I’ve been to more countries in the world that I’ve had birthdays, so I like to think I’m pretty well-travelled, but somehow in all my travels Thailand has passed me by. While all my friends were gap year-ing around this Asian hotspot, I had my head in my books studying and so it has always remained at the top of my must-visit countries list. When I finally got the chance to travel to this south-east asian idyll I decided to forgo the full moon parties and do it in five-star style. No backpack for me. I’d waited too long for Thailand, so wanted to see the very best the enchanting country had to offer.
We decided to start our romantic journey in Phuket. After all, this is the gateway to the famous islands and have you even been to Thailand if you haven’t set foot on Phuket? We flew straight to the island from London with a stop in Dubai and as soon as we landed I knew it had been worth the long flight and years of wanting to visit. We drove through the fascinating villages and coast roads, enjoying the sights of an entirely different way of life and infrastructure to ours, occasionally getting glimpses of an unbelievably turquoise sea and white sand beaches through the palm trees. After half an hour we arrived at our first destination on the quieter north-eastern side of the island – the exquisite Anantara Layan Phuket Resort.
This resort is a honeymooner’s paradise, one of those magical places that reveals more and more each day that you stay there, so I’d definitely suggest four nights here at the very least. When we arrived I was blown away by the incredible infinity pool spilling down onto a talcum powder beach overlooking the unique Layan Bay. It’s unlike any other beach I’ve sunbathed on, with a tide that goes so far out that you can walk across the sand to an island that hours before was surrounded by the azure seas.
We loved going for long walks around this incredible landscape, picking up shells and marvelling at the ever-changing views. Our Pool Villa was just a short walk away from the sea and was a delightfully private room enclosed by a wall and garden and, as the name suggests, its own pool. Although we were close to the main hotel lobby, pool and restaurants, it felt so secluded and like our own little slice of paradise. Inside it was vast, with a luxurious bed and a his ‘n hers dressing room and bathroom area, that was just as big as the main room itself. One night after dinner, we came back to a romantic bathtub filled with rose petals. It was a wonderful touch.
When we could drag ourselves away from this romantic retreat, we started to discover that there’s even more to this resort than we first realised. Following the winding, foliage-flanked paths from our room we discovered a tranquil lily pond area with an al fresco boxing ring, where we took part in an exhilarating lesson of Muay Thai Boxing. What a workout! Then we headed up the hill along another winding path sheltered by exotic trees and found ourselves at the vast spa, which had its own huge pool, where we spent many happy hours lounging and swimming in complete seclusion, with only the sounds of the insects chirruping in the nearby bushes to break the silence.
Anantara Layan’s spa pool
One of the reasons I so longed to come to Thailand was to try out one of the legendary Thai massages. We decided to waste no time and booked a couples’ massage for the very first day of our stay here – to help with the jet lag, you know! There’s a reason this country is so well-known for its massages. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and I had to fight to stay awake. It wasn’t just the actual massage that we loved. The whole spa experience from start to finish was enchanting, with so many beautifully-designed spaces to relax in and the staff making sure you’re perfectly at ease.
The wedding chapel with its incredible views
Once we realised there was so much more to discover up on the hills above the main resort we were hooked and couldn’t get enough of the resort! Higher still above the spa (make sure to flag down one of the golf buggies as it’s quite a climb) there’s a beautiful modern wedding chapel, the scene of one of the most romantic nights of our lives. We enjoyed a rather special destination dinner here (one of the many experiences the hotel can arrange) with fresh wedding-day-worthy flower arrangements and candles galore decorating the space for just the two of us. We feasted on fresh seafood platters and delectable desserts, all washed down with a glass or two too many of champagne.
Next door to the chapel is a new restaurant called Age, which we will always consider as one of the best culinary experiences we’ve ever had – and we’ve been to many restaurants in our time! The concept, as the name suggests, is a restaurant that serves perfectly aged cuts of meat. The chefs here are masters of their trade and serve melt-in-the-mouth dishes in the smart gentleman’s club-inspired surroundings. We ate out on the balcony, enveloped by the perfectly warm night air, overlooking the bay with the resort’s lights twinkling away on the waves. It was one of those hard-to-describe moments, where all seems well in the world and you’re in complete harmony.
View from the residences
Further still up the hill, you’ll find Anantara Layan’s residences. These are sprawling privately-owned modern villas that are rented out to guests, so if you don’t fancy buying one yourself (or can’t afford them!), you can enjoy a taste of the high life for a week instead. The views from these hilltop houses are quite understandably out-of-this-world and they would certainly make a stunning space for a destination wedding, with all your friends and family staying and celebrating with you.
