Anantara offer luxury hotels with a unique ambience in Thailand – the Anantara Golden Triangle in particular offers guests a spectacular retreat with beautiful mountain views of Laos, Myanmar and the Mekhong river
Just back from a four day stay at the Anantara Golden Triangle, a treat for my birthday and an escape from the madness of Bangkok. Anantara are a luxury hotel chain here in Thailand with exclusive properties in The Golden Triangle (near Chiang Rai), Hua Hin and Koh Samui – they’ve specialised in creating hotels that are above and beyond the usual international 5 star glass-and-steel blocks. Instead, Anantara specialises in hotels that are heavily influenced by traditional Thai architecture and aesthetics, creating a quite magical atmosphere. This is particularly true of the Anantara Golden Triangle – the hotel is quite remote, an hour’s drive from Chiang Rai airport, perched at the top of a hill surrounded by several acres of beautiful landscaped garden. Entering into the Anantara is like shaking off the real world – there is a large open-air marble hallway decorated with elephant statues opening into a soaring atrium intricately built of timber. The main restaurant and Opium Bar both lie off this main lobby, both fully open to the spectacular views of Myanmar and the Laos mountains just the other side of the Mekhong river.
The rooms are also dominated by this view, with a generous sized balcony from which to enjoy it. Each room’s balcony is out of view from the others. Floor to ceiling glass windows mean that you can take in the view from air-conditioned comfort too if you prefer. The rooms themselves are quite small but extremely well laid out, using the usual Thai style of dark wood and white walls. The bathroom features a huge marble bath and powerful shower, while the bedroom also has a mini-bar, hairdryer, robes and slippers, tea and coffee making facilities and a huge great TV, along with a stereo and a DVD player on which you can watch complimentary movies borrowed from reception.
Once you’ve arrived at the Anantara, you’re probably not going to want to leave – its seclusion means that trips even to the nearby small town of Sop Ruak require a lift from one of the hotel’s chauffeurs – easily arranged, but a bit of a drag for going out to dinner. This is not really a problem, as the hotel has two excellent restaurants – the main restaurant which shares the high ceiling of the atrium and the more intimate Baan Dahlia, which is ostensibly an Italian restaurant but serves a great selection of international cuisine. We dined there twice and the sirloin steak, lamb cutlets and chicken polenta were all perfectly done.
All this luxury comes with a hefty price tag. Food and drink at Anantara are expensive – you’ll pay 140 Baht (plus tax!) for a small bottle of Heineken, twice what you would pay for the same beer in a Bangkok bar – and the lack of other, easy eating options means that you should budget accordingly to avoid having a heart attack when the bill arrives. Similarly, the Anantara seems to charge extra for everything, even drinking water, which is a necessity due to Thailand’s tap water being unsafe to drink – rather than serve complimentary water with all meals as I’d expect, Anantara charges 40 Baht (plus tax) per small bottle. Bizarrely, housekeeping will deliver as much water as you like to your room for free. As such, make sure you have some space on your credit card to cover your final bill, because it will be substantial. If you’re expecting that, then it won’t spoil your stay.
We tried out one of the Anantara Spa’s treatments, the Indian Head Massage. The Spa itself is beautifully laid out and a short walk from the main building – it’s certainly achieves its aim as a place to relax its clients. As for the treatment, I wasn’t so impressed – it seemed much more designed for pampering rather than actually achieving any physical therapeutic effect, a style over substance affair. The cost by European standards are cheaper-than-usual – £40 for a one hour massage – but exorbitant by Thai standards. I wish I’d tried the Anantara’s version of the Thai Traditional Massage so I could compare it with the weekly two hour massage I get in Bangkok for 450 Baht – £8! The Anantara Spa is definitely a “lifestyle” sort of thing, designed to make you feel good but with little long lasting effect.
Grumbling about costs aside, I have to say that our stay at the Anantara Golden Triangle was great. We’d gone there for the express purpose of doing very little and it proved perfect as a place to retreat. Our room was magically quiet – it felt like no one else was around. The staff were extremely friendly, helpful and competent – we had a shaky start with our airport taxi’s air-con not working, and a mix up with being given the wrong room, but they solved the problems quickly and efficiently. All of the staff also spoke excellent English, and Room Service was prompt, ensuring food arrived piping hot. For me, a hotel’s staff are what make or break my enjoyment of staying there. A clean room, comfortable bed and hot shower are quite easy to organise, but having staff who anticipate your needs and move quickly to remedy any problems is invaluable, and Anantara’s staff are to be commended for looking after their guests extremely well.
The staff were also helpful in organising our small excursions – a trip to the Opium Hall, an excellent museum about the history and impact of opium in the region (the Golden Triangle being a notorious opium smuggling region between Laos, Thailand and Burma until recently); and a longtail boat trip down the Mekhong River to the Laos island of Don Sao, where you can buy lots of silks and textiles and (joy!) Beer Lao. You don’t need your passport or Laotian money: the vendors accept Baht and are well used to visiting tourists. There’s also an elephant camp within the Anantara’s grounds – you can go and meet the mahouts who look after them and learn about how they take care of the elephants and take part in helping to wash them down, as well as have some driving lessons too. Anantara’s elephant camp helps look after several elephants who would otherwise have uncertain futures.
In summary then, the Anantara is the perfect place to go if you are looking to completely relax for a few days and do comparatively little in a beautiful, one-of-a-kind luxury environment. The Opium Bar, large swimming pool and restaurants provide plenty of places to spend the day, as well as your own room’s balcony – and there are the aforementioned excursions, plus the Spa treatments and Thai Cookery courses as well if you need to do something a bit more active. The Anantara is not so ideal if you want a base to explore the region – you are probably better off staying in Chiang Rai. However, as a retreat from the world and a place to forget the stress of everyday life, the Anantara Golden Triangle is hard to beat.