Living Hi-So in Phuket

Marriott Khao Lak - Beach UmbrellaI have Travel OCD. There, I said it. Acceptance is the first step toward healing, people.

It doesn’t help that I have the Myers-Briggs personality known as ENTJ, aka The Field Marshal. But Field Marshal? Really? Doesn’t sound all that great considering that the other personality types have names that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like Artisan, Healer or Champion. Famous ENTJs in history include Margaret Thatcher, Simon Cowell (yes, the one that sat next to Paula), Napoleon, Hitler, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Now doesn’t THAT just sound like a fun-filled dinner party? Here are our strengths:

I am ready to take over the world!

And now the much longer list of weaknesses:

ENTJ Weaknesses

Why oh why is this list so long?

Thankfully for all you regular people, ENTJs are only 2-5% of the population. Even so, we rule the world. But then again, are just as likely to be lynched.

Sunset

How does this relate to travel? Well, the “T” in ENTJ is Thinking — which means placing a high value on objective criteria. And the “J” is for Judgment — planning activities and making decisions early. We Field Marshals thrive on taking control and being predictable. In travel terms, this means I’m constantly obsessing on where I want to go next and how to get there most efficiently and exactly what I’ll do when I get there. It’s exhausting. Really.

As I was wrapping up a work commitment in Bangkok, I started thinking about where to go on holiday before leaving Thailand. The whole country was fair game. But I’m a beach person at heart and it just so happens that Thailand is famous for its beautiful beaches. Therein lay the problem. I googled “best beach in Thailand” and came up with way too many choices, all accompanied by idyllic pictures of swaying palm trees, impossibly blue water and powdery white beaches.

Khuk Khak Beach

The forums were equally unhelpful with cries of over-development, scams and mass tourism. In the end, though, I thought I had it narrowed down to Koh Lipe, a tiny, get-there-before-it’s-discovered-by-the-masses island way in the south of Thailand, almost at the Malaysian border, which requires a flight, a bus, a speedboat and a longtail boat to get to.

Room

But was it the right choice? I actually spent two sleepless nights fretting, that’s how much of a travel nerd I am. That’s where my ENTJ special powers kicked in. One sleepless night at 2 am, I checked my inbox only to find an awesome deal for the JW Marriott in Khao Lak, about 75 minutes north of the Phuket airport, on Thailand’s largest island, in the Andaman Sea. Things were heating up. It was now a two-horse race.

Koh Lipe had the electric blue water and the farflung thing happening, but as to be expected, accommodation wasn’t money-for-value on such a tiny island. It was either $30 for a basic bamboo hut with a mattress on the floor or $200 for eco-treehouse chic and not a whole lot in between. I might have considered the bamboo hut in my younger days, but those days are long gone.

Quan Spa Entrance

Choice #2 was the 4.5 star Marriott, recipient of the 2010 Conde Nast World’s Top New Hotels award, on its own long stretch of secluded beach in quiet Khao Lak, and more notably the jumping off point for the Similan Islands, rated one of the best diving spots in the world. I spent another sleepless night debating between the two, both at times called the “Maldives of Thailand”. I was so desperate, I threw it open to a Facebook poll, which in the end wasn’t as helpful as I would’ve liked… Sigh. I don’t think my FB friends think I have real-world problems when my main dilemma is on which gorgeous island to vacay…

Balcony View

In the end, I chose style over substance (what does that say about me?!) and went with the Marriott.

Best. Decision. Ever.

I could feel the stress just melt away through the waft of lemongrass as I entered my room. Thais love using the expression “hi-so”, short for “high society”, and boy, am I ever living it up hi-so this week, with only happy problems to weigh me down.

When your happy dilemma is whether to (1) sit on the miles of beach with a cabana boy serving up ice water while staring at the pleasing blue-green ocean or (2) lounge by one of the four huge pools all interconnected creating 3.3 kms of a swim experience (the region’s largest swimming pool), you are definitely hi-so.

Main Pool

I mean, who could possibly need 2 miles of swimming pool? I can barely swim from one end to the other of one of the pools, much less through all of them.

Happy dilemma number two is what to have for breakfast from the huge buffet, complete with Smoothie Bar. Really, Marriott? Having a made-to-order smoothie bar is just asking for trouble. (Go for the Khao Lak Booster, a mix of mango and pineapple juices with ginger and mint leaves. Trust me on this.)

Sakura Buffet

The hotel is situated 2 km from the main road, making the sprawling complex its own community. It’s so far from everything that wifi doesn’t even need a password (but being able to access your email on the beach? Priceless…) So if you tire of the Japanese buffet (I loves me some tuna sushi!), there’s always the cheap beachfront restaurants nearby with killer massaman curry. There’s almost no reason to leave the complex and go into town, really. In the evening, a massage at the spa can while away your hours.

As I routinely stomp over people’s feelings to accomplish my tasks, one of my closest friends always says of my personality type , “It’s an explanation, not an excuse.”… Usually, it’s a curse. But this week, ah, this week, it’s brought me to Paradise…

Dying to find out what temperament you are? A Composer, Crafter, Protector, Mastermind or something else? There are numerous free online surveys to help you find out!

Smoothie Bar

Travel Tips: (1) Do not think I travel this way all the time… I actually scored an amazing deal through Travel Zoo, a website which sends out a weekly newsletter of the best deals available on the internet. You can subscribe for deals for your area and internationally. Deals range from a single dinner or show to a multi-week safari and everything else in between. Typically, it works like Groupon. You have a small window to buy the voucher which can be used later. While obviously not always applicable (I mean, WHO is planning trips every week!?!), it’s great to daydream about fabulous destinations. Every once in a while, you’ll score something you can use. I got my recent transatlantic cruise through them. And this deal was unbeatable – USD 89 per night including breakfast and two massages. (Average price for same deal is $200+).

