Tuesday 9 December 2014

Top 10 Thai Luxury Resorts

NZ Let's Travel magazine recently polled some of the top travel writers about their choice of luxury Thailand resorts. Here's their verdict:

Saturday 15 November 2014

Two ways to do Phuket - Pool villas or resorts

While I have become a regular to Thailand, my visit to Phuket was the first time I'd stayed in this famously rumbustious resort town. No, I'm not going to dwell on the kaleidoscope of entertainment options assaulting you as you navigate bustling Bangla Road - there are better sites for that information - but rather on choosing appropriate accommodation to suit the kind of relaxation you, you partner and/or family have in mind.

The raucous New Tiger nightclub is one of the 'colourful' venues
along bustling Bangla Road (source: phuket101.net)

To illustrate my point, I stayed two nights in each of two contrasting properties. One, a sprawling 665-room resort, the other, a secluded 16-villa private sanctuary. And, as you can imagine, there are plenty of options in between.

Apart from selecting the style of property you want to stay at, location is another prime consideration. Taxis around the island can be exorbitant by Thai standards, so you don't want to be taking them everyday to get to your activities. If you want your action close to riotous Bangla Road, then there are several branded hotels within an easy stumble from the front line melee.

Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spaphuketarcadia.hilton.com

Set on a massive 75-acre plot, the 665-room Hilton is around 25 years old but has had numerous rooms upgraded as recently as 2011 in the Deluxe Plus category. Entry-level Deluxe are the same size without the recent decorative refurbishments, but are no less comfortable. Above that are the more spacious Junior Suites, but these are yet to undergo refurbishment. There are a dozen or so super-plush Hilton Suites, but I wasn't able to view these.

One of the seven buildings at that make up the
Hilton Arcadia Phuket (supplied)
The resort comprises seven distinct buildings and includes The Spa, children's club, tennis and squash courts (yes, remember them?), extensive business and conference facilities, a massive, scalable ballroom and a fitness centre. There's across-the-road access to upscale Karon Beach or you can swim in any of the three pools.

Refurbished Deluxe Plus room (supplied)

Access to downtown is via a 30-minute cab ride, not something you want to be doing every day. The resort also offer their own transfers, but these are not always available or practical.

While this type of resort is fine for families and groups, it might not appeal to honeymooners or those seeking peace and quiet. For this rejuvenating purpose, I would recommend something like:

The Bell Pool Villa Resortthebellphuket.com

Self-contained pool villa at The Bell.
Like having your own resort. (supplied)

You can insulate yourself from as much of the outside as you want, making this almost a Howard Hughes experience.

These fabulous 3-y-o villas are fully self-contained behind a high wall and gate with private (8x4m) infinity pool and cabana. Separate bedrooms, living area and kitchen means you can blissfully enjoy your own company (or that of loved ones) while you make your own meals or have them delivered from the kitchen. Need to get out a bit? Stroll down to Zhong, the in-house restaurant, or take the free shuttle to nearby Kamala Beach or downtown Patong.

Breakfast served in your private villa (supplied)
See more images of The Bell Phuket

Perfect for couples, but expandable using the separate bedrooms, each villa can be configured to accommodate up to six persons, seven at a pinch.

There are just 16 villas, 14 standard and two 'Presidential', the latter being able to sleep 8 persons thanks to a fourth bedroom. Watch a movie on the big screen TV or use the nifty Apple TV device provided. There's a private (chargeable) wine 'cellar', free Wi-Fi and spa treatments at the exclusive in-house salon.

So, take your pick. Join in the throng or find your own private hideaway, the choice is yours.


More information on Phuket and Thailand can be always be found at: www.thailand.net.au

Saturday 24 May 2014

A luxury love nest near Lamai, Samui, Thailand.

"We are a hotel for lovers," says Khun Nok, with a cheeky sparkle in her eyes. Indeed, lounging in the airy reception area is a bit like watching something from Noah's Ark ... the couples come in two by two. No families. No solo travellers.

I didn't ask her what percentage would be honeymooners, but I suspect a lot. For Villa Nalinnadda is billed as a small luxury romantic hotel. Even the dining area on the sand near the pool has only two tables. And the hotel itself, only a handful of rooms.

The chaos and madness of Chaweng is a long way from this love nest. In a good way. This villa is just south of Lamai, which has enough bright lights, bars and restaurants for those who want to come up for air.

The dazzling white rooms are purpose-built. Centre stage are large four-poster beds, and a sumptuous tub. The top floor rooms feature a jacuzzi-style tub on the balcony. To lie there amid the bubbles, gazing into your lover's eyes - or even at the milky way above - is a prelude to love and romance. There is no turning back!

