What's On travels to: Krabi, Thailand
This quieter part of Thailand is typically included in a wider itinerary. Here’s why it deserves to be your sole destination…
Where to stay
Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
If first impressions define a resort, prepare to be bowled over by Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Unrolling along a private bay on Krabi’s picturesque coastline, you instantly realise this resort is special when you arrive at Sala Srichan, a dazzling welcome pavilion set over water and guarded by high stone walls in deep mauve.
Despite its petite size (just 54 rooms) Phulay Bay still feels expansive, and it’s designed around the landscape, not the other way around. Even the villas make the most of the locale, each one unique in its layout and finish, but all rich and grand. Our own one-bed pool pavilion is designed so the morning sun kisses the terrace at the back where a sunken tub is flanked by palm trees and bathes the private pool in warming afternoon heat.
The resort name translates to ‘where the mountains meet the sea’, an indicator of the incredible views commanded from every corner. It’s the sea views that really steal the show, with vistas from the lagoon-sized swimming pool – complete with swim-up bar – truly mesmerising. While it would be easy to simply soak it all in from a plush poolside cabana, where fresh coconuts and cold towels are regularly offered, or a sea-facing sofa at the Hong Island-facing Chomtawan sundowner bar, Phulay Bay’s impressive array of restaurants and myriad activities encourage adventure. A Muay Thai class led by a professional fighter, sunrise hikes, and a long tail boat trip to Hong Island are all unmissable parts of the Phulay Bay bucket list. Then there’s more low-tempo pursuits, like an afternoon in the instantly relaxing spa, adorned in dark woods and bathed in natural light. The couple’s spa suite is magnificently sumptuous: on a wooden deck that overlooks the emerald pond, a relaxation area is an instant immersion into nature, a bubbling jacuzzi its central pièce de résistance.
Phulay Bay’s culinary credentials are truly standout, with five restaurants and bars to choose from. Chomtawan is the perfect spot for sundowners, where local artisans are often on-hand to lead crafting sessions. All-day dining is instantly elevated by lush surroundings and stretching views at Jampoon, where flavours of East-meets-West fuse Mediterranean dishes with southern Thai classics.
Then there’s the out-of-the-box, out-of-this-world bespoke dining experience, like a private dinner in the candlelight welcome pavilion, where dishes like beef tartare and a tiger prawn risotto are enjoyed under the flickering light of 2,000 candles. This above and beyond ethos is what radiates through Phulay Bay, from bespoke experiences to the little things, like a bottle of aloe vera left on the pillow after a particularly balmy day.
Avani+ Koh Lanta
A two-hour drive (including a scenic ferry crossing) away from Krabi International Airport, Koh Lanta might not be as well-known as some of Thailand’s big hitters, but it’s all the better for it. Avani+ Koh Lanta is about embracing life off the beaten track, arranged between several buildings on a hilltop that overlooks Koh Kwang Beach. While its remoteness is part of the appeal, the resort has ensured guests have everything they could need at the hotel. Our sea-view villa boasts a traditional aesthetic with a gabled roof. Inside, it’s light and breezy, freshly painted white and finished in bright primary colours. The living area leads out to the terrace, where a small private pool invites you to take a dip among the trees. In the afternoon it becomes an ideal perch for spotting local wildlife and enjoying the flame-hued sunsets this corner of the earth is renowned for.
To switch off, the hilltop spa is a haven of relaxation where Thai massages press out the knots and kinks using aromatic oils of lemongrass and pandan leaf.
