Dec 24, 2020
IT FEELS LIKE AN AGE, BUT IT WAS ONLY 11 MONTHS AGO that we were all jet-setting around the globe while countries started sliding their doors shut. As travel came to a standstill with the onset of COVID-19, some serious sojourners decided to just spend the cash to stay put mid-holiday instead of heading back home. Short-term stays soon became long and tropical backdrops became the norm as guests lived out lockdowns in luxury hotels. Perhaps you’ve heard the stories of families checking in for months in the cliffside mega mansions at Anantara Layan in Phuket or essentially having the run of their own island resorts in the Maldives.
Here, three other stories of resort guests who stayed put abroad… and upscale.
Bunking Down in Bali
“I kind of felt like The Last Emperor,” says Scott Colin Cundill, a South African who along with his partner Shirree Leone was in Bali when the pandemic hit. “You know, the little kid who’s the last emperor of China is stuck in the Forbidden City, this incredible palace, while all around him the world is going to chaos? That’s how I felt while staying at Tanah Gajah.”
“I kind of felt like The Last Emperor,”Scott Colin Cundill
After being impressed by a dinner by the head chef at Tanah Gajah, a Resort by Hadiprana, the pair booked a two-month stay at the property at the end of March. At the end of May they decided to extend again, and wound up spending a total of five months at the boutique resort, moored in the rice paddies of Ubud. Both worked remotely from their two-bedroom villa, with private pool and personal chef.
“It took a while to justify from a moral perspective, while the world’s going through so much turmoil, and we’re living in this incredible luxury and happiness,” Scott says. “It actually played on my emotions, on my mind. We were literally playing tennis while everyone else is in lockdown, having iced teas brought to us in our whites, with this beautiful outdoor pool, private gym, spectacular gardens with swans we’d feed every day.”
Happily tucked away in their own private Xanadu, “we only ended up leaving the palace like once or twice a week,” Scott says. Which was just fine by the resort. “We consider them as part of the Tanah Gajah family, and we treated them as such,” said general manager Deasy Swandarini. “Whenever we would host a religious ceremony, we would invite them to join in with our staff and whenever we harvested coconuts, we would ask them to enjoy some young coconuts with us.”
The bill: Their villa would have set a typical traveler back around US$22,000 for a month-long stay but the couple and hotel negotiated a cost of around a third of the going rate.
Sitting Tight in Samui
When you can’t get home to your friends to celebrate your eighth birthday with other kiddos, what’s the next best thing? Obviously, it is beach bash with a bunch of adoring five-star resort staff.
“We intended to stay one week at Banyan Tree on Koh Samui,” says Anna Ibragimova, who along with her husband, Rusian, and daughter, Darya, got “stuck” in Thailand when lockdown began in March. “We ended up there for four months.” Thousands of miles from their home in Kazakhstan, they waited, but no flights became available. Within a few weeks, the trio were practically the only guests at the resort, which remained open throughout the pandemic.
They spent their days lazing by their villa’s infinity pool and ordering room service. They also spent many days snorkeling around the coral reefs that flank the resort, which had enjoyed a resurgence of marine life thanks to the lack of activity in the Gulf of Thailand. “A huge turtle made nests on the beach, and we even got to watch the turtles hatching. It was incredible. Unforgettable,” Anna says.
“The staff really made us feel at home. It was like we were part of their family,” she says, adding that the highlight was when Darya was treated to an impromptu birthday party. The family managed to get back to Kazakhstan in August, but are already planning a return trip. “We really want to come back again in the springtime,” Anna says. “Hopefully, the pandemic will have gone by that time.”
“The staff really made us feel at home. It was like we were part of their family,”Anna Ibragimova
The bill: While such long-term stays could of course qualify for a notable discount, Banyan Tree Samui has in the meantime reduced its prices considerably to accommodate Thailand’s new domestic tourism promotion. Daily prices start from Bt9,999 (US$320) for a Deluxe Pool Villa, including breakfast for two, from now until Dec. 31, 2020.
Keeping Calm in Cam Ranh
When faced with the option of the bone-chilling winter of mountainous Anhui province, in eastern China, versus what is universally considered the best weather in Vietnam, in the eternal summer of the central coast, well, you can see how murmurs of a pandemic might not sway you to change plans.
Wang Li, a 35-year-old Chinese national, and her daughter booked a five-night stay at The Anam in Cam Ranh to escape the bitter cold of winter that grips their native Anhui, best known for those mystical, cloud-draped Huangshan Mountains. After they arrived at the resort on January 16, it became quickly apparent they would need to extend their stay, as the outbreak worsened in China. Their five-night visit stretched into a month-long sojurn, as they spent time “swimming, joining yoga classes, walking on the beach and picking shells on the beach, watching art exhibitions at Lang Viet Bar, playing with toys at the Kids’ Club” and more, Li says.
Now, Cam Ranh is renowned for having Vietnam’s best weather, basking in more than 300 sunny days a year, so it was just as much the weather as Covid keeping them there. When it was finally time to leave on February 16, they spent a total of three days getting home via three connecting flights amid the chaos the virus was wreaking on global travel.
“When I returned to mainland China, to a domestic hotel late at night, I had to fill out a lot of information. It was raining heavily outside and it was very cold. The child was very sleepy and cried from exhaustion. It all felt more challenging,” Li says of the jarring juxtaposition of experiences. “When I got home, I had to go into lockdown with my child in a centralized hotel for 15 days.” A central coast hotel sounds so much better; Li says they plan to go back.
“Watching art exhibitions at Lang Viet Bar, playing with toys at the Kids’ Club”Wang Li
The bill: Prices at The Anam currently start from VND2,300,000 for the lead-in Balcony Garden View Room with breakfast.