The entrance driveway into the Hyatt at Hua Hin is a small sidestreet along one of the main arteries feeding into the city center. Dotted with local bars and restaurants including the ubiquitous center offering authentic Thai massage, it could be any other street along a designated resort area. But as you enter into the main driveway, you know that you’ve arrived at a uniquely Thai destination.
The iconic lanna or steeply angled roof of Thai architecture that looms above is reminiscent of the palms pressed against one another in the traditional Thai greeting of Sawatdee-kah. As one enters, the cool air wafts into the lobby while one can hear a distant waterfall trickle into some unseen pool. With the soft and strange strings of the khim, its ethereal sound pervades throughout.
But I am getting beside myself. We actually arrived at the Hyatt on a quiet and lonely morning, before the sunrise, and long before the birds would herald the arrival of another day. From the Suvarnhabumi airport at 11 p.m. we were quickly processed in immigration and ushered through the customs area straight into the waiting arms of the Hyatt Hua Hin airport contacts into our chauffeured hotel limousine. We were only too glad that all roads leading to Hua Hin were paved to run quietly as we dozed off in the dark unwary of the mute silence of the life around us until hunger hit us midway there and we just had to stop anywhere. Whether we drove off some sidestreet or just turned off a beaten track, we had our first taste of Tom Yam (sour soup with seafood), Kai Jao (egg omelet with chicken and mushroom) and Pad Gra Pao Pla Meuk (squid with basil). Satiated and tired, we dove deeper into the Thai night, until our arrival at the Hyatt. In the darkness, we did not see the concave pointed roofs, nor the active nightlife, but instead descended into a quiet solitude of a single reception hostess, still elegant despite the late hour and in a hushed tone greeted us with the traditional Sawatdee-kah. As we were led through what seemed like a maze of hallways into our rooms, all that was left was to settle into the air-conditioned comfort of our rooms.
The Regency Club exemplifies the leisurely pace and comfort of exclusivity extended to guests who prefer a little more privacy while enjoying the Hyatt touch. The breakfast and lounge area fronting the pool for Regency Club guests overlooks a koi pond with gently gurgling waters creating an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. In and of itself, this alone was enough to shake off the frenetic arrival we had been to just the night before. Decorated and appointed with dark wood furniture and the hushed but attentive staff and butlers, it was a welcome respite for us after the restful albeit short sleep of the evening past. Today was the day for our meet and greet with our hosts from the public relations department, Patty Lerwittayaskul and Monrudee Paisampreukkul. A mouthful for the couple of petite young ladies of the public relations team, Patty and May were there with the traditional wai greeting—palms pressed against each other and held close to the chest—and the slightest of bows bending slightly at the waist and head tilted down towards the tips of the pressed palms, accompanied by a demure Sawatdee-kah. The recipient can reciprocate with a slightly watered down version of the wai and a smile. This can be used for hello, goodbye, thank you, sorry, and a whole host of other meanings and greetings. Suffice it for us non-Thais to return the gesture with a smile.
The grand tour of the facilities were surprisingly brief and quite unlike the others we’ve grown accustomed to with discussions on the property, and how it grew from the turn of the century to what it is today. The 250-meter stretch of fine sandy beach was already a major attraction of the property and the Regency Club in its exclusivity a pleasure in and of itself. The hotel’s restaurants and outlets were pictures of crisp efficiency and hospitality of the Hyatt, enhanced by the uniquely Thai touch of friendliness. We were mildly surprised by the seeming casual manner in which we were taken around the property. All this time regaled with the opulent luxury of the Barai Residential spa. It piqued our curiosity to find out what this was all about.
Off to one corner of the property stood a square-ish stone structure, seemingly a fortress of sorts, a stucco edifice painted a dull red, and with an unobtrusive entrance in brass simply stating The Barai Spa.
As we approached the entrance, Patty tells us about how legendary architect Lek Bunnag took his inspiration for the design of the structure from the Khmer heritage of old but the big idea was to enter the Barai and step into another world where the “where” becomes some other worldly location, where the “now” becomes some other ephemeral vestige of another time and where you leave all your worldly worries behind. “. . . each stepping stone is supposed to slow you down. . .” Patty muses, and we tell ourselves yeah right…but, as we take each measured step on the stepping stones, indeed the world suddenly seems to screech to a halt and a noticeable calm envelops our little group. The vestibule begins the experience through a corridor shrouded in darkness. With nothing but recessed pinlights on the floor along the wall leading to what appears to be some natural light streaming in from some unseen opening, very much like looking at the light at the end of a tunnel. With shutters shooting away, we walk slowly, carefully along this corridor and as we reach the end, it veers sharply left to open up to a more brightly lit turn with star shaped portholes allowing the natural light to stream in. “You should see this at dusk, when the shapes of the stars are visible against the wall”. You have to understand that at this point, everything seems so surreal and it simply feels like we have stepped into another space and time, that the rest of the descriptions we hear just seem like some far off echo. Set against the far wall is a diamond cum tear drop shaped opening that leads into the tranquility pool. It’s a serene central foyer with the pool dominating the square alcove, with water… just water…evoking an even greater sense of calm. Surprisingly we speak in hushed voices, as if some other worldly power has taken over. “Please enjoy your treatment . . .we’ve chosen fire to revitalize you” as Patty makes her exit through what door we can no longer tell. We are led through what seems like a maze of carefully manicured sand gardens within hallways that seem to go on forever, with sand sculptures of the goddess Asparas, with hints of her bodice, hair and figure tucked away within the inner walls. Each treatment room has its own outdoor bath, resplendent in silks, marble tiles and rain showers. Opulence would be too timid a word to describe the feelings we had as we relished the splendor of the treatment of fresh herbs, warmed in gentle steam to release the essential oils of basil, turmeric and a host of other scents mixing with the gentle music wafting in the treatment room. The afternoon passes ever so quickly as we perform our own version of the wai and leave the treatment behind. As if it weren’t enough, our exit through the back door to the McFarland House is preceded by a garden of tranquility with large granite rocks seemingly haphazard in their arrangements, an organized chaos of sorts. As we sit back in the shade of a magnificently restored turn of the century wooden house, we feast on pomelo salad, crab spring rolls and succulent shrimp, there is no conversation, just the feeling of contentment and satisfaction, revitalized and refreshed.
The general manager of the Hyatt in Hua Hin, Sammy Carolus spoke to us about how the Barai is a destination in itself and is very well known not only in Thailand but across Asia. As an Indonesian in Thailand he never feels far from home which is Bali, although having started in Sales, he understands that each aspect of the hotel’s operations must be just right in the right combinations to provide the success each property seeks. The 250-meter stretch of open beach fronting the hotel is unique in all Hua Hin as the Hyatt is the only one that can lay claim to that much beachfront. He would like to see Krabi but also makes special mention of the Philippines’ Boracay as a destination one must see. The staff feel a closeness to their GM that they had not had with any other manager and we see the inspiration he provides to everyone their with their attention to detail and the insistence on providing superior service.
The evening sped by with a pleathora of Thai curries covering the entire range of colors. From bright yellow seafood, to the murky green chicken proceeding, to an odd orange curry of mussel and pineapple, to the fiery red roast duck, each dish stimulating our salivaries and sweat glands to a healthy crescendo. With traditional Thai music and dance to create the atmosphere of Thai gentility and grace, all too soon, this trip had ended and from the moment we stepped onto the Hyatt, through the quiet nights of solitude in our rooms, and most especially the life changing experience at the Barai, coupled with the exclusivity of the Regency club, Hua Hin has become one distinct and memorable stay that will stay with us for a very long time. This well traveled road to Hua Hin we will be taking again.