Lanna Dusita Boutique Resort

I took a quick two-night trip up to Chiang Mai last week – and yes, the ability to say that is pretty awesome, and one of the better perks of an expat life. It was for a photography workshop, which was a lot of fun and I will probably write about some time soon. One of the two nights was spent in the Lanna Dusita Boutique Resort (by Andacura Hotels & Resorts), which is what I’m going to be writing about now. So, without further ado…

Location

202_5154The Lanna Dusita has a lovely rural setting, right on the western bank of the Ping River, which passes through Chiang Mai just the the east of the Old City. Of course, “rural setting” is kind of a nice way of saying “it’s quite a long way from the city centre”, but it actually works to the place’s advantage, in this case. It’s the sort of resort where being far from the bustle of the Old City is practically its best selling point! Additionally, it is only about 5 km from the city – maybe a little far to walk, but you can rent a bicycle from the hotel or it’s only a 10-minute drive, which you can easily arrange with the tours desk or the concierge.

The resort is nicely self-contained, being behind an imposing frontage and surrounded by walls, which creates a nice sense of exclusivity. The fact that it opens onto the river at the back, with a lovely and open view across the calm water, means that the walls don’t also create a sense of being hemmed in. The resort is well-designed to maximise the amount of rooms without feeling cramped, if that makes sense…basically, they hit the sweet spot of design, where it is compact without being what you’d think of as ‘small’.

The one downside to the location is that you are under the flightpath of commercial aircraft heading north out of Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX). However, with the airport being practically right in the middle of town (slightly to the west of the centre, if you want to be pedantic), there’s virtually nowhere in Chiang Mai you can go which isn’t under the flightpath and, by the time they get over Lanna Dusita, the aircraft are high enough that you can hear them, but the noise isn’t rattling your teeth as it can if you’re staying in town.

It should be noted that the hotel is also directly over the road from the local fire station, which may occasionally make a little noise. It didn’t while I was there, and I don’t suppose it would be anywhere near as frequently noisy as the jets, but it would probably make you jump if there was an emergency.

Rooms

202_5029The half-dozen two-storey structures where you will find the rooms all have a lovely old-fashioned design, with lots of stained wood on show. However, the rooms themselves are surprisingly modern-looking on the inside, as well as being fantastically spacious and pretty comfortable.

Lanna Duita Boutique Hotel has three room classes which, as seems to always be the case, have mostly baffling names:

202_5019I was in a Superior Room and, with 28 sq m of floorspace and a king-size bed (which must have been designed for a king of the dimensions of Henry VIII, because it was massive!), it felt like the daft naming convention might actually be accurate, for once. I was also very impressed with the comfy chairs. This may seem silly, but I find a lot of hotels get this wrong and provide chairs which are very far from comfortable. These ones were a delight to sit in.

The in-room amenities were perhaps on the plain side, but certainly adequate. You get an old CRT TV with a fairly basic channels package, the obligatory tea and coffee making facilities and an en-suite bathroom with toiletries. Nothing particularly astounding, but far from being actually bad. The shower, in fact, was fantastic. I was initially a little down on it because it is quite a modern white PVC thing in a bathroom which is otherwise pleasantly rustic. However, it uses two taps to control the temperature. While it took me a minute or two to figure out which was hot and which was cold, I was able to easily and precisely control the heat once I had. Many hotels favour the single dial control, for which you need the patience and dexterity of a safe-breaker to find the sweet spot. This, by contrast, was one of the most enjoyable showers I’ve had in years.

202_5026The really fantastic part of each room is the balcony. At 10 sq m, it is almost bigger than some hotel rooms in the world! It is home to a comfortable chair, clothes drying racks and a padded seat along the front edge, making it quite a pleasant place to chill out. However, I couldn’t find the light switch, which made it also quite a dark place, in the evening. I’m pretty sure there is a light somewhere, but an exhaustive search failed to reveal a switch. It is worth mentioning that the set-up of light switches around the room is a little odd, to the extent that it is impossible to turn on the lights around the bed from the door.

Dining

202_5142Unfortunately, I arrived at the hotel pretty late and had to leave pretty early the next morning, so I didn’t actually get a chance to dine at the hotel. I can therefore only give you my impressions of what I saw, which were very good. The Lanna Dusita’s main restaurant has seating with a beautiful view right over the river. Named Wai Restuarant, after the prayer-like gesture used as a formal greeting in Thailand, they serve predominantly Thai cuisine, with some local specialties.

202_5121There is also a small coffee and snack bar by the pool, named Hohm Dee (I’m not totally sure what that translates as). It boasts an interesting selection of special local teas and hilltribe coffees, alongside a collection of classic hot beverages, soft drinks, pastries and cakes.