For a more social experience, the resort’s pool is where guests gather for drinks at the swim-up bar and to soak up the sun on the sea-facing loungers. It’s here that much of the culinary action also happens, with aptly named The Cliff restaurant extending from the indoor restaurant out to the poolside terrace. Here, mornings start with fresh fruit and eggs cooked-to-order, leisurely lunches offer views down to the resort’s private beach and dinner under the stars offers the opportunity to enjoy one of the island’s best pad Thais while watching the rhythmic lapping sea. Then there’s Reggae Bar, a local legend that’s thoroughly deserving of its reputation as one of the best sundowner spots in Koh Lanta. Framing the craggy rocks at the base of the resort, this wooden beach shack is mellow and charming, and the friendly team shake up fruity serves as the sun sets. Guests choose from perches on the wooden swing, in private booths or recline on cushions in a treehouse as the sorbet colours light up the sky at nightfall. Perch up here and watch the sun – and your worries – drift away.
Three islands to discover
Phi Phi Islands
The exquisite beauty of this island archipelago has travellers flocking from far and wide to its crystalline waters, soaring limestone cliffs and sugary sand beaches. The best way to tick off all of Phi Phi’s greatest hits is with a boat tour that heads to all the best bits. A top tip: pick one that heads to Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Leih, first. Made famous by that Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach, it’s open to tourists for the first time in four years, and early mornings are as off-peak as it gets. Others stops at Pileh Lagoon and Shark Point allow for discovering the marine life below the shores of the turquoise waters, while lunch is best enjoyed on the shores of Bamboo Island, flanked by the gently lapping sea. A stop at Koh Phi Phi Don shouldn’t be missed, for a glimpse at the more touristy side of Thailand – and afternoon drinks at no-frills Bottom’s Up bar.
Arguably one of the most visually striking isles on the Andaman Sea, Hong Island is one of those natural beauties that must be seen to be believed. Book a longtail boat for the full castaway experience, which takes you around the shallow waters of the lagoon at high tide. Pack a picnic and soak up the sun on the glorious sandy beach or get your steps in – 400 steep ones to be exact – with a hike to the 360° viewpoint that rewards those that reach the top with marvellous views as far as the eye can see.
Although Railay Beach isn’t technically an island, due to the surrounding high cliffs and untamed jungle you’ll need to take a boat to reach it. The whole area is walkable, and while it might be famous for its gorgeous golden beach, there’s much more to Railay Beach than soaking up the sun. The whole west beach takes advantage of its tourist appeal by offering myriad water sports, like kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and snorkelling, while more ambitious adventurers can venture to the tropical summits of Railay with a guided rock-climbing session.
Three bucket list things to do
Inspiring encounters with gentle giants at The Elephant Sanctuary Krabi
The protection of elephants is at the heart of The Elephant Sanctuary Krabi, where a duo of female elephants called Pinky and Pumpui are the motivation behind this family-run sanctuary’s work. The elephants were rescued from unthinkable conditions on the plantations, and have been given a second chance in the care of the sanctuary. Across a three-hour programme, visitors are tasked with feeding, preparing medicine, walking, playing and bathing the elephants, enjoying respectful encounters that educate visitors on why their protection is paramount.
See sunrise in the mangroves of Thung Yee Pheng
A case for setting your alarm early on vacation is the opportunity to see the world wake up amongst the serene mangroves of Thung Yee Pheng. Board a traditional wooden gondola from Thung Yee Pheng Pier and set sail across the shimmering rivers that lead out to the Andaman Sea, lined by dense and glossy green mangroves that get more illuminated as the sun rises above the horizon. Lanta Gondola offers private gondola tours with an expert guide, local breakfast and coffee.
Shop for local treasures at Ao Nang night market
Vibrant Ao Nang is the beating heart of Krabi’s livelier side, but even this more well-trodden part of Krabi still benefits from stunning scenery as it unrolls along the Andaman Coast. Less intimidating than some of the bustling night markets in the bigger cities, Ao Nang night market is one of Krabi’s more interesting shopping destinations. Expect to pick up everything from street eats to local crafts along these narrow market streets.
How to get there
As one of a string of new routes, flydubai operates daily flights to Krabi from Dubai International Terminal 3. One-way economy fares start from Dhs1,325 and business class fares start from Dhs3,365. For more information, visit flydubai.com.