From new resorts and beach clubs to world-class cocktail bars and a reopened natural gem, here are just a few highlights for travelers planning their return to the kingdom.
Check in to Bangkok’s latest crop of luxe hotels
Local staycationers were the first to experience two stunning riverside properties that debuted during the pandemic: Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River (doubles from US$355) and the adjacent Capella Bangkok (doubles from US$550) are both part of the ultra-luxe Chao Phraya Estate. Fine restaurants and stylish contemporary rooms are a given — some at the Capella even come with their own river-view cabanas and Jacuzzi plunge pools. Over in the leafy Lumpini neighborhood, Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok (doubles from US$202) is a chic, high-rise hotel with art-filled interiors and an excellent lineup of convivial drinking and dining venues. As for the newest kid on the block? The Standard, Bangkok Mahanakhon (doubles from US$186) will be opening soon inside the landmark King Power Mahanakhon tower. Expect sleek guest rooms, the city’s highest alfresco rooftop bar, and five eateries, among them a branch of Mott 32 and the first international outpost of New York’s The Standard Grill.
Also read: Two Riverside Stays in Bangkok to Savor
Rediscover the magic of Maya Bay
Two decades on after being catapulted to global fame — thanks to a starring role in the Hollywood adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel The Beach — this dreamy cove on the uninhabited isle of Phi Phi Le looks just as unspoiled at it did then. But it wasn’t always so. Years of uncontrolled tourism had decimated its coral reefs and driven away the resident marine mammals, forcing Maya Bay’s closure in June 2018. That much-needed reset has yielded incredible results; the amount of coral cover has rebounded and baby reef sharks are once again taking refuge in the crystal-clear waters. The fabled cove reopened in January with new rules aimed at keeping the excesses of the past at bay: boats must dock at a jetty on the opposite side of the island, and visitors are not allowed to swim as the coral regenerates. Capacity limits are also in force to ensure the dazzling white-sand beach is never too crowded.
Also read: After the Shutdown: Revisiting Maya Bay
Splash out at Andamanda Phuket
Here’s a water park with a difference: Andamanda Phuket takes its design cues from the culture and mythology of southern Thailand, with colorful naga-themed slides and a blue-and-gold Pearl Palace inspired by the island’s Sino-Portuguese architecture. This brand-new attraction, which made its debut on May 22, is a 20-minute drive from both Patong Beach and Phuket Town. Thrill-seekers can look forward to 25 rides, an impressive wave pool capable of creating three-meter breaks, and a Lazy River billed as Asia’s longest. There are also several swim-up bars, including one tucked inside a near life-size replica of Koh Tapu (aka James Bond Island). Hungry visitors can feast on authentic local fare while watching regular performances that showcase traditional arts like Thai puppetry; it’s ideal for a fun day out with the kids or a group of friends.
Witness the revival of Songkhla Old Town
Recent years have seen the quiet metamorphosis of historic Songkhla, a small lakeside city in the far south of Thailand. After living abroad and embarking on successful careers in Bangkok, returning creatives and entrepreneurs are breathing new life into the compact Old Town, which offers a beguiling mix of the traditional and the contemporary: think no-frills neighborhood teahouses and Thai-Chinese eateries that happily coexist with a growing crop of new-wave cafés and art galleries. The already photogenic locale also brims with specially commissioned street art inspired by the example of Penang in neighboring Malaysia. Bangkokians are already well aware of Songkhla’s charms; go before it catches the attention of everyone else.
Also read: Reinventing Songkhla
Dine at Chiang Mai’s sustainable restaurants
With its razor-like focus on hyperlocal ingredients and fermentation techniques, Japanese-inspired Blackitch Artisan Kitchen turned heads when it debuted in the hip Nimmanhaemin neighborhood back in 2013. Gourmands will be thrilled to know that Blackitch has since been joined by newer eco-conscious players on the local culinary scene. Helmed by chef Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn, who relocated from Bangkok’s Michelin-starred Saawaan, Kiti Panit occupies a restored teakwood mansion more than a century old; it plates up sublime northern delights such as fermented tea leaf salad and pad pet moo pa bai jan (stir-fried wild boar with spices). Right across the street, Maadae Slow Fish Kitchen has drawn a strong following since opening in mid-2020. Its impressive range of fish dishes makes use of sustainably sourced seafood from the southern Thai province of Chumphon. Outside the city, the 80-hectare organic farm Ori9in is a joint venture between the Banyan Tree Group and British chef James Noble, whose on-site restaurant Waiting For May (opened in December) serves farm-to-fork zero-waste dishes like barbecued mala duck breast and pumpkin som tam.
