Tuesday, 16 February 2010
It's not often you get a completely 360-degree views from anywhere. But here, perched on top of a steep hill overlooking the lush undulating cattle country of Khao Yai (Thai for 'valley full of really tasty cows'), that's exactly what you get.
The new Sala -- just weeks old -- sits like an eagle's nest with the main stilted building on top, and the villas dug into the hillside around it, out of sight, thereby preserving the wrap-around panoramic views, and creating maximum privacy for guests. The downside? Climbing the 10,000 stairs to access it, so leave your wheelchair at home.
We arrive about an hour before sunset and, although the term breath-taking is cliched, it can and must be used here in the real sense. The simple natural beauty of this setting will make you gasp (or maybe it was just me recovering from the walk up the steps).
Some guests emerge from their sunken villas to sit on their personal rooftop sofas -- see photo -- and take in the evening breeze. It's almost spiritual. The infinity pool glows pink. The lake below glows gold. And my face glows red from the cocktail Khun Kwanchai has offered me. 'Six o'clock every night,' says Khun Kwanchai, glancing at his watch, as the crimson sun sinks behind the big mountain which gives this area its name.
Smiling staff pad about the outdoor restaurant deck. The total staff count is 16. Now if that doesn't sound a lot, consider that there are only 7 rooms/villas in this boutique property, each with a maximum occupancy of three persons (well you need someone to operate video on a romantic getaway weekend, don't you?). Which means 16 staff for 21 people maximum. But most would be couples. So that makes it roughly a 1:1 staff ratio. Like a 360-degree view, you don't find that in many places.
Candles are lit as crickets chirp. The outdoor table on the pool-deck is set. The moon is nearly full. And a million stars come out to play. A star gazer's paradise far from any city lights, indeed the small town of Khao Yai itself is a good 20 km away and is still largely battery-operated anyway. Jing jing!
Then dinner is served. A wonderful sirloin and veggies for just 950 baht. Well, you've gotta have red meat when you're in cattle country. 'Mmmmm ... thhchstkzzrllygreht,' I say to Kwanchai. I really shouldn't talk with my mouth full. This steak is really great, is what I meant to say. 'Fresh from Australia,' he tells me. 'From Australia?' 'Well, Thai beef is ...,' he raises his eyebrows, rolls his eyes ...
The affable Kwanchai knows his stuff. Fresh from a stint opening the InterCon in Hua Hin, the Bangkokian is relishing the sanity-restoring country life here. Indeed Khao Yai is a popular getaway for Bangkokians, being only two to three hours' drive to this veritable shangri-la, where vineyards flourish (yes, a very northerly tropic to be growing grapes but wineries such as PB flourish here making quite drinkable reds and whites, although I find it best to serve them later at night). There are also a number of golf courses. And of course the verdant Khao Yai National Park itself. All a million miles mentally from Bangkok.
Then there is more wine. I'm sure we have some dessert. Some more wine ... and ... fade to black. A magnificently memorable evening, if only I could remember it.
This is where a 1:1 staff ratio is frankly just not good enough. I'm going to need at least two people two carry me down the stairs ...