202_5174As the weather wasn’t that great while I was there, the breakfast was being served in the rather lovely lobby building, at the front of Lanna Dusita and well away from the river. I was told that it would normally be down by the river, allowing you to enjoy your food with the fantastic view. I had a quick peek in the dishes and found that it was pretty normal hotel breakfast fare, with a couple of local additions.

It should be noted that, because of Lanna Dusita’s fairly remote location, you are a little limited in dining alternatives. There are one or two little local restaurants within a short walk. Fortunately, it would appear that you have two of the best (in the immediate area) on site.

Service

202_5112Despite such a short stay in the Lanna Dusita Boutique Resort, I saw no shortage of examples of the outstanding service they provide. The guys on the 24-hour reception desk were especially friendly, helpful and welcoming (and the welcome drink they provided was really tasty!). While I was taking a wander around the resort in the morning, everyone said hello or wished me a good morning. It’s a very simple gesture, but a very much appreciated one. I have always found Chiang Mai to be one of the friendliest parts of Thailand and Lanna Dusita demonstrated that better than most. At the same time, said staff were assiduous about their duties. The whole place was very clean and tidy.

Facilities

202_5119As I said earlier, the Lanna Dusita Boutique Resort is well designed, making optimum use of a modest amount of space. This includes an impressively large swimming pool, not far from the river, with an adjacent sundeck. Massages are available and there is a tours desk at reception.

On the downside, the hotel does not have an on-site bar, but that seems to be the nature of this rural area of Chiang Mai. Indeed, the whole city is not what you’d call famous for its nightlife. Even so, it would be nice to have the chance to enjoy a couple of drinks by the river in the evening.

Summary

Lanna Duista Boutique Resort is one of those wonderful ‘get away from it all’ places, which are increasingly challenging to find in the mid-range price bracket. I’ve used the word “sweet spot” a couple of times above, and that perfectly describes the whole resort – it is away from the town, but not remote; it is compact, but not small; it is affordable, but not cheap; it is simple, but not uncomfortable.

202_5180The resort’s location is probably its biggest asset. The pool, sundeck, restaurant and even several of the deluxe rooms overlooking the gentle river, creating the sort of countryside scene for which the word “charming” was invented. Charm just drips out of every surface, from the beautiful lobby and its nearby fishpond to the river-side dining deck. The rentable bicycles near the entrance even have a charm of their own, and the thought of cycling along the riverbank into town makes me wish I’d had the chance to stay there longer.

When talking about the service, I said that Lanna Dusita demonstrates the friendliness of Chiang Mai better than most, and that is also true of practically everything else. It is like everything that makes the city such a wonderful part of Thailand, distilled and contained in one resort.

Lanna Dusita Boutique Resort

146 Patan Road
Patan / Mueang
Chiang Mai 50300
Thailand

Tel: +66 5 311 0345-6
Email: info@lannadusita.com
Website: http://www.lannadusita.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lannadusitahotel

GPS: 18°49’31.8″N 98°59’41.6″E

Recommend: Relaxing on the huge balcony.
Avoid: Stubbing your toe while trying to find the light switch.


Full Disclosure

I stayed at Lanna Dusita Boutique Hotel for one night. My stay was arranged by a third party with a view to providing a review. The room therefore did not cost me anything and it is highly probable that the staff were well aware of who I was and why I was there.

While this fact may have had an effect on the staff’s attitude and treatment of me, said third party is aware of my ethics policy and declined the offer to vet my review prior to publication. True to said policy, I have endeavoured to give as honest a review as possible.

Mandalay: Not the Venice of the East

I ended my post about Bagan with the iconic words “the road to Mandalay”. I say “iconic” because I can think of at least two songs which feature those words prominently, most notably the Robbie Williams song of the same name. Admittedly, the song has very little to do with the second-largest city in Myanmar. Now I know why.

With such notoriety in popular culture, I had high expectations of Mandalay. It’s one of those mysterious place names, like “Timbuktu” or “Constantinople” or “Damascus”, which evokes a sense that this must be a truly magical place. For some reason, I had imagined it as a sort of Venice of the East; not in the sense of it being full of canals, but in the sense of it being full of culture and interesting things to see and do.

We arrived in Mandalay late in the afternoon and were all pretty tired, so we put off exploration, deciding to rest in our hotel. Eventually, we headed out to look for something to eat. We utterly failed, in this regard. The grid of roads around our hotel revealed only more hotels, a couple of decidedly dodgy-looking streets, a small market selling anything except food and a few motorbike repair shops. Defeated and increasingly tired, we returned to the hotel and ate at the restaurant there.

