Monday, September 23, 2013

Recipe to a Perfect Vacation- Part 1:The Sofitel, Krabi and the Islands in the Andaman Sea.

I managed to create the perfect recipe for a perfect vacation. An exciting combination of exotic locales, adventure, delicious cuisines, a dash of romance and a whole lot of fun. I was invited by the Sofitel to review two of their properties in South East Asia and all I had to do was show up! I picked the Sofitel Krabi in Thailand and the Sofitel Siem Reap in Cambodia. Mr. Fox kindly accepted to be my companion on this trip and provided some true genius moments and a ton of chatter. After a fortnight of planning, booking flights, applying for visas, and crazy coordination we were finally on our way to Thailand and Cambodia. First stop was Krabi and after spending half a night at the Bangkok airport both of us were ready to just shake off the exhaustion and let the holiday begin. 

September is an interesting time to visit the beach towns in this part of the world since it is technically considered to be the monsoon season, even though it is not raining as much as it does from June to August. It is definitely a lull period for the tourists and many of the "attractions" are not open as it is not peak season. First impressions- Krabi is spectacular! It is what Goa could be but isn’t. Stark high mountains bobbing out of the sea forming little islands that resemble the ones I have seen in Chinese paintings. Krabi is known for its diving, snorkeling and sailing scene. However, the waters are much calmer from November to May and not so much in the monsoony September.

We arrived at the Sofitel, which is around a 35-minute ride from the airport. The property is parallel to the sea and is a good kilometer long sea facing. It is away from the town center of Krabi and in a way a great getaway from the tourist noise. The lobby is an impressive representation of the French Colonial architecture or monsoon architecture, as I like to call it. High wooded ceilings, terracotta floor, beautiful antique teak furniture, dreamy white flowy screened divans and lush green plants with pools of water. I sighed, boy was I ready for this vacation. Straight ahead was an open courtyard below, that opened to a massive pool with little islands of huts accompanied by a bar in the middle and further ahead was the gorgeous sea. The whole place had a languid charm to it. 

Our room was luxurious and opened to the large manicured lawns that led to the pool and then further to the beach. Well, the most appropriate thing to do was to jump into our bathing suits and hit the beach and the pool. While Thailand does not allow private beaches, the Sofitel is kind enough to have a staff member at the beach that provides towels and super comfy giant beach pillows to laze on. Nothing spells vacation better than luxurious waterside lounging. Although the beach is a very narrow strip of sand which by no means is close to the white soft sand beaches of South Florida and the Caribbeans, it was empty and all to ourselves. The surface was a bit rocky and the water very choppy due to the Monsoon. However there were buoys creating a safe enclosure in the water. Mr. Fox was very comfortable with the sea, myself a bit more cautious. We headed back to the 7000 sq meters pool (read: luxurious) with the swim up bar in the middle. When on vacation in tropical land - yes you are allowed to order a pina-colada perfection. September was slightly chilly with the rains but the pool water was buttery warm and really lovely to rest in and float. Again, I can't emphasize on how lovely it was to have most of this pool to ourselves with very few people around. However, part of the pool was shut for renovation since the hotel was only 20% occupied at this point. 

Again, during low season only one of the three restaurants is open- the Venezia, which serves a combined cuisine of Italian, Thai and Indian (good option for the careful vegetarians). So, we dined at the Venezia one night. We requested the chef to serve us his Thai specialties. He customized a dinner for us: spring rolls, giant grilled tiger prawns, spicy papaya salad, a sliced fresh fish salad, red curry beef, a mussaman curry and some delicious assortment of sauteed vegetables. The prawns were succulent, the salads refreshing, tangy and spicy. They went really well with a chilled Singha beer. But my favourite was the red curry. The flavours were delicate and rich. The curries were aromatic and the twang was well rounded. Each bite was like music on the tongue. I wanted to lick my plate and the bowl clean. I do recommend the delicious Thai food.  We ended the meal with my absolute favourite dessert in the whole wide world- sticky rice and mango. I was like the most excited child in a candy store when this arrived. It was absolutely delightful and since I was eating it almost after what felt like a lifetime, I was thrilled at the sweet yumminess of the mango and the warm, coconuty richness of the sticky rice. The sprinkling of sesame added the perfect crunch to an otherwise warm and soft dessert. If heaven had a dessert, this would be it.

The welcoming divans in the lobby
The fantastic French Colonial architecture
The Spa Block
A beautiful vacation ahead
The view from our room
The beach outside the Sofitel
Sunset by the pool
A place of restfulness
The cozy lobby at night
A ancient mariner map of Asia in the bar lounge
Dinner at the Venezia- Fish salad and springrolls
The famous papaya salad- medium spicy
A medley of grilled prawns, the you-will-lick-the bowl-clean red curry, crunchy veggies and my absolute favourite- sticky rice with mango
Even though the location is isolated and far from the popular town center, Au Nang, the concierge does a nice job in arranging taxis to various parts of Krabi. The Sofitel also has its own private yacht, kayaking gear and other water sport equipment. There are quaint restaurants a few hundred meters on either side of the Sofitel, which are nice to walk to, and can be easier on the budget. Thai food is high on flavour and with the source of the seafood a few feet away you really cant go wrong with what you order. The regular Thai fare- Tom Yum soup, papaya salad, green and red curries, chili lime sauces, pad Thais are all available on the menu. I did want to try something unique but found it hard to communicate with the locals, none the less the regular fare was also very high on flavours. Ao Nang is supposed to have a fabulous night market over the weekends, which we did not make it to since we were there only over the weekdays.

We also went island hopping the next day, which we arranged with a local tour company- The Ao Nang Boat Company. It included hotel pick up and drop- island hopping 4 islands, lunch at the famous Phi Phi Islands, and two rounds of snorkeling. Yep you heard that, the absolute emerald green water had a breath taking collection of rainbow fish, sea anemones, swordfish and a beautiful black and white water snake- which scared the living daylights out of me. And we met Nemo fish- tonnes of them that swam close to us. This was the most exciting thing I had done in a long while. However, be warned- this was not the most comfortable boat ride in the world, the water was choppy with waves as high as 5ft. Mr. Fox seemed to enjoy the front row open to the rain ride which I thought would break my neck and wrist. I sat inside which was calmer and easier on my nerves. For the experience it was worth it, however, I can see this becoming very crowded in the high season.

Mountain islands and long tail boats 

Maya Island and Phi Phi Island 

The beach at sunset
And finally- the revered king and queen
This was the start of the perfect vacation. It was brilliant fun. Two days was definitely not enough and we would not have minded an entire week in Krabi- enjoying the opulent property of the Sofitel and exploring more islands off the coast of Krabi. The Sofitel, Krabi is perfect for honeymooners and people who want a break from crazy city life and enjoy a few days in the lap of luxury. One of my favourite things to do was to hang out on the hammock in the lawns and hear the beautiful sounds of the ocean nearby.

A couple notes:
  •  The Sofitel provides airport transfers for 2150 Baht for a van of 6 people or you can get a prepaid cab at the airport for 700 Baht.
  •  There is a full service spa at the Sofitel- totally worth a spa service. Wish I had time for this.
  • Happy hour is available at the Koh Poda Pool Bar. But all hours at the Sofitel can be happy hours. When on vacation….
  • We paid 1000 Baht each for the full day boat tour which we negotiated down from 1500 Baht, however some fellow boat passengers said they paid 800 Baht. So much for my negotiation skills!
The perfect sound for this post- of awe and discovery! This song reminds me of all the fish that I swam with in the Andaman. So beautiful to be one amongst nature.