"Some more conservative Thais complain about this," says Nok. "How can you make it so ... so ... obvious," she chuckles. But a seedy love motel this is NOT. All the fixtures and fittings are beautifully and carefully selected. Like the feather-decked curtains, adding an indulgent orgiastic feel. I note, though, that the standard mini-bar supplies don't include condoms.

And breakfast can be served in your room, at the reasonable waking hour of your choice.Then the day is yours, recline around the pool, or to amble along the beach with resident spaniel Pistacchio waggling along with you.

Just nearby is the setting off point for Samui's famous fleet of squid boats, who dot the horizon at night with their green floodlights.

A wry reminder that everything is "GO" at this villa. In a raunchy red-light romantic kind of way.


So you want to teach in Thailand? What you should learn first ...

Think of English teaching as a cultural adventure.
Thailand is a seductive place. No wonder then I get asked fairly regularly about staying on in Thailand, finding a job and living here. And the common place to start is teaching English. Many long-termers have all been there before, and they'd be lying to you if they said they’d never put a tie on and stood in front of a classroom of kids.

I did this once, with a room full of nursing students in Chiang Mai teaching them relative pronouns and split infinitives. But this is not a letter to Penthouse.

Those who are young, carefree and looking for a bit of adventure certainly can find work in Thailand, thanks to a healthy demand (and urgent NEED) for foreign teachers. The blonder and more blue eyed, the better here! The world of TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), as it’s commonly known here in Thailand, has helped travellers live and work abroad for a few decades now. Here in Thailand, with its reliance on the tourist dollar, everyone wants to learn English, and you shouldn’t have too much difficulty landing a job.

So, how do you become a TEFL teacher? Do you buy a certificate at the Khao San Road? Or step into a classroom and wing it with some youtube inspired games? Not quite. The local ministry of education actually take things quite seriously. Afterall, the Thai teachers all have teaching degrees and earn $500 a month, so a scruffy backpacker shouldn’t expect to waltz into the classroom and demand $1,000 plus perks.

For one, you’ll need a degree (in any subject) before you can get a temporary teaching licence. If you stay longer than four years – believe me, many get 'stuck' here for life – you’ll need to eventually study for a teaching diploma to get a permanent licence. This you can do online, apparently there are several courses offered by foreign universities.

Here’s the funny bit, you won’t need a TEFL certificate. That’s because there’s no central governing body in the TEFL world I’m told. Some TEFLs are good and some are ‘shophouse’, if you know what I mean. The Teacher’s Council don’t make it a requirement, but chaps (and ladies) do yourself a favour; lots of hard working middle-class moms have paid good money for their cherubs to sit in front of a ‘farang’ face. At least go to the trouble of getting properly trained. The recruiters will pay much more attention to your CV!

There’s some two dozen schools offering the standard one-month TEFL course in Thailand, this is the benchmark recognised the world over. The online courses don’t cut the mustard, apparently. If it costs less than $1,300 then it’s probably too good to be true. If you’re going to spend a month of your life studying, don’t skimp (save on the Beer Leo's instead).

There’s some rival accreditations, CELTA is a well known but intense one, but some of the other international networks are just as good. The main thing is to check out each centre, what their reviews are like, how established they are, and whether they are connected to recruiters who will offer you a job as a rookie teacher. Be warned, there’s lots of hubris out there about ‘accreditation’.

Here’s five things to look for in a good TEFL course

1.   Well established with properly qualified staff, who have a track-record in training
2.   An accreditation that is credible and backed by some international organisation, not local
3.   Conducts proper class-room practicums and gives you a test at the end
4.   Capable of setting you up with decent job interviews afterwards
5.   Professional facilities, and accommodation assistance

Another consideration is where you wish to study. Remember, you’re coming over here for a month, the course is demanding, so choose a laid-back, comfortable place that doesn’t have too many distractions. And a ridiculously low cost of living. Chiang Mai - where I used to live and have blogged about lots - is clearly a good option for this. Uni-tefl Thailand is one school I’ve heard good things about (in fact I've used their training facilities before, for an unrelated workshop).

And finally, let’s not forget the most important part - where to find a job?

Jobs are numerous on Ajarn.com  

As a rookie teacher you can expect to start on 30,000 baht a month ($1,000), with the tiger’s share of jobs in Bangkok. Forget a gig at the beach or in Chiang Mai. TEFL job vacancies in these places are as scarce as a Thai Prime Minister who survives full term. If you’re up for a cultural adventure consider one of the many provincial jobs on offer, you’ll earn the same but have far greater chance of saving. Think of it as an internship among the charming country towns you wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. 

Tip of the Hat: Thanks to Andrew Bell for supplementary information and wisdom.