Mandalay Palace

202_2323-2The following day, we went out to explore all that the city had to offer. This turned out to be staggeringly little. At the heart of the city is Mandalay Palace – the home of the last of Myanmar’s royals. Or, I should say, a recreation of same. That is, unless the buildings of 1857-59 had access to corrugated metal roofing and cheap gold paint. The palace is at the centre of a perfectly square island, surrounded by old walls and a moat. Only the palace and one road leading from the eastern gate to the palace are accessible for tourists, and you have to go through quite a thorough military checkpoint to access even that much. The reason: the rest of the island is a military base.

The palace shows all the signs of having been constructed by the military authorities. They used the cheapest possible materials, the cheapest possible labour and showed no interest in making any of it historically accurate. Most of the buildings – and there are a fair few – were completely barren on the inside and showed obvious signs of neglect on the outside. It was a massive disappointment and I cannot adequately recommend enough that you avoid it completely.

Mandalay Hill

202_2397Our next stop – Mandalay Hill – was considerably more interesting. At its peak is Sutaungpyae Paya which, despite being yet another pagoda, had some beautiful mosaic walls and gave a fantastic view across the city. At this point, I realised that this was not the splendid city I had imagined. From further reading, I gather that it was, for a short time, deserving of its magical notoriety, but much of it was destroyed during the Second World War. Afterwards, it was very rapidly and very shoddily reconstructed in a very practical but very dull grid network of wide roads and blank-faced concrete buildings.

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202_2491Some of its impressive history did survive the ravages of aerial bombing and two major battles. One such place was next on our list – Kuthodaw Paya. It is home to the world’s largest book, though calling it such is kind of stretching the definition of what constitutes a “book”. If, by book, you mean only a collection of surfaces covered in text, then the 730 double-sided engraved tablets (each with its own private pagoda) gives you an impressive total of 1,460 pages. The inscription isn’t that big, either, so each page contains about 80 to 100 lines of text. In that regard, it probably counts as the largest book both in terms of word count and the amount of space it covers.

202_2503

U Bein Bridge

202_2600Moving on, our taxi driver took us to U Bein Bridge. Another world-beater, it is thought to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world, built in the mid-1800s and spanning a little over 1.2 km (about three quarters of a mile) across Taungthaman Lake. Despite its age, it is pretty sturdy, though you still need to be a little careful on the uneven surface. As impressive as the bridge is, we decided against walking a roundtrip total of 2.4 km, choosing to walk only a short distance out and back.

202_2593And that was it. We headed back to the hotel and ate there, having run out of energy and interest in the few attractions Mandalay had to offer. The following day, Noom and Nan went off to check out some more pagodas before heading to the airport as they had to fly home one day before me. I spend most of the day resting before finally deciding that I had to find an alternative to the hotel restaurant. I checked online and thought that the pathetically short list of nightlife and restaurants must be because the site was outdated. Turns out it wasn’t – there really is that little to do after dark and that limited a selection of places to eat! I was going to check out the traditional puppet theatre, but I got there just after a showing had ended. There was about a three-hour wait for the next one and, not being able to think of anything at all that I could do in Mandalay for that amount time, I called it a night and went back to the hotel.

Mandalay General Hospital

202_2666There was one other interesting site which I saw in Mandalay, but it’s a bit of an odd one. This city was an important stop on my pilgrimage of remembrance for my grandad – my own Operation Longcloth. I therefore visited Mandalay General Hospital which, fortunately, was just down the road from my hotel. Doing so on 11th November – Remembrance Day – gave it a certain extra poignance.

One of the relatively few war stories I know from my grandad is that he was among the first people ever to receive an epidural. While this is now a common painkilling treatment for pregnant women, it was first tested on wounded soldiers. Towards the end of the war, my grandad took a bullet to the foot and had to get a skin graft to patch up the hole. To reduce the pain from taking the skin off another part of his body, they gave him an epidural, which proved to be successful. This was administered at a hospital in Mandalay. Unfortunately, Mandalay has many hospitals, but I chose to assume that it was the Mandalay General – partially because it was closest.

202_2674Not only was it nice to have a direct physical connection with my grandad and his war service, but there was also a mother holding her cute little child just by the entrance when I was taking pictures of the hospital. The kid kept saying hello and, I turned around to say hello back before snapping a couple of pictures. It’s a silly thing to think, but the fact that epidurals are now used in childbirth did sort of strengthen the connection I felt. I don’t believe in reincarnation, but it was a little like saying hello to Grandad.

The following day, I took a taxi to the remarkably grand and impressive Mandalay International Airport (MDL) for my flight home to Thailand.

Operation Longcloth (2016)

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LCpl Clifford E. Smith, D Company, 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. My grandad.

