Unimpeded by rainy weather, REENA KARIM soaks in the tropical landscaping and luxurious villa living at the Sheraton Villas Pranburi.
I dip my toes into the still waters of the infinity pool, only to jerk them back a second later. The clear blue water, as inviting as it looks, is icy cold. The weatherman forecasts a gloomy Saturday with no sun in sight. I am so mad right now. Why is it that the day I find myself in the most luxurious pool villa in the otherwise sunny Pranburi, the gods quite literally rain on my parade?
Instead of sulking and going under the comforting duvet, I settle for a catnap in the outdoor sala, watching rain drops cause ripples in the pool. What a tease.
Forced to ditch the pool, I embrace the bathtub instead. The sunken marble bathtub stands just outside my bedroom shaded by the thatched pavilion and flanked on three sides by lily ponds. I empty one whole pack of the moisturising bath salt and settle right in. The water jets gently massage my feet as I go through the complimentary fruit basket and soak in the tranquility of the tropical garden in the courtyard. There is really nothing like the privacy of having your own pool villa, cut away from the world and safely fortified by rustic red mud walls. When I am pruned just enough, I go back indoors.
With Hua Hin fast getting overcrowded, Pranburi has positioned itself as the new weekend hotspot. The relatively uninhabited sandy coastline gives tourists a peaceful alternative to the congested beaches of Hua Hin. Sheraton Villas is located across the road from the Pranburi beach and is an easy three-hour drive from Bangkok and about 25 kilometres from Hua Hin. Formerly a part of Evason Hua Hin Six Senses and still sharing a common wall and a pathway to the beach, the 55 pool–villa property was given a makeover and opened to guests under the Sheraton brand in November. The beachfront property spreads its 55 Thai-style thatched villas in a network of soi like side streets. The private villas are cocooned by crimson mud walls and lush tropical greenery. All of Sheraton’s villas are smoke-free, with the exception of a few designated public smoking areas. By 2014, the property will become totally non-smoking.
Guests can choose between one-bedroom pool villas, pool villa suites with an additional living room, and duplex pool villa suites with a ground-floor living room and the bedroom on the first floor, all with the option of garden or ocean view. All villas come with private pools and the service of professional butlers. Early next year, the Sheraton will expand to include a public swimming pool, fitness club, and a beach bar.
My boyfriend and I are staying in at a one-bedroom pool villa, and the open-plan bedroom features every girl’s fantasy—a canopied king-sized bed topped with a cozy duvet. Also in the bedroom is a spacious daybed, perfect for the many afternoon siestas I am planning to take, a study table with a personalised welcome letter from the management, and modern appliances such as an LCD television, DVD player, iHome docking station, and high-speed Internet, in case I want to reach out to the world. The room comes with a mini bar, a goody drawer packed with refreshments, and an array of organic teas and coffee along with an espresso machine. A wall behind the bed separates the living space from the vanity. The outdoor rainforest sprinklers and indoor shower area are appointed with Sheraton’s line of exclusive bath products.
Later in the afternoon, I meet my hostess, Kwan, the assistant marketing communications manager, at the Dalah Restaurant. We choose a table in the middle of the airy pavilion and go straight to the menu. The all-day eatery serves a compact menu of Thai and Asian favourites and a few Western dishes that are made using seasonal and organic produce. I, of course, am interested in trying some of their specials, so I give the reins over to Anan, the restaurant manager. We sample some of the more common Thai dishes such as grilled chicken satay, seafood salad, and tom kha kai. Saving the best for last, Anan brings out deep-fried prawn wrapped in cha phlu (betel) leaves served alongside sweet and sour sauce. The crunchy and herby dish is without a doubt the highlight.
