I was 15 in 2004 and vividly remember watching footage of the Boxing Day tsunami on television. A friend from school was in Thailand at the time and I remember him describing the sound of the rushing water as he sheltered with his family on the top floor of their hotel. At that age my furthest trip abroad was Europe; I’d never been to Thailand and knew absolutely nothing about it. As I reached my late teens and early twenties my perceptions of Thailand were shaped by stories of friends’ gap years, photos of their sunset cartwheels and gargantuan cocktail buckets at debauched full moon parties. Finally making the trip aged 29 for two weeks (not long enough) has at last opened my eyes to what Thailand is all about: big-hearted people, colourful culture, sunsets of dreams (fewer cartwheels though, much higher risk of injury now I’m over 25) and food that I’d fly back for tomorrow.
When we booked The Sarojin we knew nothing about its story or that of Khao Lak. We chose it solely on aesthetics and the prospect of much needed beach time following a week in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I will leave you to read about The Sarojin’s origins. I won’t dwell on the hotel’s past too much because I want to talk about its present. The hotel is defined by exquisite, heart-warming hospitality; arriving there was like being welcomed home by my parents at Christmas.
Our flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket earlier that day was unremarkable apart from a mild feeling of panic when it looked like we were landing on the beach until the runway appeared seconds before we touched down. After an hour heading north on a motorway our taxi turned down a lane and meandered through groves of rubber trees until we pulled into the landscaped drive of The Sarojin. I was greeted with a leafy bouquet and we were led to some sofas where we dabbed our faces with cool, freshly scented towels and toasted our stay with a juice flavoured with the plant that grows in the hotel’s grounds. We were overwhelmed with tranquility.
We had arrived early and as we waited for our room to be ready we followed a winding pathway to the beach, which was already dotted with bronzed sun-seekers and happy children. I hopped about excitedly as something darting along the sand turned out to be a tiny hermit crab scurrying towards the sea. Wildlife in central London leaves a lot to be desired unless you’re a fox spotter, so a hermit crab in the wild was super exciting.
Later in our stay Murtie beckoned me out of the pool because he’d spotted a water monitor making its way stealthily across the grass. Seeing it was magical; I haven’t felt wonder like that in a long time.
Once we’d dusted the sand off our feet outside our garden room we cracked open our complimentary sparkling wine and spent half an hour admiring every spotless surface, the neatly folded towels, the luxurious waterfall shower and later, wondering how we would scoop out the pink rose petals floating in the bath tub.
I can’t say I’ve stayed in that many luxury hotels and I suppose if you’re in them all the time then you might not appreciate the luxury and little details. I can safely say that The Sarojin is the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in for one distinct reason: the little details. Whether we were by the pool, eating breakfast or walking to our room, we noticed little details: grounds staff wished us good day, cold water/ juice and fruit at the pool, folded towels in the shape of animals on our bed and palm leaf sculptures on our pillows.
I’m contemplating the next sentence and I’m salivating. The food at The Sarojin is the best I’ve eaten at a hotel. Ever. It’s inclusion in the Michelin guide is deserved. I can taste the French toast with perfectly cubed fresh fruit and sweet maple syrup. Their all-day breakfast concept is one I fully got on board with. Sitting under a canopy looking out over lush green grass, listening to the bubbling water feature and twitter of birdsong, eating our way through the menu was the defining, joyful moment from our honeymoon. If you drew a Venn diagram of Murtie and I, the linking circle would be food. When I say we ate our way through the menu, we absolutely did. Even if our choices got a bit lost in translation; my request for avocado on toast with poached eggs came as a beautifully plated avocado sandwich with poached eggs. I was not complaining, sandwiches are great.
We tried everything on the Thai breakfast menu over our 7 days including mee sapam (egg noddles with shrimp and squid), phad se-eiw (wok friend rice noodles with chicken and dark soya sauce), Thai omelette and congee. Next we went onto sweets and devoured banana pancakes, French toast and waffles, finishing our ‘breakfasts’ each day with a cheese board. I can’t put into words how happy I was eating all the food. All day. For 7 days. If heaven exists, it’s the all-day breakfast at The Sarojin.