One of the three people in my family who influenced my decision to live as an expatriate was, in an odd sort of way, my grandad. It is an odd way because he spent almost his entire life in a tiny village near York in the UK, called Barmby Moor. However, as with most British men of his generation, he was called up to fight in World War II. I will go into more detail about his stories in other posts, but the important part is that he spent 1941 to 1945 in India and, as it was then, Burma.

Jump forward to 2016 and a friend and old travelling companion – Noom, with whom I visited Siem Reap in Cambodia for the first time in August 2013 – posts on Facebook that she is planning a trip to Myanmar (as it is now called) in a couple of weeks time and urgently needs a travelling companion. I had been planning to visit the country for some time, but lacked the motivation to actually start organising it. Noom provided that conviction, so now I’m here!

Time Differences

This trip mirrors that which my grandad took part from 8th February 1943. Operation Longcloth was the first test of Brigadier Orde Wingate’s new special force, the Chindits. Trained in guerrilla warfare tactics, they were to operate behind enemy lines in Japanese-occupied Burma and disrupt lines of communication. Their initial task, in Op Longcloth, was simply to prove that their enemy was not invincible and that the dense Burmese jungles could be used as a resource instead of an enemy. In spite of heavy criticism of the Chindits (both at the time and by modern military historians), even their greatest detractors agree that, in this regard, they were very successful.

chindit_column2c_operation_longcloth
Credit: Imperial War Museums / Wikipedia

There were other objectives, naturally. The intention was to disrupt the rail network (which they did, but it was swiftly repaired) and to scout Japanese positions. My objective, 73 years later, is rather more humble. I am instead scouting out the country, seeing the major sights in Yangon (formerly Rangoon), Bagan and Mandalay. My journey is considerably less arduous, involves a lot less jungle and will hopefully not result in any casualties!

Memorable Comparisons

I do realise that comparing what is essentially a holiday to a military operation from over seven decades earlier is kind of silly. I’m only shooting photos, not a rifle; my route is completely different to that taken in 1943 or any subsequent operations; my objectives are tourist attractions, not enemy installations. However, my grandad’s influence on my life has been considerable. He is the reason why I use “Chindit76” as my web handle. He is the reason why I wear an Aussie-style bush hat. He is the reason why I was so keen to visit Myanmar. These are my own little acts of remembrance, which makes the coincidental timing of this trip, in the week running up to 11th November, particularly poignant.

Actual planning was…well, to be completely honest, it was pretty much non-existent. Neither Noom nor I are particularly good at planning these sorts of trips, preferring to improvise when we get there. This does create a little bit of stress and the risk of missing out on something really cool but, as this is only a reconnaissance trip to hit the key sights, that is not such a concern. I bought a Lonely Planet guide at Phuket Airport – here endeth the planning.

There was a bit of organisation, which I had to rather rapidly handle at extremely short notice. The major problem was getting a visa. Thais can come and go as they please because Myanmar is part of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations – basically, the Asian EU). As a Brit, however, I needed a visa. Living in Phuket presented a momentary concern as the embassies are all in Bangkok, but Myanmar fortunately has a very good eVisa online application service. I applied late one evening and was approved by early afternoon the next day. I then scheduled time off work and booked flights.

Incidentally, I discovered this eVisa service through GOV.UK‘s section for travel advice. Specifically, the section which seems to think that Myanmar is still called Burma and Yangon is still called Rangoon! It turns out that the information is also outdated because it is actually possible to apply for a visa on arrival at Yangon International Airport (RGN).

Companions

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Noom (left) and Nan (right) in front of the famous Shwedagon Pagoda

The reason for the timing of the visit is that Noom has decided to take her entire year’s leave allowance in one long go. With about a month-long break, she wanted to go to Myanmar, Singapore, Hong Kong and Vietnam (in pretty much that order, I think). She has companions for all of the other parts of the trip, but did not have any for Myanmar. Shortly after I signed up, her youngest sister also did, so we are a party of three.

Noom and her sister, Nan, are similar kinds of traveller to me, when it comes finding a the right balance between ‘the local experience’, ‘as cheap as possible’ and ‘comfortable’. However, neither are as photographic as I am. While I would quite happily spend hours wandering around Downtown Yangon, they have been keeping a reasonably quick pace. This is not a major concern for me, though because, as I said, this is a recce – I can always come back for a second trip and concentrate my time in one more specific destination, rather than trying to cover as much as possible in just one week.

I will be sharing my actual experiences in coming posts, and there’s already a lot to tell! Watch out for more coming very soon.


