SURF ’N’ TURF
Two new boutique hotels in Thailand named Hansar – a Sanskrit word meaning happiness and joy – provide sea and city experiences.checks in and checks out both
I’M SITTING COMFORTABLY in a big, cushiony rocking chair, an ice-cold beer on the teak armrest, reading Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, with the background rhythm of an afternoon rain and a view of the sea so close you can almost touch it.
This poetic space is a large balcony outside my suite at Hansar Samui, a relatively new resort – it opened in July 2010 – on Ko Samui’s upmarket Bophut Bay; a direct flight from paved and polluted, honking and hyper Hong Kong, and just 15 minutes from the island’s airport (but no air-traffic noise whatsoever). What a difference a few hours make.
This resort appeals to me. It’s not one of those sprawling properties the size of a village, where you need golf carts with maps to get around. There’s just 74 beachfront rooms, so we’re not talking about a place that can get as crowded as Causeway Bay, even during a bank holiday. It’s a mix of seclusion and hip character. Horseshoed around a sunset-facing bay, the three-storey resort is linked to facilities by open-air, polished-wood walkways that wind past trendy touches of local art, fixtures and furniture. At night, lights in the building’s niches give the place an exotic, Halloween-orange glow.
Also impressive are the spacious rooms. The XL Suites cover 800 square feet and each has a super-sized balcony with capacious daybeds. The rooms’ uncluttered, open-plan design includes interesting furnishings and textures, teak floors, local textiles, a deeply comfy king-size four-poster bed with extra-large plush pillows facing a 50-inch flat-screen TV on the opposite wall (42-inch in the smaller suites), stone bathroom fittings with twin hand basins, a walk-in rain shower and a freestanding, egg-shaped stone bathtub almost in the centre. Each day the tub is partially filled with fresh water and dozens of rose petals. When I bathed, I felt like a prince in an ancient Greek myth.
Other thoughtful touches are the French-press coffee maker with freshly ground customised coffee, naturally sourced bathroom amenities, and (a special thumbs up) excellent reading lights over the bed. I can’t imagine a holiday without good books, any more than drinking a martini without vodka or gin. So don’t get me started on how many top hotels have bed lights so dim or poorly placed that you couldn’t read this article. Note to those places: not everyone jumps into bed immediately to sleep or have sex. Here, at least, you have all three choices.
“We created the rooms mainly for couples,” says Indonesian-born general manager Indra Budiman. “That’s why we have the bathtub out in the open, and wood and smoky-glass walls for the rain shower. Couples make up the majority of our guests. But we have accommodation for families too, of course. The whole idea is to have a small resort where you are well taken care of, so guests feel it’s like a second home. There are no set rules. If, for example, you wake up at 2pm and want a special breakfast delivered, no problem, no extra charge. So our guests tend to stay with us longer, on average five to 20 days at a time.”
There’s one restaurant, but it’s more than enough. The bay-facing H Bistro, serving French-Mediterranean cuisine plus Thai dishes, provides superb food with a regularly changing menu as well as made-to-order requests.
Montreal-born Chef Stephen Jean Dion – whose experience includes being the private chef to the King of Jordan and executive chef at Bangkok’s sky-high Sirocco restaurant – combines the right array of simple textures and flavours with prime ingredients sourced worldwide: foie gras from the Soulard Farm in France’s Perigord region; Maine lobsters and oysters from Canada, Japan, France and the US; Australian lamb and beef; and Italian cured meats.
While the food remains true to its roots, the chef breathes new life into the likes of the duck breast and confit with black-truffle risotto, while the Parma ham-wrapped Kurobuta pork loin is all comfort and succulence. Neither do the Thai dishes disappoint. I enjoyed the yam som o (pomelo salad with grilled prawns) followed by pla neung manao (steamed sea bass in lime, chilli and garlic dressing). To ensure that my farang (Western) taste buds didn’t deceive, a Thai family sitting at the next table with plates of local selections agreed, describing the food as aroy mak – very delicious.
The restaurant is contemporary modern and candle-lit cosy at night, with sultry jazz playing in the background. The breakfast buffet is plentiful, including one dish I enjoyed daily: waffles topped with colourful clouds of divinely sweet fruits, jams and thick cream. A decadent start to the day.
Upstairs is the Chill Lounge, with oversized opium beds and chairs where you can read, play a game of chess, nibble on canapés and enjoy a glass of wine. The limited list belies the excellent choices. “We didn’t want to be like others with thousands of labels,” explains Budiman. “We handpick wines from around the world that can blend and fit well with our foods and concepts.”
