collection of craftsman-built elements, including antique doors repurposed from China.
Do/See: Throughout Thailand, people often greet each other by asking, “Have you eaten?”—which goes a long way to explaining how important food is in this country. Phuket is no exception. Most of the food here, logically, is seafood. Leave the beachside spots to the tourists and head to Old Phuket Town, a historic section of Phuket City. Order pineapple shrimp and whole grilled fish with herbs in one of the old shophouses (a traditional space that features a family’s restaurant in the front and living quarters in the back). Afterward, take a walk. Start along Thalang Road and prepare to be floored by the fuchsia and yellow Sino-Portuguese buildings. Then head north to the Dibuk Road to see Wat Putta Mongkon—a multitiered red-and-gold Buddhist temple. By now, you’ll be hungry again. Follow the sweet, smoky scent around the corner to the night market, where locals make spicy papaya salad and homemade curries in their street carts.