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Issue 10
Africa Travel> Issue 10
UPDATED: December 9, 2014
Thai'd and Gone to Heaven
Exploring the delights of Thailand
By Jo Kromberg

The tranquillity of Grand Beach (JO KROMBERG)

"Would like some champagne, madam?" The soft, beautifully accented voice of the airhostess is accompanied by an equally beautiful smile. I nod enthusiastically, smiling back like a Cheshire cat and slump deeper into my huge, plush seat. We are on a 12 and a half hour flight to Thailand via Hong Kong and I feel like royalty. It took Cathay Pacific two years from design to production to develop the premium economy cabin where we find ourselves in and they did an excellent job.

The space feels a lot more exclusive than economy, with just four rows in a 2-4-2 configuration. The seats themselves are very comfortable and wide, with an eight-inch recline, soft cushioning and a headrest. I watch my favourite show (the in-flight entertainment options are numerous and varied with noise-cancelling head phones) for what seems like minutes before an excellent meal is served shortly after take-off. One of the great advantages of Premium economy class on Cathay Pacific is that you get the choice of three of the four meal options available to business class – and the drinks options include 12-year old premium scotch! The service and food on this airline is the best I have ever experienced and I have flown on four other Asian airlines. Asian airlines are of course the benchmark, since the others just don't count anymore... And then there is that little extra secret superior feeling you get when you walk past the long economy class queues together with first and business class passengers. I fall asleep in my plush seat and the hours fly by, yes pun intended...


It is hot and sticky as we alight from our Dragon Air transit flight at Phuket from Hong Kong, another three and a half hours later. Phuket Airport is busy as hell so it is with great relief that I immediately spot our Destination Asia transfer driver. Another two and half hours later we stop in front of the beautiful Centara Anda Dhevi Resort & Spa in Krabi, our abode for next two nights. Krabi is set on the edge of Phang Na Bay and all along the road from the airport the green-clad cliffs and towering limestone islands like emerald skyscrapers leave me awestruck. Krabi is also known for its caves and hidden beaches, its fishermen's villages and a wild beauty unlike anywhere else in Thailand. The Centara Anda Dhevi Resort & Spa Krabi is a family-friendly resort that is located about 5 minutes' walk away from the soft sands of Nopparatthara Beach, and is also conveniently close to the centre of Ao Nang, with its quaint little shops and restaurants. The hotel lobby is wonderfully airy and light and the staff are super friendly and helpful. Our very nice double room is on fourth floor overlooks the courtyard massive quart yard pool. A slight whiff of disinfectant in the room is a bit overpowering but two minutes after having opened the balcony door and been assaulted by the noise outside, I choose the bleach smell instead and close the door quickly.

It also appears we are meters from a full blown construction site with foundations being laid for a hotel next door but luckily I was assured that by the time you read this, the noise will have subsided. And then like in the Chris de Burg song, the rain came down – as in torrential - and we couldn't escape the confines of the room. We are offered a dinner special – a two-for-one set choice between a Thai meal and a Western meal. In other words, you pay for one meal and get two. The food is absolutely fantastic – probably the most tasty and well-cooked fish I have ever had.

We literally pass out very early after dinner in the gargantuan bed and I sleep the sleep of the innocent all night. Breakfast the next morning is a lovely affair – along with all the usual buffet options, the hotel offers a myriad of hot Chinese dishes as along with a Bloody Mary should one choose to start the day with a kick. We are picked up by an Asian Destination vehicle for our excursion to James Bond Island – yes that one featured in the movie Dr No. "Twennee mieraah," says the driver after I enquire about the length of our journey to said island. Twenty minutes I believe he said but I was very obviously mistaken because an hour and a half layer after having done a milk run of picking up various other tourist we stop at the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi – en route to the jetty to catch a boat!

This Buddhist temple is one of the most sacred sites in the province with truly breathtaking giant tall Buddha statues inside the massive cave and the strenuous flight of stairs to reach the summit - 1272 small steps to be precise. This is an option I do not exercise since I am beginning to feel decidedly light-headed ad nauseas from the sweltering heat and humidity. "You feer seeck?" asks Mr Koh, our driver, at the sight of my obviously white, sweaty pallor. Or was it Mr Doh? Perhaps Mr Ray or Me? I don't know, names in Thailand are short one word monikers which one assumes one might remember, yet...Anyway, it becomes quite clear that I have to abort this James Bond mission in favour if medical assistance. Mr Koh kindly finds us a pharmacy and even though she doesn't speak any English, the most amazing doctor/pharmacists lady gives me tablets for nausea as well as peppermint oil and apricot extract gratis! And this where the tablets only cost $3 anyway... We take a taxi back to the hotel and after a rest in the glorious coolness of the room and the healing medicine I feel much better and we go for a swim in the gargantuan pool with its swim-up bar. We meet the delightful General Manager Sven for cocktails later and then decide to head to the streets for the evening.

We eat street food at one of the many authentic roadside food stalls and we get eight delicious tempura prawns for about $3... We drink coconut milk from the coconut. The night is hot and sultry as we walk along the boardwalk next to the crashing sea and we find a lone little beach pub with Bob Marley strains where we linger under the stars, drinking ice-cold beer. Life is good.