Addendum

Incidentally, if there are any regular readers who are wondering what happened to my Project52, I’m afraid that I decided to cancel it. I was getting increasingly frustrated with having to post sub-par pics simply because they fitted that week’s theme. Additionally, I was finding myself with increasingly little free time and stopping Project52 was the easiest way to free up some more. Finally, I was getting very frustrated with the fact that what was supposed to be a travel blog had effectively turned into just Project52 posts. I had briefly contemplated deleting all trace of the project in my shame at having been defeated by it, but I quickly realised that doing so would also remove about 80 per cent of my current content!

Anyway, the project has taught me an important lesson. Ironically, it was a point which a commenter on the Project52 introduction post raised – that I should not need “an excuse” to go out and take pictures. If it is my hobby, I should be doing it a lot more. Sage wisdom indeed and, on the back of that, I am confident that Project52 will eventually return.

The Death of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and what it means for you

Earlier today, I saw a headline from a Daily Mail article which, while I can’t recall the exact wording, said something along the lines of “British tourists are annoyed that the death of the Thai king has ruined their holiday”. Now, I don’t expect much thought for…well, for anyone not British, to be frank…out of the Daily Mail, but this is a new low.

Incidentally, the reason why I can’t just nip to their website and find the exact wording of the headline is that the Daily Mail has been banned in Thailand (not as a result of this, but from earlier indiscretions) and their website is blocked. I only read the headline from a screenshot on Facebook and I don’t remember who posted it.

Anyway, this was such a staggeringly dumb and insensitive headline that I felt the need to explain a few things to those not fortunate enough to reside in Thailand.

The Thai Monarchy

The first thing you need to realise is how significant the Thai monarchy is in the everyday life of the Thai people. In the UK, the Queen is just a face on the back of your coinage and an occasional embarrassment on the news when Prince Philip says something stupid again. In Thailand, they are practically gods.

Think of how your parents and grandparents described what the attitude to the monarchy used to be like (if they’ve never told you, go ask now). Everyone used to stand up for the national anthem being played at the end of movies and even at the end of scheduled programming on TV. People used to lie about their age to sign up to fight in wars on their behalf. “Fighting for King and Country” isn’t just a tired old cliché – that was the level of respect and pride that the British royal family used to illicit in people.

In that regard, Thailand is very much like the UK was in the early 1900s. The anthem is played on every radio and TV station at 8am and 6pm. Just recently, I was getting off the skytrain in Bangkok at around 6pm and suddenly everyone around me in the busy station stopped moving. The final strains of the anthem could just about be heard and, once they had died away, everyone carried on moving again. The anthem is played at the start of every movie in the cinema and, without fail, everyone stands for it. It is so ingrained, even in me, that I once went to see a movie and I was the only person in the theatre and I still stood!

A Lifetime

To be fair to them, that level of respect has absolutely been earned. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej spent a lot of his time, money and effort getting to know his people, addressing their needs, benefitting those worst off and generally doing absolutely everything to improve his country and the lives of his people. His queen consort, Queen Sirikit, did the same. He did it for a long time, too, being the longest reigning monarch with over 70 years on the throne when he died at the age of 88 on 13th October 2016.

Think about that number: 70 years! The average life expectancy of a Thai person is only 74.19 years (71.9 years for a man, 78 years for a woman)! That means that the vast majority of the present population of Thailand was born during the reign of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He has been a part of every person’s life for the vast majority of their lives, if not the entirety of it. Is it any wonder that his death has had such an impact on the country? That the grieving process is so extreme?

Grief

For readers of the Daily Mail, said grieving process consists purely of every bar and nightclub in the country being closed so that they can’t get a drink. Frankly, if your holiday experience can be ruined by an inability to buy alcohol, there is something seriously wrong with your priorities. However, the point that I am actually trying to make is that there is much more to it.

I went into work the day after the King’s death was announced and the atmosphere was completely different. Even I, as an expatriate, could feel the sadness and shared in it. It wasn’t just the fact that everyone was wearing almost entirely black attire. It was like the life had been ripped out of everyone; like a part of them had died with their King. The Land of Smiles was no longer smiling.

Since then, my Facebook newsfeed has turned monochrome as all of my Thai friends and many of my fellow expats set their profile picture black-and-white or, in some cases (my own included), just a pure black image. Google’s and YouTube’s logos (localised for Thailand) have done the same. Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of Thais have travelled to Bangkok to visit the Grand Palace to pay their last respects. No one really knows what is happening or what is going to happen next. This event is entirely unprecedented and, in spite of the fact that his health had been declining for about a year before that sad day, no one was really prepared for it.

This, again, might seem hard to grasp for someone who hasn’t grown up in the same kind of environment, so consider this an analogue: On 31st August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, died. The UK effectively ground to a halt for at least a month afterwards, if not longer. To this day, nearly 20 years after, people still talk about her and how sad her passing was. She wasn’t even technically royalty anymore when she died, but she was well respected by much of the population. Even that doesn’t come close to how sad the King’s death has made people here.

