By Jeninne Lee-St. John
Dec 9, 2020
WHEN YOUR BIGGEST complaint about a hotel is that you can’t hear your butler clearly on the other end of the hotel’s custom guest-services smartphone while you’re trying to speak to her on it in the private pool that wraps around three sides of your beachfront villa because one of your waterfalls is too loud… well, life could be worse.
Banyan Tree Krabi is Thailand’s first top-tier resort opening outside of Bangkok since Covid, and it’s somehow, magically of this moment. That is to say: small, good for secluding a deux or in a group, with a focus on wellness, an embrace of nature, and the type of relaxed but rigorous service that’s been coming to define luxury hotels over the past several years.
There are only 72 keys, every one a suite or villa with its own private pool (and three of which you can repeal the walls and mash together to create a mega-villa for the whole extended fam). As mentioned, our light-drenched one-bedroom villa was all about water everywhere. It clearly took design, and feng shui, pointers from older sister Banyan Tree Phuket, but with more modern style. In the vestibule, you’ll find your walk-in closet on the right, vast bathroom on the left, both with doors opening to pools, one with a massage shower in it.
In front is the bedroom, where the floating cloud bed has bolster pillows at head and foot, keeping sightlines clear and creating what feels like a half cocoon, half beach club daybed. With water on three sides, and the ocean directly ahead if you open the sliding doors, you feel like you’re sleeping in a yacht. Proceed through the two-couched living room to your pool deck; in the pool itself you can sidle up to your own bar, should you choose to take afternoon tea en suite and dans l’eau. You’re now facing your flower-draped garden with an umbrella-ed table as well as its own actual daybed, perfect for sipping champagne while snapping a zillion pics of the violet sunset in that karst-strew bay, silhouettes of tall palm trees and tiny beach-frolickers adding life for IG-like bait.
There’s a little canal separating these villas from the beach, and when we were there surveyors seemed to be plotting bitty bridge crossings. This will in no way compromise your privacy. The property sits at the northern end of a shoreline with small-scale accommodations as neighbors on one side and a national park on the other. This is Dragon Crest Mountain, which gives the resort its theme, and once someone points out the naga (you know, those serpentine semi-deities) scales or tails or undulating backs accenting one place, you won’t be able to stop seeing them. Now, we did not hike to the top of Dragon Crest (because lazy) but I’m told if you do choose to do the four-plus-hour trek, you’ll be accompanied by an expert naturalist and a gourmet picnic lunchbox, and rewarded with the best views of those prehistoric emerald outcroppings in Phang Nga Bay since the hilltop pool at Six Senses Koh Yao Noi directly across the waters.
Those 260-million-year-old karsts make for a fantastic boat trip, especially these days, devoid of all those meddlesome foreign tourists. You definitely want to see the lagoon of Koh Hong and pristine sand of James Bond Island at their least popular. Closer to home, you’ll also want to kayak half a kilometer north of the resort to what the Banyan folks like to call secret beach, where one of the recreation guys, Toey, caught up with us, led us on a scramble over some beached boulders that made me feel like I was in a children’s picture book to a micro-waterfall cascading fresh water from the top of the dragon. He also told us a touchingly personal story about one of his tattoos that made me remember the most satisfying thing about hotel life: human connection.
During dinner at hilltop, forest-tucked Saffron restaurant–reachable by a cutie funicular!–waitress Kikkok told us of her dreams of moving to the States, and manager Sam let us secretly eavesdrop on a private concert being held on one of the decks. Not only was our muay Thai instructor, Amm, a motivating blend of jovial and hardcore during our class, but he also told us about how he cried the first time he hit his friend in a fight at age 11, how much he loves his mama, and, after returning from a day off, showed us pics how he spent the quality time with his son. Our main host, Ing, the aforementioned beauty of a butler, managed every schedule change I threw at her with nonchalance, and a side helping of obscure facts about Phang Nga Bay, as she’s worked in the region for years. Nai, who manned the beach bar, where we spent more than our fair share of time, took it upon himself to check with the other two F&B outlets when we ordered drinks, to make sure they knew the type of wine and bubbles we liked and got it right.
Resorts opening now benefit (unfortunately) from a hurting market that allows them to snap up the best and brightest from their sister hotels and others. And everyone I speak with now active and happy in the service industry are practically overjoyed to be able to be back at work, to put use to their skills as people-persons. Those facts shine through in the staff at Banyan Tree Krabi as bright as the midday sun on the main resort pool, where, by the way, I suggest you take your obligatory afternoon pina colada in a half-submerged lounger.
All above photos courtesy of Banyan Tree Krabi
Nearby is the airy, centrally located kids’ club and its inviting mini-waterpark with bucket-dump and twisty slide. Sorry, grown-ups, this is little-ones-only, but Banyan Tree’s on-brand excellent spa has another waterpark of sorts, for those of us less shrieky than creaky: the indoor-outdoor aquatherapy circuit, The Rainforest. Rinse, steam, shower, sauna, ice bath, circumnavigate a pool that has three kinds of gale-force pressure-point massage spigots, chill in the Jacuzzi, melt in the hot tub, then plunge for as long as you possibly can in the frigid cold pool (OK, maybe some shrieking happened here), before reposing on warmed-tile chaises whose body-contour shape shocked us by rivaling any feather bed for fall-asleepability.
I suppose had I considered my own pool’s waterfall’s potential use as massage therapist, I’d have been less adamant about turning it off. But then again, when you’ve got an angel like Ing whispering the sweet nothings of spa-appointment times and champagne delivery through your hotel smartphone, you want to hear every word.
FROM MY STAY
banyantree.com; doubles from US$700.
Special introductory offer: Make your reservation through the resort website between now and April 30, 2021, to receive a 25 percent discount off the best available rate of any suite or villa; complimentary breakfast; 50 percent off the first spa treatment, and 30 percent off a second treatment; and a free afternoon tea set. (Thai citizens can combine the discount with the national Rao Tiew Duay Gan, or “Let’s Travel Together,” promotion whereby the government refunds 40 percent of their bill.)
For more information about booking this promotion, click here.