After our hearty lunch, Kwan gives my boyfriend and me a tour of the property. From the Dalah, we walk past several lily ponds, a lovely design aesthetic spread all over the hotel, including the villas, onto the red cemented road that runs through the hotel. Guests and staff of the hotel pass us on bicycles, greeting us as they go by. Foreseeing my next question, Kwan points out that I can get my own bicycle from the reception area and ride around the property and explore the beach and the Phraya Nakhon Caves nearby. Our bliss is cut short by the looming dark clouds, and taking the rain drops as our cue, we head back to the villa, and I indulge in another short nap, this time on the spacious daybed inside. At around four, I am ready for high tea. I go back to the Dalah, this time choosing to sit in one of the recessed gazebos located in the middle of the dreamy lotus pond. I waited for my cup of black coffee and passion fruit cheesecake. Until then, butterflies swarming the lilies keep me company.
We return for dinner at 7pm and by then the restaurant has already received its first round of diners. A Filipino band plays on one side, while chefs at the live station grill on the barbecue. The extensive Saturday-special buffet has a selection of meats, seafood, and vegetables, grilled to order and served at your table. The salad station features some of my favourite yams and also a banana flower and bamboo shoot fusion that is just delightful. I haven’t even gotten to the main course yet. The mains feature a range of Thai dishes such as salmon red curry, vegetables in oyster sauce, and squid tossed in black pepper. Dessert consists of an assortment of cakes and pastries, and homemade ice cream. Post dinner, Anan suggests I try one of their signature cocktails. I opt for the Berry Vojito, a refreshing mix of vodka, soda water and wild berries.
By 9:30pm, guests are retiring to their villas, and the band is slowly winding down. But we are not ready to call it a day. The skies have just cleared, and we are not going to miss this opportunity. So we call and invite some of our friends over from Hua Hin. Much to my delight, they bring with them a huge bottle of red wine and a cheese and honey platter. We settle into the villa’s outdoor sala, turn up the music, and have a wonderful evening. Even though the villas are ideal for honeymooners, they also make for a perfect getaway with friends or even a bachelorette party. The two-bedroom pool villa suite for four would be great if our friends were staying over. The Sheraton Villas also has the option of a private barbecue set up outside and a server on hand to complete the soiree.
The next morning, we head to Dalah to indulge in a rich breakfast buffet. The spread is a good start to the day and also helps me recuperate from last night’s shenanigans. I especially enjoy Sheraton’s special croissant. It tastes even better with Camembert and guava jam.
After breakfast, I request an in-room massage. Before the treatment begins, Malisa, my therapist, asks me a few questions to determine the pressure and essential oils suitable for my body type. For 90 minutes, Malisa’s tender hands work miracles and give me an energising blended massage using aromatherapy, traditional Thai, and sports massage techniques together with liberal amounts of fresh orange and peppermint oil. Right from the welcome drink to the villa set up, the smell of scented oil to the post-treatment ginger tea, Sheraton’s wellness treatments have been well thought-out to suit individual needs. Their concise treatment menu features a variety of massages and therapies that draws inspiration from Thailand’s ancient health and beauty rituals.
Later that afternoon, the sun finally shows up and I decide to venture out again, but not without my trusty umbrella. I am not sure what it is about the peaceful soundscape of nature, but these walks, which I have been taking a few times every day, have turned into a ritual that I look forward to. The peace and quiet of my surroundings is a restorative pause from my fast-paced city life. I rest briefly on one of wooden benches placed around the property and enjoy the tranquility of the ambience. My path is shaded by a continuous canopy of greenery and the chatter of birds. I watch as dragonflies buzz by, butterflies flutter, and all sorts of exotic insects scurry around my feet. The ants, unfazed by my presence, go about their errands, meticulously carrying food supplies into tiny mounds. The sound of running water from the tributary that flows through the hotel makes the whole experience complete. It is like being in an imaginary Zen garden. I sit here while everyone from the gardener to the housekeeping staff keeps greeting me. Some of them seem to know my name, and ask me how my day is going. All I can really say is, “Perfect, simply perfect.”
It finally comes down to the end of my two-day stay. Of course, it is only the day I am leaving that the sun is shining brightly. But even with the weather looming over us like the proverbial wet blanket, I’ve had a wonderful trip.
Published in Masala magazine Bangkok December 2013, vol 5 Issue 3