Article and photos by Josette King
The striking Rayavadee infinity pool overlooked Railay Beach
Some 35 years ago, I fell in love with a place where I had never been. It was a remote paradise concealed among towering jungle-covered limestone cliffs in a virtually unchartered corner of the Andaman Sea, at the tip of the Malay Peninsula; and the secret hideout of arch-villain Scaramanga, The Man with the Golden Gun. As I recently set out to finally visit the eye-popping shores of Southwest Thailand, I reminded myself that a lot had happened during the intervening decades. James Bond has moved on, and the area is now on the list of every savvy beach lover traveling around Southeast Asia. And I have come to place a high value on creature comforts, even as I set out to explore far-flung corners of the planet. However, the high cliffs jutting out of the turquoise sea, with at their base deep, jagged grottoes shaped by millennia of waves and winds, are still achingly beautiful, all the more so for being admired in real time. Best of all, in their midst, there are now a few rare secluded luxury retreats where these unique geological wonders can be enjoyed without having to forsake any contemporary conveniences.
Phranang Beach was renowned for its spectacular limestone cliffs
Rayavadee was just such a place. Set among the soaring cliffs of the Phranang Peninsula at the edge of the Krabi Marine National Park, the five-star property was accessible only by sea. Although the peninsula is actually connected to the mainland, it is effectively cut off from the rest of Krabi by limestone headlands and steep jungle valleys. The short ride from the Krabi pier on Rayavadee’s private speedboat was an exhilarating opportunity to take a first glance at these stunning surroundings. The resort itself, nestled in lush tropical gardens and coconut groves dwarfed by the cliffs, was barely noticeable from the water. Once on shore, however, it revealed itself as a sophisticated retreat of contemporary circular two-story guest pavilions scattered throughout a vast verdant haven.
The bedroom was a colorful contemporary retreat
A network of winding brick-paved footpaths crisscrossed the property, which was also encircled by an unobtrusive road for the quiet electric carts always on hand to ferry me around when I was not in a walking mood. I soon discovered that at Rayavadee all roads led to the beach; two beaches actually, Railay and Phranang, with creamy sands and warm, shallow waters ideal for swimming; both among the most sought-after on the peninsula. As is most often the case in Thailand, these beaches were public, easily accessible to day-visitors via commercial longtail boats, and therefore often busy. However, the property’s boundaries extended to the edge of the beaches, each with a welcoming waterfront restaurant, all the customary beachside amenities and complimentary top quality water sports equipment for the exclusive use the guests.
Raya was Rayavadee’s main dining room
The weather was unseasonably stormy at the time of my visit, with occasional rain squalls disturbing the vaunted crystalline waters so that they were not conducive to snorkeling. I often opted for a dip in the pool instead, a vast free-form infinity-edge basin that seemed to lose itself into the sea, while its far end reached out to the nearby cliff. This was indeed the Andaman seashore I had fantasized about all these years ago, with all the luxury I could wish for.
Gift Boutique at Rayavadee
The friendly, polished staff was attentive to my every need and wish. But when I was in the mood for even more pampering, Rayavadee Spa offered an extensive range of massages and salon treatments that combined Thai and international practices that could be adjusted to my specific needs, in a deliciously relaxing contemporary Southeast Asian environment. Then there was the elegant high tea served each afternoon in the main lounge, visibly popular among the guests. Things have indeed changed in this remote corner of the Andaman Sea over the past three decades, but I expect James Bond would approve. Visit the Simon & Baker Travel Review to read more about my visit to Thailand and my stay at Rayavadee and the Phranang Peninsula.