Nestled on the beach of Khao Lak, just over an hour north of Phuket International Airport, The Sarojin Boutique Beach Resort is named for a Thai nobleman’s daughter whose hospitality became the stuff of legends. Indeed, upon arrival, one is presented with a cold towel and a signature drink flavoured with the distinctive pandan leaves, before being checked in while seated in an impressive, traditional lobby. As you gaze across the lotus pond, the atmosphere is one of stillness and calm; depending on your arrival time, you will be serenaded with the jaunty whistle of the common mynah or the chorus of croaking toads and frogs, the gentle rush of the sea providing an eternal accompaniment.
Since the hotel’s opening in 2005, one year after the devastating tsunami, the buildings have become enveloped in foliage and the site has the feeling of a garden gone slightly wild. The pool sits in a cluster of trees, the accommodation is partially concealed from the main lawn and at the second restaurant, Ficus, guests can enjoy an extensive all-day breakfast menu – with sparkling wine – while overlooking a pretty pond.
Our Garden Residence room was the epitomy of traditionally influenced Thai luxury, with teak furnishings, cool white linens and elegant fittings, however, many of the unique features were in the bathroom. Part bathroom, part zen garden, the space is divided into a sink and wardrobe area, similar in design to the main room, and a pebble-floored wetroom with a rain shower, an adjustable shower, a huge stone bathtub (filled with scented water and petals before your arrival) and wooden beams across the ceiling, between which there is almost nothing between you and the sky. Incidentally, a warning to The Sarojin’s key honeymooner market: nothing is precisely what is between the zen garden area and the toilet, so if you’re still not comfortable with that level of intimacy, you’ll have to arrange some kind of bathroom rota (and get used to it – open toilets are pretty standard in Thai bathrooms).
Rooms are named after employees who helped the community recover after the tsunami and their pictures hang inside, but The Sarojin itself is also active in the local community, having started The Sarojin Khao Lak Community Fund to support local projects such as the orphanage, medical provision and helping to restore the fishing fleet. Guests can visit these projects as one of the many experiences and activities that the hotel offers.
The activity which we were lucky enough to try was becoming a mahout for a day. A mahout is a person who trains an elephant, but the relationship goes much deeper; mahouts eat, sleep and live in close proximity to the specific elephant with which they work and, if they are separated, it can be as traumatic for man and elephant as the death of a close friend. Of course, we couldn’t build up years of trust in a day, but we were able to get a taste of the life at Phang Nga Elephant Park, a sanctuary where elephants who are rescued from the logging business or circuses can live in peace and help raise awareness of animal cruelty. Their mahouts are retrained to use only positive reinforcement and no uncomfortable saddles are used to carry visiting tourists. Our elephant, Doungjai, was a very food orientated lady – she veered off towards delicious jungle snacks on a couple of occasions during our ride and was very excited about the bucket of bananas we fed her. The highlight was definitely being able to get into a pool with our elephant and give her a good scrub – even in the pouring rain, this was an incredible experience and such a privilege to be able to be so close to these huge and unique animals.
Back at The Sarojin, our appetites whetted, we met Chef Gogh and sat down to an incredible dinner at the main restaurant, The Edge. Along with raw scallops in chili and lime, wok-fried rock lobster and crispy grouper with green peppercorns and tamarind, we discovered that Phuket and Phang Nga have year-round access to our favourite crustacean… soft shell crab! Chef Gogh’s take on this Asian delicacy was mouthwateringly salty and sweet, with a light tempura and a rich black pepper sauce. Many of the desserts were from Thai cuisine, including a custard-stuffed pumpkin and a soup of coconut milk topped with water chestnuts coated in syrup, which is highly recommended if you have a very sweet tooth!
The Sarojin is the ideal place to spend a secluded holiday with someone special; one can draw the curtains on some poolside daybeds, recline outside your own room or stay inside! If you want to venture further than the immediate vicinity of your residence, the Lady Sarojin boat can be hired for island hopping, SCUBA and snorkeling excursions. Alternatively, cultural trips can be arranged within the local community or you can do extreme trekking, swimming or rock climbing.
We spent our leisurely second day lazing by the pool, where fresh towels and iced water were regularly brought round, and having the occasional paddle in the rather lively Andaman Sea. We also experienced the new spa facilities at The Sarojin, recently completed, at which we had a famous Thai massage. This was another highlight of our stay; the soft hands of the masseuse soothed away the remaining clouds of jetlag and, when she used more pressure, I could feel the stress of a whole year melting away.
In the evening we attended a beachside BBQ at The Edge, where guests could enjoy a bottomless buffet of fresh seafood, meats, noodle dishes and sides, all cooked to order right before your eyes. Alongside all the fresh BBQ bounty, my personal favourite was the deep fried prawns and betel leaves, succulent and intriguingly spiced.
The Sarojin might be off the beaten path if you have your heart set on the bustle of Phuket, but Khao Lak and Phang Nga have their own charms with its proximity to several national parks and The Sarojin itself provides luxury seclusion at its finest. Not only does The Sarojin provide the highest level of service – Kade and his staff will bend over backwards for you – but their ‘imagineer’ will make every effort to create your dream itinerary. Staying at The Sarojin was an amazing experience which – like an elephant – I’ll never forget.
60 Moo 2 Kukkak