Expats React

I saw another headline – this time from Coconuts – a couple of days ago, which caught my attention. It was describing the reaction of the over 200,000 foreigners living in Thailand (about 0.3 per cent of the country’s total population) and it said something really fascinating:

“I have been surprised by the expat reaction. Either more people than I thought have genuine feelings of affection for the King, or they feel compelled to project that image.”

It would be impossible for me to deny that the image must have something to do with it. The lèse-majesté laws punishing criticism of the monarchy in Thailand are famous and notably prevented the BBC’s correspondent in Bangkok at the time of the King’s death from speculating too much on…well, anything, actually. When I first moved to Thailand, I was emphatically informed that the two things Thais respect above all else are Buddhism and the King. Insult or joke about either and you’re in deep trouble.

However, to suggest that it was all about projecting that image (combined with self-preservation) would be very wrong. As I said earlier, I genuinely shared in the grief. I didn’t expect to at all. I don’t have that national pride in such a great monarch; don’t have that innate respect and regard. What I have is a lot of very dear Thai friends and I shared in their sadness. I also have a little bit of knowledge about what the King has done for his country. He was a good man – the kind the world can ill-afford to lose.

What it means for you?

Thailand, of course, is a very popular tourist destination. It is a common misconception that the country’s economy depends on tourism when it is actually only the fourth biggest industry here, after automobiles (11 per cent), financial services (9 per cent) and electrical appliances (8 per cent). However, the grieving period will naturally impact some tourists hoping to travel here.

I can sort of sympathise with the frustration of someone who has worked and slaved for 50 weeks to save up for two weeks in paradise, only to find that the country has all but shut down. However, complaining to the newspapers about it – particularly once you have realised the root cause of that shut-down – is a whole new level of pitiful.

There are those who have already booked their trips, cannot cancel at this late stage, and are understandably worried about the impact on their trip. For them, I would advise checking this site for updates on what to expect. However, in general terms:

  • Bars, clubs and pretty much any entertainment venue will be closed until approximately 10th October 2016, because no one is in the mood to party.
  • Major festivals as special events have been cancelled for 30 days (until 12th November 2016). Yes, that does include the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. Some festivals are still going ahead, but will be heavily subdued.
  • Pretty much everyone will be wearing subdued colours (mostly black) for that period. While it has not been demanded that tourists comply with this, it would be appreciated.
  • The country is still safe, the beaches are still lovely, the weather is getting better as we approach the high season. Thailand is still Thailand.

No one is exactly sure what will happen next because, as I said, this event is pretty much unprecedented. However, it is my educated guess that the majority of these unusual circumstances will have passed by mid-November and things will be back to at least a semblance of normal. If you have booked your trip for during the high season (December to March), you have nothing to worry about. If you booked your trip for this 30 days of mourning…well, suck it up and show a bit of respect for the passing of a genuinely great King.

Nook-Dee Boutique Resort

The last few weeks have been quite tiring for me, with one thing and another. My Project52 has slipped to the point of being effectively abandoned, an intensive workout and diet programme has left me with increasingly little time to relax and work has been particularly trying recently. As a result, when I was approached by a friend with the opportunity for a little staycation in Phuket in order to review a hotel, I was very happy to oblige.

It is, sadly, the middle of the rainy season. In fact, September is the wettest month of the year for Phuket and climate change appears to have had little impact on that statistic, except possibly making it wetter. However, I always find that reviewing a place under the worst possible conditions is the best way to get an accurate impression of it. If it had been a beautiful sunny day, I would essentially be reviewing Phuket’s nice weather. As it was a wet day, I was forced to stay inside, giving me a far more in-depth look at what Nook-Dee Boutique Resort is really like. Spoiler: it’s fantastic!

Location

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Kata Noi, as viewed from the rooftop terrace.

There is a wonderful stretch of road along Phuket’s east coast, rising from the junction where Kata Beach meets Kata Noi Beach. The road climbs up the hill and skirts along the side of the hills behind the latter beach before continuing towards Ya Nui Beach and on to Promthep Cape – the southernmost point in Phuket. It is probably the most beautiful road on the island because the view is outstanding. Naturally, a number of bars and small restaurants have taken advantage of this. So, too, has Nook-Dee Boutique Resort. The view of Kata Noi Beach is spectacular, particularly from the reception, pool, restaurant and the rooftop terrace.

