Writing this, I’m sitting in my London flat, looking out over a grey wintery cityscape, wrapped in a big jumper and nursing a steaming cup of patented Journo Fuel (otherwise known as black coffee). Sometimes it can be a struggle to conjure up recollections of sun-drenched tropical locations in order to write about them, even in the era of the smartphone and the obsessive documentation of every second of our lives. Our trip to JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa, however, made such an impression that my only issue in writing this article was refocusing my daydreaming brain from wistful longing to the task in hand…
The first thing one sees upon arrival to JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa is the traditional-style building with curved roof where the reception area is situated and the view beyond stretches out across the endless pools to the beach and the sea. The reception is modern in its décor, the walls crisply white with delicate sculptures and paintings that celebrate Thai art and culture, without making the space cluttered. The welcome was warm; everything was clearly explained by Tanyong, who was very helpful and friendly, and staff members handed out oranges as we waited for the room to be finalised.
The wow factor for JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa is their pool system – South East Asia’s longest, with almost 2.5km of waterways weave around the long blocks of accommodation, down to the beach and back again. There’s a family area, aqua playground, jacuzzis and swim-up bars on the route, if you were ever inclined to explore the whole thing. We were given a Deluxe Lagoon Pool Access Room, from which we could slide (gracefully, of course – think nymphs, not walruses) directly into the pool. The room is decorated in a similar modern style to the reception building. There are wooden screens and panels with some Thai trinkets as accents, but the overall ambiance is one of sleek luxury. The bathroom has twin sinks and a full bathtub with separate shower, while the bedroom also offers a small seating area with a sofa bed if you need to accommodate an extra. Outside the floor to ceiling sliding doors, there is a small patio area with loungers (if you’re a sun worshipper, some rooms are probably significantly better than others) and steps into the pool. Hang around on your patio long enough and the JW coconut boat might come round to offer you a refreshing beverage, in the spirit of the famous Thai floating markets.
If you’ve had enough of the unimaginable luxury of literally falling out of bed into a picturesque swimming pool (put your swimsuit on first), you might like to pop down to the beach. In mid-August, the waves were quite ferocious and it was very good to know that a lifeguard was present, as well as having the internationally recognised coloured flag system to denote the swimability of the sea. Once a green flag appeared, brave sorts (like us!) might grab a boogie board, a surfboard or a sea kayak from the stand on the beach and take the waves on directly, but with typical mid-August predictability, there might well be a tropical downpour to liven up that experience further. If you time your trip correctly, all-day sun is pretty much guaranteed, but there is also something uniquely exhilarating about spending ten minutes being pounded by torrential rain before the sun comes out again. You’re up to your neck in water anyway – you might as well embrace the deluge and haul yourself out for another cocktail once the storm passes.
The dining options are varied and interesting – so much so that a trip to JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa might mean you never leave the resort (although the reception team are happy to help plan and arrange excursions). On the first night, we enjoyed the BBQ buffet at the Italian restaurant, Olive. The hot food, cooked right before your eyes on an array of BBQ grills and hotplates, was arranged on the area just outside the restaurant but this feast also included many cold and sweet options inside. Highlights included the beef striploin, seabass ravioli, fresh seafood – especially the rock lobster, and fresh pasta which was cooked to order. Italian chefs Silvano and Enzo were delightfully charming; they invited us to taste some exceptional monocultivar olive oil (this is available as a bookable workshop) and were even happy to whip us up a sgroppino to round off our dinner.
The beachfront restaurant, Waterfront, serves international cuisine and also hosts the seemingly endless buffet breakfast with an exciting diversity of hot options (think Indian medu vada lentil doughnuts, Thai omelettes, American hotcakes and much more). With an attention to detail typical of JW Marriott, there’s an adults only section so those of us without children don’t have to experience their ‘enthusiasm’ invading your peaceful breakfast. We enjoyed an excellent butter chicken for lunch at Waterfront one lunchtime and another dinner at the Japanese restaurant, Sakura. There, the highlights were the seabass tartare and spider crab maki, as well as the service by Anne and Riley! There are yet more food and beverage options available, however, including a Thai restaurant and several bars; special theme dinners run on a rotation at different restaurants through the week, so you’ll be able to keep your whole party happy and well fed enough for a few extra laps of the giant pool!
Whether you are a resort holidayer or not, there are so many things to keep you busy at JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa that it’s probably impossible to fit it all in, even without venturing off the property! There are cooking and mixology classes, as well as picnics and treasure hunts for the little ones. We were hosted by Chef Ton and his wonderful assistant (and our personal paparazzo), James, for a three course Thai cooking class. Having made an effort to offer something different to the other cooking classes, Chef Ton taught us how to make glass noodle salad with minced pork, peanut and Thai herbs (both of us surprised him with the amount of chilli we threw, in but I would advise a light touch, even if you’re spice fiends like us!). The class followed this with khao soi, the Northern Thai noodle soup dish, and saparod (pineapple) spring rolls – Chef Ton’s own invention – for dessert. After each dish, we ate what we had cooked while Chef Ton and James prepared the cooking area overlooking the picturesque fish pond for our next effort. Chef Ton explained the dishes and processes in great detail – these are certainly recipes I’ll be trying at home!
If you’re more into unwinding, or you need a break from the activities, there is a well appointed and luxurious Quan Spa tucked away in a corner of the property. A whole range of beauty and wellness treatments are available. My balancing facial with therapist Oh was quite delicious, with lots of processes that made me feel very spoilt, while Charlotte chose a moisturising facial to counteract the effects of the salty sea air.
Overall, JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa is a place where you can spend days on end luxuriating in the beautifully manicured pool complex, dine fabulously and entertain yourself in varied and interesting ways, especially lovely if you’re with a group who all have different wishes. It’s certainly a place that I will be visiting again, in my head at least, with a memory thrilling and vibrant enough to overcome any amount of greyness outside…
JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort and Spa
41/12 Moo 3, Khuk Khak
Khao Lak, Phang Nga