Centara Grand Beach Resort

The next morning as we say our long goodbyes, Khun Nui, the hotel's PR manager rushes up to me and hands me a package containing the book The Teachings of the Buddha that I had enquired about – as a gift!

We catch a boat from Nopparatthara Pier to Centara Grand Beach Resort and Villas, about a 10-munyte boat ride away on the same peninsula but set within its own bay. The day is beautiful and the scene of translucently blue, blue waters straight out of the movies. The 5-star Resort is located in a national park and hugged by huge mountains on both sides. It looms in front of us like a slow-motion, animated postcard as we get closer. We are welcomed by General Manger David and have a drink by the pool, gazing out over the perfect beach as we wait for our room to be readied.

A golf cart takes us up into the hills and our villa is revealed – a vision to behold. We have and uninterrupted view of the Andaman sea. Designed in a modern Thai style, with high ceilings and spacious living areas of at least 72 square metres dominated by wooden accents, stone features and soothing colours, the villa is a study in tranquillity.

The resort offers a choice of ocean-view rooms, romantic retreats with a Jacuzzi on the balcony overlooking the sea– which we have - and private villas with plunge pools. Special rooms for families have two double beds, accommodating up to 3 adults or 2 adults and 3 children, and a selection of rooms with connecting balcony is available upon request.

The grand life - sunset on Grand Beach (IZAK VAN ZYL)

After a swim in the tranquil, tepid sea we are invited to dinner by the amazing management. As we are sipping cocktails at the beach bar, watching the setting sun, the smell if frangipani wafts on the warm breeze to the sound of soft music as tiki lamps and candles are lit up on the tables and the beach. Waves softly lap the beach and first stars make their twinkly appearance. This must be one of the most romantic places on the planet. Dinner is at an intimate table for two on the beach with soft lighting and we are staving. We wolf down the delicious starters of spring rolls and dipping sauces but little do we know what is to come. Tom Yum soup (which could power the national grid with its heat but really addictively delicious), Vegetable satay, deep-fried river prawns, chicken curry, fish, mango salad, pineapple fried rice with seafood... and it keeps coming.

Zafford, the wonderful and very funny FNB Manager, earlier asked me if we had any preferences food-wise or if we ate everything, to which I replied in the affirmative. I didn't realise he meant literally EVERYTHING! Later I languish in my Jacuzzi, assimilating my surrounds. In the full moon, the rock formation in the sea below rises about ten stories high out of the black ocean like a silent, gigantic finger of God into the dark sky with its million stars.

Next month I will tell you the rest of my magnificent Thailand adventure! You would not want to miss it.

Jo Kromberg would like to thank The Tourism Authority of Thailand for co-ordinating our entire trip, by bringing in the different partners such as Destination Asia, Centara Resorts and Hotels and Elephant Hills.

You can find them at http://www.tourismthailand.org/

Email: Lesley@amazingthailandsa.co.za


Centara Resorts and Hotels:

Whether you have money to burn or are on a tight budget, Centara Resorts and Hotels will cater for all tastes and budgets. Go to http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/index.asp

Destination Asia:

This company specialises in Indochina travel and will arrange everything for you so that you can enjoy the perfect holiday! Contact them at http://www.destination-asia.com/

The Holiday Factory:

Contact The Holiday Factory for amazing, tailor-made holidays and special offers to Thailand, Mauritius, Zanzibar and many more destinations from South Africa at http://www.theholidayfactory.co.za/

Tel: 027 11 233 2300

Email: sandy@theholidayfactory.co.za


Getting there:

From Hong Kong:

Cathay Pacific's sister airline, Dragonair, flies from Hong Kong to Phuket twice daily. Go to http://www.cathaypacific.com/cx/en_HK.html for special offers, information and bookings.

From South Africa:

Cathay Pacific flies to Phuket via Hong Kong from South Africa every day of the week. Go to http://www.cathaypacific.com/cx/en_ZA.html for special offers, information and bookings.

Cathay Pacific named 'Best Asian Airline Serving China' at 2014 Business Traveller China Awards

Cathay Pacific Airways was recently named "Best Asian Airline serving China" in the 2014 Business Traveller China Awards. The annual awards, now in their 10th year, are decided by frequent travellers who vote for their favourite hospitality groups and airlines across the industry.

Cathay Pacific General Manager China Paul Loo, who accepted the award on behalf of the airline, said: "I would like to thank all the Business Traveller China readers who voted for us, as well as our Cathay Pacific team for their hard work in making us the preferred Asian airline serving Mainland China. As Hong Kong's home carrier, we are committed to providing a quality travel experience to all our passengers and developing Hong Kong as a premier aviation hub and gateway to Mainland China for travellers from around the world."

This latest honour comes on top of a number of other awards received by the airline in 2014, including the "World's Best Airline" award in the World Airline Awards run by Skytrax and the "Best North Asian Airline" honour at the 25th Annual TTG Travel Awards.

Cathay Pacific has been making significant investments to improve its customer offering and cement its position as one of the world's most highly regarded premium international carriers, including expanding its fleet and networks, refreshing aircraft cabins across its entire fleet along and upgrading lounges around its international network.

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