Naturally, there is a slight downside to this setting. If you like the beach, getting down there is a long walk and getting back again is very challenging because of the steep incline. Fortunately, the hotel offers a shuttle bus service to save your legs. Running at regular scheduled intervals throughout the day, it is free for guests. I’m not much of a beach kind of person but, if I was, Kata Noi would absolutely be my first choice because it is one of the quietest and most peaceful on the island, as well as having some of the softest sand. There are also plenty of beachfront restaurants to try. Kata Beach is close by and it is considered one of the best surfing beaches in Phuket.

The hotel is well-placed for being both peacefully isolated without it being an arduous trek to get to outside restaurants, bars and attractions. Public transport is rather limited as the aforementioned beautiful road is quite a quiet one, but the reception staff can help arrange something for you. The hillside restaurants are literally at the end of the entrance road (about a 300 m walk) while the bars are about another 300 m further along a relatively flat road – far enough not to disturb your sleep while being close enough for them to be no challenge to reach.

Rooms

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Dining/Living area of the Honeymoon Villa.

I did not avail myself of the nearby attractions. Admittedly, this was because I was primarily there to review the place, so I could hardly go wandering off to inspect the nearby business. The rain was also a factor, but so too was the simple fact that the room was really comfortable. My expectations, as always, were relatively modest. It isn’t that Phuket’s hospitality industry does not feature some really outstanding properties, but my blog’s relative youth means that I don’t expect to get the chance to stay in luxury accommodation just yet. Additionally, I’m the sort of traveller who is happy sleeping on the floor, if necessary. As a result, getting a stunning villa to myself was almost overwhelming!

Nook-Dee Boutique Hotel has six room classes, which are named in the standard baffling hotel jargon which continues to be essentially meaningless (though I shall attempt to avoid a rant on the subject this time):

  • Superior Room
  • Deluxe Seaview Room
  • Deluxe Panorama Room
  • Deluxe Panorama Corner Room
  • Deluxe Jacuzzi Room
  • Honeymoon Villa
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Bedroom of the Honeymoon Villa.

It is my strict editorial policy to only report on that which I have personally experienced, so I am obliged to only discuss the Nook-Dee Boutique Resort’s Honeymoon Villa. Put simply, it is amazing! It has its own 125 sq m private garden behind an ornate gate, with a palm-thatch sala for a modest jacuzzi pool. The villa’s roof forms a 97 sq m private terrace with an impressive sea view. The 79 sq m interior has an elegant modern style, with an outdoor kitchen containing a large fridge-freezer, a smaller refrigerator inside containing a mini bar, a four-seat dining/living room with comfortable sofa and widescreen TV, an equally large TV in the bedroom and the biggest bathroom I think I have ever seen.

The receptionist showing me around said that the villa can accommodate up to four people which, based on the places at the dining table and on the large sofa, makes sense. There is only one bed, however and, while it is a large and extremely soft and comfortable one – with feather mattress and pillows (and, for reasons unknown, a large stuffed elephant) – I doubt it could sleep four people. Still, it would be nice for entertaining guests who are staying elsewhere in the hotel and, with a second bathroom by the entrance, you wouldn’t even need to have people walking through the bedroom.

The main bathroom deserves special mention. I really love baths. However, being about 193 cm (6’4″) in height, it is extremely rare that I can find one in which I can properly relax. I was almost pathetically happy to find such a tub at Nook-Dee Boutique Resort. I was a little disappointed to find that, among the otherwise excellent complimentary toiletries, they had failed to provide any bubble bath. This did not prevent me from merrily lounging in a nice hot bath for over an hour before slipping on one of the lovely silk bathrobes. No less than two rainfall showers were also available in the villa.

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Garden and outdoor jacuzzi of the Honeymoon Villa.

There are only two criticisms I have of the place. The first is an odd choice of layout in the living room. Maybe it is a legacy of my parents’ generation, but I normally expect the sofa to be directly opposite the TV to ensure the best view. Instead, it is off to one side while the dining table has pride of place, meaning that the view of the TV is almost parallel to the screen, in some cases. I don’t watch much TV, so this wasn’t a problem for me. The greater issue was the fact that, being further down the hill from a good amount of the hotel’s rooms and the restaurant, an awful lot of balconies look directly down into the otherwise private garden and terrace, including right into the jacuzzi pool. There are curtains around the sala, but it still feels kind of exposed.

Dining

The Nook-Dee Boutique Resort restaurant follows the naming convention of the rest of the hotel. Nook-Dee roughly translates as “good time” or “enjoyable”. The restaurant’s name is Roy Dee, which means “tastes good” (though “a’roi” is the more common expression). It is almost a disappointment to find that the spa is just called “Spa”. Either way, all of the above are true to their name.

Roy Dee Restaurant serves a modest selection of Thai and western dishes. While the menu is short, I have always preferred places which do a small selection of dishes well, rather than having an encyclopaedic menu of dishes prepared badly and using second-rate ingredients. Roy Dee’s ingredients are very definitely first-rate.