Khuk Khak Beach - Setting Sun

(2) The Quan Spa at the Marriott Khao Lak is simply blissful. Therapists are well-trained and very communicative. Since I stayed a total of 7 nights, I actually had 4 free massages and every one of them was relaxing. Overall, I’d recommend the Deep Renewal Massage (B2,700), the Indian Head Massage (B2,200) and the Fusion Aromatherapy / Swedish massage (B2,700). The foot massage was a bit too tame for me. Watch out for the black mesh underwear they give you, though. I don’t know WHO they’re foolin’, because those things are 100% see through! After that, I started wearing boxers which seemed to make everyone happy… (3) The resort has several restaurants . I only tried the Japanese one on a buffet night (B999) but with Australian steak, tuna sushi and lobster soup, it was worth the splurge. Reserve early for a table inside. (4) Otherwise, there are 5-6 beach restaurants just outside the property. All had similar menus and meals ranged from B60 (for fried rice, noodles or pad thai) to B350 for a whole fish dish. An average meal with a shake might set you back B220 or so. My favorite was Ma-Ma Greeting, at the very end on the right. They had delicious massaman curry for B80-100. I found that after a massive breakfast at 9 or 10 am, I wasn’t hungry again until almost 7pm. Didn’t need all the snacks and instant noodles I brought! There are also 5-6 beachfront massage places to try.

Balcony Sitting Area

(5) All of the rooms were similar in design / size. The option is whether to have a Pool Access room (enter the pool directly from your porch for that scandalous midnight swim…) or simply a Pool View room, overlooking the many canals. For me, it wasn’t worth the upgrade, but I can see how a pool access room would be lovely… (6) Khao Lak is about 75 minutes north of the Phuket Airport. Transport options include a hotel-arranged transfer (B2,500), a pre-arranged taxi for about B1,400, or a bus from Phuket (B100) which drops you off on the main road. You’ll need to go the rest of the 2.1 kms via taxi, tuk-tuk or walk. 

Quan Spa Lotus

(7) It wasn’t at all intentional, but I divided my Marriott stay into 2, to be able to visit the Similan Islands in between. Being a Marriott member, I was checking out the promotions and discovered that 2 two-night stays within a certain period would qualify for a free night which could be used at any Marriott. So I ended up getting a free night on top of the Travel Zoo deal. This ended up being one of those deals you actually feel bad taking advantage of… In travel, it always pays to do your homework and sign up for free memberships to hotels, airlines, travel websites, etc. As always, use a secondary email that you don’t care if it gets put onto a mailing list somewhere. I use a hotmail address to sign up for all these deals and forward emails to my regular gmail account which is great at weeding out spam.

 

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13 thoughts on “Living Hi-So in Phuket

  1. Bach

    WOW! I guess the savings and miraculous deals or promotions are always making the vacation a lot more sweeter, at least for my personality type.

    Reply
  2. Fay

    J, the pics are gorgeous, awesome. Love the sunsets, beach and other nature scenes. Everything else….no comment …….

    Reply
  3. Louise

    I had to laugh at your taking along snacks, etc, just in case. Great to hear about your splurging on the cheap. Well done!

    Reply
  4. Carroll G.

    Oh my oh my, I signed up for travelzoo and I get an offer for a Boston harbor cruise in winter. What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    1. jt10s Post author

      haha. Check your settings. You can get local deals (by entering your zip code) and get international deals… There’s even a deal page called “Asia in English”! But cruising in the winter? RO.MAN.TIC. haha. Stay warm!

      Reply
  5. Jean

    LW Marriott – Khao Lak
    We arrived yesterday, around 4pm and our rooms weren’t ready. Our room is musty, mouldy and we found it hard to sleep for the smell. I noticed it has brought on my asthma slightly, not had it for decades. Not surprising since the Sofitel was decimated during the tsunami (it’s old name), check out the pics of the Sofitel before/after the tsunami.
    4,000 – 10,000 died in the area. The hotel is poorly maintained, hence the cheap deals. The bathroom sink is large with a grotty looking, wooden bridge on it, not able to use a plug, it’s under the bridge. The engineered stone walls are badly stained and siliconed up. Skirting boards hanging off, wood rot, mould staines, etc around the resort. Certainly not 5 star, but lovely with attentative staff.

    Reply
    1. James

      That’s too bad you didn’t have an enjoyable stay. While there were definitely little niggles with the rooms (I think some inconsiderate guests used the low dressing tables as luggage racks, thereby leaving scratches in the finish), I wouldn’t have used the word “grotty” to describe the sink. I think the bathrooms overall were great – big with an awesome rainwater shower. You could spend all your time looking for things that are wrong with the room, but for me, my overall impression, from the minute I opened the door to the smell of lemongrass, was a good one. Unbeatable, I would say, for the price I paid!

      Reply
  6. Lila

    I saw your review while searching more about other people who had booked the Travel Zoo deal. Great review, great pictures – thanks for putting this together! Can’t wait to find out what I will do with my 4 massages next month :)

    Reply
  7. James

    Thanks, Lila! I know you’re going to have an awesome time. Hope it’s not too rainy! I guess that’s the perfect time to get a massage then! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog. I’m about to post a How To Guide on getting to the Similan Islands, a gorgeous group of islands you can do as a day trip from Khao Lak. Have a great time!
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