Dee Plee Thai Restaurant
In the main beachfront section of the resort, there are yet more dining options with a very well-known on the island Thai restaurant Dee Plee, which we went to multiple times and even learned how to cook like the pros with a Spice Spoons cooking class. We left with our tummies full of Thai specialties and with the knowledge of how to recreate them at home. Then there’s Breeze, an all-day poolside, relaxed restaurant, and finally The Mojito Factory – a cool on-the-beach cocktail bar, serving alongside other things, amazing Mojitos.
Even a week here isn’t enough to take it everything it has to offer, so it’s the perfect option for honeymooners who want a relaxing beach break but with enough activities on tap to prevent them getting bored. In the time we were there, we made the most of some honeymoon-perfect experiences, like a trip to a local elephant sanctuary, boxing and cooking classes and a once-in-a-lifetime trip on a private catamaran from Panwa pier across to one of the smaller islands, where we snorkelled in the gin-clear fish-filled waters. Our first stop in Thailand had quite simply blown us away.
GO THERE: Anantara Layan Phuket Resort costs from £342 (THB 13, 365) per room per night including breakfast and staying in a Deluxe Pool Villa, anantara.com
We waved goodbye to stunning Phuket and headed off to see the other side of Thailand. The very northern area of Chiang Rai and more specifically the Golden Triangle, where Laos, Myanmar and Thaiand’s borders meet. After a couple of hour or so long flights with a quick stop off in Bangkok, we arrived in Chiang Rai. Even the flight’s descent into this area was spectacular with mountains all around and amazing temples and a huge white buddha dotted across the bucolic landscape.
Anantara Golden Triangle Resort
The drive to our next destination, Anantara Golden Triangle Resort took about an hour and a half, but it was a fascinating drive, so felt about five minutes. Out the window the view couldn’t have been much more different to Phuket. Gone were the beaches and palm trees, replaced by miles and miles of farming land and rolling hills, plus temples and ancient towns with bustling markets.
One of the temples at Chiang Rai
There’s nothing bustling about Anantara Golden Triangle Resort. This serene hotel overlooks the Mekong River and has uninterrupted views over almost uninhabited parts of Myanmar and Laos. It feels like you could reach out and touch these other countries, they’re so close. We didn’t have time to visit them, but a must-do activity is the Golden Triangle day tour, that gives you a taste of the very different ways of life in Myanmar and Laos in one culture-filled day.
The Golden Triangle resort is just as luxurious and exquisite as its sister property in Phuket and the pairing of these two resorts is absolute perfection. This resort is much smaller, but it’s still full of surprises that you don’t discover until you’ve spent a few days here. We stayed in a vast and romantic Three Country View suite overlooking what must be one of the world’s most beautiful swimming pools (I later learned that this pool is consistently voted as one of the world’s top pools). The infinity pool appears to hang over the Mekong River and elephants from the hotel’s sanctuary roam about below. It was quite an experience gliding about in the water with the sound of elephants trumpeting just metres away.
The hotel also has two restaurants – a Thai restaurant and, quite unexpectedly, an Italian restaurant. After a week of Thai food, delicious as it is, we were in the mood for some carbs, so we headed to the Italian on our first night for a candlelit meal full of bread, pasta, cheese and chocolatey desserts!
Italy might know a thing or two about comfort food, but it doesn’t have elephants, and the next morning we headed straight back to the heart of our Thai experience with a walking with elephants tour. The sanctuary is just down the hill from the main hotel and we spent a memorable two hours meeting the Asian elephants that the sanctuary have saved from circuses and lives of cruelty and quite literally took them for a walk. As part of this experience you can feed the elephants, stroke them and even hose them down. The gentle giants posed beautifully for a picture with us – a wonderful memento, but also sad that such wild animals have been trained in their previous lives to know what to do in front of a camera.
Our final day in this magical part of Thailand was spent on a Spice Spoons cooking experience. We woke at the crack of dawn – totally worth it to see the amazing sunrise over the three countries – and headed to the nearby town in a tuk tuk to but produce from the market. We also had breakfast with a local in their garden, which is a great way to support the surroundings villagers and learn more about their culture. Back at the hotel, we mastered our Pad Thai and sticky rice making skills before devouring the whole lot.
There’s plenty more to see in Thailand and I felt like I could’ve spent weeks here, discovering all the different regions. But, the combination of Anantara Layan and Anantara Golden Triangle, is a wonderful option for honeymooners who want the glitz and glamour of Phuket as well as the tranquility and spirituality of the temple-strewn countryside up north. The saying goes that “good things come to those who wait”, and that was certainly the case for me when it came to Thailand.
Anantara Golden Triangle costs from £1,150 per room per night including all meals and drinks, one activity and round trip airport transfers in a private limo. The choice of activities include an Elephant Camp experience such as Walking with Giants, a Spice Spoons cooking class, a guided excursion into the Golden Triangle or a Spa experience. anantara.com