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Moo Balow at Roy Dee Restaurant.

I decided to completely ruin my diet, but also sample both aspects of the menu, going for a western starter of cream of tomato soup with tarragon and gin (190 baht) followed by Moo Balow – slow-cooked stew with pork belly, boiled eggs, five-spice and fresh tofu (150 baht). I also had the BB smoothie, containing mixed berries, banana, pineapple milk, yoghurt and wild honey (130 baht).

It was a little odd to pay more for a bowl of soup than for a main meal, but that just speaks of Nook-Dee Boutique Resort’s genuine determination to pass savings on to their guests. Imported ingredients are more expensive because of Thailand’s high import taxes. However, locally-sourced ingredients are very cheap because of the country’s largely agricultural economy. As a result, ensuring high quality across the menu inevitably means that the western menu is slightly pricier than the Thai choices. This use of high-quality ingredients really tells in the flavours and textures of the dishes. All of the above tasted sublime and the meat of the belly pork was extremely tender and juicy.

The restaurant also serves a buffet breakfast, which I sadly did not get a chance to sample – mostly because my body refused to allow me out of the ludicrously comfortable bed. It looked quite impressive, though.

Service

The staff throughout Nook-Dee Boutique Resort were excellent, though particularly the reception staff. Even the car park attendants were doing their utmost to be helpful and obliging! My needs are generally quite simple, but they were immediately met with a friendly smile and with the offer of additional services.

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Reception.

As I said, the reception staff deserve special mention, not least because I managed to lock myself out of the villa within about five minutes of arriving. I’d set off to go and take some photographs around the hotel and abruptly realised that I’d left the keycard inside! They quickly issued me with a fresh one without quibble and without laughing at my foolishness, which is impressive, because even I thought it was hilarious. They also came all the way down to the villa to return my passport when I accidentally left it at reception, rather than calling for me to come and collect it. It’s a simple gesture, but indicative of an attitude whereby the staff are willing to put themselves to inconvenience so that you don’t have to.

Facilities

201_7514While Nook-Dee Boutique Hotel is a fairly compact place, it is not lacking in facilities. The pool is impressively large, with a great view from one end, a sun deck at the other, a submerged bench in the middle and a bar close by. I didn’t actually explore them (I was too busy enjoying my bath), but there is also the aforementioned Spa, a modern fitness room and meeting facilities. The reception area has a tours desk and a little souvenir shop.

The rooftop terrace is definitely worth a visit, and I’m surprised that the hotel doesn’t make greater use of it. The view up there is excellent, particularly around sunset. It is all covered with artificial grass and would be a great place to relax in the sun. However, I suppose that the long distance from the bar and the noise of the air conditioners do make it a little inconvenient and the view is nearly as good from the pool (except that you can’t see Kata from there, but you’re not missing much).

Summary

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Private terrace of the Honeymoon Villa.

Nook-Dee Boutique Resort is a great for a stay during the rainy season and I have absolutely no doubt that it would be just as good in high season, too. It takes full advantage of the unrivalled location, providing a comprehensive range of facilities so that you can have a fantastic holiday without ever leaving the hotel or its immediate surroundings. While it is far from the only hotel to enjoy a fairly isolated location (only “fairly” because there is another hotel directly adjacent to it), it is one of few with such a good view, ensuring that isolation never gets dull. If you do choose to experience the outside world, it is easily reached and the staff are extremely willing to help you do so to the best of their abilities.

I said at the start of this that the true test of a good hotel is to review it under the worst possible conditions. A bad hotel would have made me stir crazy and desperate to check out, in spite of the rain, while a good hotel would have made me wish I could have extended my stay. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to work for a living, I would still be there now.

Nook-Dee Boutique Resort

216/9 Koktanod Road
Karon / Mueang
Phuket 83100
Thailand

Tel: +66 7 668 8888
Email: info@nook-dee.com
Website: http://nook-dee.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nookdeephuket

Twitter: @nookdeephuket

GPS: 7°48’40.4″N 98°18’03.6″E

Recommend: Great view from the rooftop terrace.
Avoid: Using the jacuzzi pool without closing the curtains.


Full Disclosure

I stayed at Nook-Dee Boutique Hotel for one night. My stay was arranged by a third party with a view to providing a review. The room therefore did not cost me anything and it is highly probable that the staff were well aware of who I was and why I was there. I did have to pay for my meal.

While this fact may have had an effect on the staff’s attitude and treatment of me, said third party is aware of my ethics policy and declined the offer to vet my review prior to publication. True to said policy, I have endeavoured to give as honest a review as possible.