Last updated: 10:30 PM ET, Thu May 28 2015

'Thai-ness' Hotels

Thailand hotels embody the destination's 'Thai-ness' marketing campaign

Agent@Home | Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia

'Thai-ness' Hotels

PHOTO: The Anantara Hua Hin is an especially nice place to mark the Thai New Year festival of Songkran. Courtesy of Anantara Hotels & Resorts.

Last year was hellish for the people of Thailand and their tourism industry, which suffered horribly due to the political demonstrations that led to the military’s seizure of power.

Thailand welcomed just short of 25 million international visitors in 2014, compared to about 27 million in 2013. A 12.23 percent surge in foreign visitors in December helped to ease the drop as did the 6.6 million arrivals from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, accounting for about 27 percent of the total in 2014.

In 2015, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has set a total international arrivals target of 28 million visitors, generating an estimated $41 billion in economic activity.

TAT is once again turning to its traditional marketing theme, the mystique of the Thai people, with its new global “2015 Discover Thai-ness” campaign. The destination has successfully positioned the character of the Thai people themselves as the primary point of distinction between Thailand and the other countries of Southeast Asia. It’s a strategy that has worked, because most visitors to Thailand are charmed and intrigued by a people who seem to move and speak with an ineffable elegance.

Certainly, you will find more impressive temples in Cambodia and Indonesia, food in Singapore is unsurpassed anywhere in Southeast Asia, the Malaysian wild is in a class by itself, but Thailand has Thais and that has made it the favorite Southeast Asian destination for Americans and other Western travelers.

TAT’s “2015 Discover Thai-ness” campaign highlights seven distinct characteristics of the Thai people: Thai Food, Thai Way of Life, Thai Art, Thai Wellness, Thai Festivity, Thai Wisdom and Thai Fun.

Here is a look at seven different Thai hotels that each in their own way embodies these pillars of Thai-ness.

Food: The Oriental opened nearly 140 years ago as Thailand’s first hotel and one of Asia’s first classic luxury hotels. Along the way it has been involved in many innovations, including the world’s first cooking school for hotel guests. Today the cooking school is part of a wider Thai cultural program that explores Thai-ness in dance, architecture and more. The Thai Cooking School at the Oriental explores Thai cuisine from ingredient preparation to cooking. The classes are limited to 15 guests from the Oriental or other hotels. The cooking school operates from Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Classes, conducted in English, cover four separate dishes daily. The course costs about $125 each and includes program materials, instruction and lunch.

Way of Life: The Float House River Kwai is a resort that literally floats on the famous river Kwai in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province. Comprising 26 90-square-meter villas, the hotel is located in the same sort of dense rainforest that was featured in the film “Bridge on the River Kwai.” The hotel’s location is best appreciated on each villa’s private balcony and pier where you can relax and, in the words of Bob Dylan, “Watch the river flow.”

Each floating suite features traditional wood furniture, a thatched roof and such rustic enhancements as matted wall coverings. Developed with the eco-conscious traveler in mind, the hotel is built from locally sourced and made materials. Most of the staff was recruited from the local Mon community — an ethnic minority who migrated from Myanmar. Guests can choose from such activities as kayaking and rafting.

Art: In 2012, the Sofitel So opened as Bangkok’s first urban design property. The idea with the Sofitel So brand is to combine local art motifs with a French sensibility. Sofitel called on designer Christian Lacroix to create a hybrid of French and Thai design that’s both chic and comforting. The hotel uses themed accommodations focused on the Five Elements: water, earth, wood, metal and fire.

The first four elements inspire four separate room designs — water, characterized by sophistication and calm; earth, wonder and enrichment; wood, elegance and tranquility, and metal, purity and modernity. The theme of the fifth element, fire, burns brightly in the restaurants and public areas.

Wellness: With so many great Thai hotel spas, it’s impossible to name the best, but Banyan Tree deserves the distinction because the company pioneered luxury Asian spas in hotels in 1994 when it opened in Phuket. Today the brands cover more than 35 hotels and resorts and 70 spas. On the Gulf of Thailand, Banyan Tree Samui overlooks Lamai Bay with 78 pool villas and easy access to Ang Thong National Marine Park, a group of protected islands.

The spa in the hotel applies treatments based on traditions passed down through generations. The 150-minute Thai Beauty Ritual (For Her), for instance, was specially created using a traditional Thai recipe, blending herbs, spices and natural scents to create a deep sense of relaxation. Banyan Tree Spa and Angsana Spa therapists are graduates of Phuket’s Banyan Tree Spa Academy established in 2001.

Festivals: Hotels throughout Thailand celebrate Songkran, the festival that brings in the Thai New Year, but Anantara, which has 13 hotels across Thailand, makes sure that each of its hotels is part of the celebration every year.

One particularly nice Anantara property for Songkran would be the Anantara Hua Hin. The hotel’s garden features hundreds of plant species indigenous to Thailand. The garden walk brings many of their stories to the guest with an intuitive and descriptive map that is also a lesson in Thai culture and history. Adjacent to the garden, a new pool bar, called Loy Nam, offers snacks and beverages without ever having to leave the water.

Hua Hin is the full-time residence of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and a haven for golfers, water sports mavens, spa-goers and wine enthusiasts.

Wisdom: Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam, presents an incredible landscape in which the past flows into the present. The temples, stupas and Buddhist sculpture that live on in an elegant state of ruin would make a wonderful place for reflection. The 26-room Sala Ayutthaya boutique hotel opened last August along the banks of the Chao Phraya River opposite the Wat Phutthaisawan and near attractions and archaeological sites. The hotel has a duplex river-view suite and a pool suite that offer really special accommodations. The Sala Ayutthaya’s dining room features an alfresco patio looking out on the river. The restaurant has both indoor air-conditioned dining as well as the outdoor dining deck.

Fun: The 255-room Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort sprawls across 75 acres on Bangtao Beach. This activity-rich family resort has a kids club, a day spa, a pool with a water slide, squash courts, archery, theater, recreation center, 5-Star PADI Dive Center, as well as four restaurants, four bars, an Internet café, spa and more. The resort’s Tennis Center features three newly renovated, outdoor floodlit tennis courts and one indoor court with a complete menu of tennis options. Bungalows are gathered in clusters to create the atmosphere of a traditional Thai village. Inside, the interiors are contemporary with Thai touches. Each features full amenities, plus walk-in wardrobe, flat-screen television and an iPod/docking station. Each of the 12 Hillside Pool Villas has its own private pool.

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Agent@Home Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the May 2015 issue of Agent@Home Magazine.


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