As a kind gift to us on our honeymoon we were treated to a five course tasting menu for dinner. I must apologise for the lack of photos because it was by candlelight and I didn’t want to interrupt our romantic dinner by trying to take photos for Instagram. Here is the menu:
I won’t describe each course, but each one was as delicious and intriguing as the next, and paired perfectly with the wine. Both of us winced drinking the dessert wine as the sugar hit our teeth and it was the only glass that wasn’t emptied that evening.
We spent the next few days exploring Khao Lak early in the morning, taking the hotel’s push bikes to Sai Rung waterfall, spotting Kingfishers and cicadas on telegraph wires, and along the cape to coconut beach.
Once we returned to the hotel we had leisurely breakfasts/lunches and chilled by the pool or beach, sheltering occasionally from the unpredictable but spectacular tropical storms that appeared and disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
We returned to our room on our penultimate night to find a letter inviting us to a staff meet and greet that evening. It was wonderful to meet the people behind the little details, who were each introduced by name, role and how long they’d been part of the Sarojin family. The hotel manager, Mr Kade, kindly introduced me to the head chef, who told me about his career and passion for creating beautiful food. If we hadn’t book a day-long excursion for our final day I’d have stayed longer to take him up on the kind offer of a cooking lesson.
By candlelight we ate our evening meal in the hotel: fish cakes and sea food pizza, the portions so big we took our leftovers back to our room for a midnight snack.
On our final day in Khao Lak we took a longboat ride through the mangroves and rocky outcrops of the Phang Nga Bay. We’d booked the excursion through The Sarojin and it showed: a supply of cool, fresh towels to dab our faces, a cool box of drinks and a hospitable guide who shared her interminable knowledge of the area with us at every opportune moment. We kayaked around the bays, laying down to float inside the rocky caves with awe and wonder at nature. A few times we came across plastic and polystyrene in the water, which our guide responsibly gathered onto the kayak to remove. We posed like idiots on James Bond Island, Khao Phing Kan, and later stopped at Koh Panyee, a Muslim community on stilts in the middle of the bay. Here our guide set up a veritable feast of stir fry, prawn and chicken tempura, fried rice and fresh pineapple overlooking the view. We returned to dry land an hour later and were driven to the ‘monkey temple’, Wat Suwan Kuha, and watched from afar as they demolished bananas and pushed each other into a tin bath of muddy water.
We were inevitably sad to leave The Sarojin to catch our flight home the next morning. We were, however, gratefully surprised by our pre-ordered breakfast boxes, which were enormous and included a variety of pastries and muffins, and a scrambled egg and smoked salmon wrap with fresh orange juice. It was delightful, although we were a bit sad not to enjoy the all-day breakfast one last time.
I’m writing this a few months on and I genuinely feel a bit emotional about the experience we had at The Sarojin. Despite collecting insect bites and sunburn, I loved every moment of staying of there and would fly back tomorrow if work would let me. I’ll fondly remember the cheeky Burmese striped squirrels chasing each other at breakfast, the couples who relentlessly hogged the prime-spot day beds at the pool, and the adorable misspelling of ‘Honeymoon’ on our bed when we first arrived.
I’ll never forget the jolly voice of a Thai lady saying ‘sawasdee kah!’ to every passer-by of her bar, and the delicious pineapple shakes we drank out of coconuts sitting 10 metres in front of a derelict hotel swimming pool destroyed 15 years ago. We felt uneasy, unnerved and yet humbled. It felt important that we were there, witnesses to the visible reminders of past devastation. The twisted tree roots and broken rocks on the beach have become part of the landscape, and life in Khao Lak goes on.
The Sarojin gave me one complimentary evening meal having seen some of my Instagram photos. I have received no payment for this article and it is a 100% honest review. I bloomin’ loved the place!!