Also read: Chiang Mai through a Chef’s Eyes
Balance luxury and adventure in the Golden Triangle
Two world-class resorts in Thailand’s far north have recently added a suite of enticing guest experiences. Perched above the Ruak River with views over the borderlands of Myanmar and Laos, Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort launched its two-bedroom Jungle Bubble Lodge (from US$1,140 per night for up to four guests) last December. Its transparent polyester-clad rooms allow families to observe the property’s rescue elephants at close range without skimping on creature comforts: think butler service, a wooden deck with a plunge pool, and the chance to stargaze from your king-size bed. Avid cyclists staying at the neighboring Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle (tented suites from US$1,440) will get to pedal through the countryside on a guided tour, while fishing enthusiasts can try their hand at local techniques like fish trapping and bamboo fishing, and skim over the Ruak River in a longtail boat. More sedate alternatives include riverside camp-style cocktails and a BBQ dinner.
Unwind at a top-notch wellness retreat on Bangkok’s doorstep
Deriving its name from the Thai word for “heal,” RAKxa is a 32-hectare wellness and medical center cocooned within the verdant greenery of Bang Krachao, an oasis on the outskirts of Bangkok that’s bound on three sides by the meandering Chao Phraya River. Cutting-edge treatments here range from cryotherapy to vitamin IV infusions and infrared saunas, while spa-goers wanting to go the traditional route can opt for TCM, Ayurveda, as well as Thai therapies such as tok sen (aka Lanna hammering) and a massage using a hot salt-pot compress. An on-site Mediterranean-inspired restaurant makes the most of organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. While day visitors are welcome, it’s recommended to book a multi-night package with a stay in one of the 60 villas, some of which feature their own private pools.
Savor Koh Phangan’s evolving restaurant scene
This island in the Gulf of Thailand might be synonymous with raucous full-moon parties, but travelers these days will find an increasingly sophisticated range of dining options thanks to the growing community of international chefs and restaurateurs. Hungry travelers arriving at the main ferry port of Thong Sala should head to Sirtaki Taverna: grilled calamari, barracuda souvlaki, and baked lamb shank star on the menu, and patrons here can wash down their hearty meals with Greek wines and ouzo. A 10-minute drive up the coast in Srithanu village, Sati Pot garners rave reviews for its traditional Persian dishes; a must-try is the Bandari shrimp, a classic hailing from southern Iran. Nearby Indian restaurant Chana Masala, meanwhile, offers thali lunches as well as mouth-watering vegan and vegetarian curries.
Also read: Seven of the Best Restaurants in Koh Phangan
Kick back at the newest beach clubs and resorts on Koh Samui
Sun-worshippers bound for Thailand’s second-largest island have plenty of new coastal hangouts to visit. Tembo Beach Club & Resort (doubles from US$63) opened in November on Bangrak Beach, tempting holidaymakers with Balearic-inspired music, beachside cabanas, summery cocktails, and a globetrotting menu. Guests can also opt to stay overnight in nine bungalows and a 60-square-meter villa. Last December saw the debut of the 138-room Kimpton Kitalay Samui (doubles from US$264) on Choeng Mon Beach; chargrilled seafood awaits at the resort’s Fish House Restaurant & Bar, while lounge bar Lanai utilizes homegrown produce and locally made spirits in its creative drinks. Over on the east coast, Chaweng’s long-standing Centara Grand has been completely overhauled by New York–headquartered AvroKO to become Centara Reserve Samui (doubles from US$272). It’s the inaugural property of a new luxury brand from the Bangkok-based Centara hotel group. August will see the launch of Avani Chaweng Samui Hotel & Beach Club (doubles from US$186) just a few doors down, where the 80 rooms and suites — and the public spaces — offer a contemporary take on the midcentury modern aesthetic.
Also read: Checking In: Centara Reserve Samui
Raise a glass to Bangkok’s top cocktail bars
The Thai capital is brimming with bartending talent and world-class watering holes that will satisfy even the most discerning drinkers. Buenos Aires–inspired BKK Social Club at the Four Seasons only opened its doors in December 2020, but under the leadership of veteran mixologist Philip Bischoff — who was previously at Singapore’s acclaimed Manhattan — the retro-glam venue placed tenth in the latest rankings of Asia’s 50 Best Bars. Another hot spot is Charoenkrung favorite Tropic City (No. 17), where the rum-focused tipples use advanced techniques like fat-washing and clarification, and feature complex flavors nodding to tropical regions around the world. At Vesper (No. 19), Italian bar manager Federico Balzarini pours playful, avant-garde concoctions like Pizza/Pineapple, a blend of Scotch, Chinato, oregano, pineapple, clarified tomato water, and salt and pepper. Foraged ingredients or items grown in-house go into the creations at Asia Today (No. 43), where signature drink Eastern Honey Bee reflects founder Niks Anuman-Rajadhon’s taste for honey. A fixture of the local nightlife scene since 1953, The Bamboo Bar (No. 46) at the Mandarin Oriental has been lauded for its latest cocktail menu, which pays tribute to Bangkok’s urban buzz and the natural landscapes of Thailand.
Travel Tip: For updates on Thailand’s reopening and the latest entry requirements, visit tatnews.org.