The resort’s centrepiece is an enormous infinity-edge saltwater pool with Jacuzzi jets. You look out over liquid and aerial blues, ever-changing with the light and weather, like seascapes painted by Turner. My favourite time is when the knife-edge of the horizon disappears, and there’s a vast, borderless bluishness…a glimpse of infinity.
Less soul-stirring is the narrow, crunchy-sand beach just a few steps away. There are others bigger and more powdery, but this one is private, without the touts and tourists who clutter the better-known beaches on Thailand’s third-largest island. Besides, there are plenty of lounge chairs, the sea is calm as a lake and you can walk or jog along the rest of the long stretch of beach that’s also relatively unpopulated.
There is also a fitness centre, library and a poolside bar with innovative cocktails. The Luxsa Spa should not be missed. The tranquil setting and expert therapists using pure Thai products ensure a smoother face, a clearer mind and a set of tension-free shoulders.
There’s really no reason to leave. Time passes effortlessly, given the personal service of the smiling young staff. The resort can also arrange golf, yachting, yoga, scuba, snorkelling, Thai cooking and sightseeing trips around the 228-square-kilometre island. And a short walk away is Fisherman’s Village, with seaside bars, shops and original fisherman’s houses converted into stylish restaurants.
Well positioned for both business and leisure travellers, Hansar’s boutique hotel is centrally located in Bangkok, close to the Erawan shrine and just minutes from the BTS Skytrain. This latest addition to the hotel-packed capital – the soft opening was in mid-December – delivers its own spin on service and sophistication. The look is stylishly modern and local fusion, with thought going into textures and subdued colours: polished teak floors and soaring teak ceilings, sea-green Thai silk-panelled walls, works by leading local artists, fashionable carpets, earth-tone furniture, glassy marble floors and a wall of windows arranged for natural light and garden views.
The 94 contemporary-modern suites range in size from standard to immense (a 1,345-square-foot duplex), and come with all the high-tech goodies such as free Wi-Fi, DVD players, iPod docking stations and flat-screen TVs, plus working space with ergonomic office chairs, pillow-strewn king-sized beds, silk-covered walls, oversized rain showers and freestanding terrazzo bathtubs. Also, all the drinks and snacks in the fridge are free (there’s beer but no wine).
While fairly roomy, the smaller suites tend to pack in a variety of furniture and fixtures, making them a bit snug except in the oversized bathrooms. There are unexpected surprises: Edge suites feature a gorgeous atrium that cascades the length of the building, like a waterfall of flowers, and Vertigo suites have fantastic city views and floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with artefacts.
As with its Samui sister, there’s one main restaurant. Eve is small and elegant and goes for an unabashedly romantic vibe with its rich purple fabrics and towering throne-like chairs with curved backs that envelop (hide?) anyone shorter than a giant. Yet the wall of windows, tables discreetly distanced, black marble floors and open kitchen keep it from feeling oppressive or stuffy.
“We designed the restaurant with women in mind,” says hotel Manager Jeerasak Loturit. “A place to take someone you enjoy being with, or want to impress.”
The menu also skews to French-Mediterranean, and Executive Chef Chatree Wongsriphaisan, who cooked at several top hotels, says his style is not to mask the food with too many flavours. “You don’t want the sauce to be the only thing you taste.” Choices are few, but enough to make you waver between temptations such as Tasmanian wild salmon and king crab with eggplant caviar and slow-cooked Wagyu beef short ribs cooked with garlic mash potato, or dither over desserts like crème brûlée, cherry kirsch soufflé and macadamia cheesecake.
The glass walls face an inner courtyard garden with a deck for outdoor dining and laid-back drinks. On this quiet soi (backstreet) of high-priced condos but enclosed by foliage, one forgets about being smack in the city. For cocktails, cappuccino or a light bite there’s Vue, where guests buzz around a square wooden bar. A cafe currently serving gourmet sandwiches and snacks is set to become a Thai restaurant.
There’s a smart, well-designed business centre. Or for relaxation, head to the beautiful outdoor pool and Jacuzzi lined with arty sunlounges, the fully outfitted fitness centre, or Hansar’s signature Luxsa Spa with its wonderful menus of treatments to ease tired muscles.
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+ Passage to Hong Kong
+ Diving the Sweet Spot
+ The Far Pavilions
+ Samui Wind
+ HOTEL DAS CATARATAS
+ The Ritz-Carlton
+ WALDORF ASTORIA SHANGHAI
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+ LA ISLA BONITA
+ SAIGON FOR MEN
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+ SULTANATE SUBLIME
+ SKYLIGHT VISTA – SEVEN STARS GALLERIA
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+ The Plaza
+ INSTANT KARMA
+ HEAVEN SCENT, Phuket Pavilions
+ VINO, VIDI, VICI
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