Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Racha Experience

The Experience

The bay on Koh Racha
Racha, it's Thai word for King, and the experience lives up to her name. Woke up every morning in her lush rooms, opened them wide doors and there a full blown spectacle of layered ocean blue. The waves as they grew tall approaching the satin shores, into a concave wall of cyan blue so clear I saw. It was painting in motion, a canvas of saturated colors. The hue of blue permeated through me. And the breeze, enveloped me she did, ever reverberating, ever present. The morning sun, her slight tint of yellow reflected off all the white villas, the skies clear, saw for miles. The emotion came natural, a surreal feel of vacation can't describe in words. It was the place, the time, the setting so right. Paradise.

Fine Sand
7 years ago I was here. Her beach ridden with dead coral bits from the tsunami back then had grinded down into the finest white powdered sand my feet had ever walked. Clean, white, gentle wide shoreline enclosed in a pleasant bay we played. Waddled through receding waters after the waves broke shore, the easy incline made the retreat a prolong episode as the water thins out. My foot sank, in fine white they were embraced. My mind was just overcharged with the experience that there was nothing else that could pollute my thoughts. It was relaxation pure, there weren't a hint of work that could breach that sphere of peace I got. Unwind.

Getting to the Island

How we Arrived
Getting to this resort required a boat ride from Chalong pier. Getting to the pier from the airport was a hefty 800 Baht ride by airport limousine. Save yourself the trouble of hunting for a metered taxi, they may cost more and you may end up somewhere you may not want in the hands of illegal touts. Anyway the sign boards announce loud the standard pricing from the airport to the various destinations on Phuket, so pay attention to those and you shall be safe. These months, the rain should have stopped. But climate change in our lifetime made the weather unpredictable. Storm clouds built and bleak the sunny shores, the gust churned the blue oceans into choppy peaks. The ride was a roller coaster, don't eat too much before the 45 minutes journey thus. Voices heard, the trip provided by The Racha costly. But had you research and then you will appreciate the ride offered by the resort in her twin outboard private boats. Public operators charges the same to the island, but I bet they do not offer the same appeasing ride The Racha could. Large and spacious her boats were, this trip for me, laden with only less than 10 passengers on her two craft convey. Yeah, they could well have packed us up like sardines using only one boat, but that's the practice of other boat operators and not The Racha.

Days on the Island

As the late morning approached, like crabs on a migratory journey on Christmas Island, we saw hordes of day trippers marched and descended the slope side of the resort making their way onto the shore for whatever mating and spawning fantasy they had on their minds. Not too pleasant the experience as we had to share the secluded shores with them sometimes rather rowdy and rude crowd. They mingled and tried to breach the resort grounds, security was busy explaining to them the notion of private grounds. A mix of people from all corners of the world. Certain culture are born with over reactive salivating glands, and this particular flock walked and spew phlegm everywhere. Could be an inherited genetic defect. Some crowds were however well behaved and I was really impressed with them. There was a cheery bunch that looked like they came out of Pirates of the Caribbean. The Pirate Lord of the Indian Ocean and his crew actually carried with them plastic bags which they collected the beer cans after they had gulp its merry making contents down. They left the beach in the late afternoon leaving no trace of their visit.

So Bright....
Beyond 10 am, the beach will be a bustle of activities. Those hours left me flabbergasted at times at the sight of super bright luminous bikini swimwear the Asian ladies wore. They imitated all possible grace from b-grade magazines while the shutters clicked away. Bright colors in nature are actually warning signs to other predators that consuming them would be a bad idea because of poison, so those ladies were safe and were not eaten by sharks. The crowd merged into the rows of beach umbrellas and chairs on the left section of the bay. Those were rented out by independent operators who forcefully infiltrated the grounds desiring a piece of the profit pie. I do hope they do not grow beyond the rows of 2 which was already poisoning the tranquility and turning that corner into mini Pattaya. I was told during peak season, there could be up to 4 rows and that was disheartening.

Depending on the season, the waters in the bay will be a calm or choppy. This month of August, strong waves rolled in synch with seasonal winds that blew onshore. Snorkeling is not possible without smacking into rock formations or guzzling down salt water. But it offered a chance for many to try mini surfing, boards rented out again by independent operators who built an unsightly shack in the middle of the otherwise un-spoilt shorelines. Staff of the resort told me, during year end this part of the island will be flat calm as the wind blows on the other side of Koh Racha. However, during those good times, The Racha will have to move her floating jetty over. The jetty then becomes a platform for the day trippers to beach as well, the bay will be an infestation of moored boats. Snorkeling could mean smacking into hulls of boats and guzzling down diesel fumes if you venture out carelessly.

Floating in the Bay
The serenity returned later in the afternoon past 3 pm. The day trippers migrated back up the hill to the other side of the island where The Racha's floating jetty was located. When the last of the day trippers had left, The Racha deployed their band of beach cleansers cleansing up the entire shoreline. Such noble greatness The Racha, to keep the beach pristine and to clean up the carnage left by others. The beach belongs to the government, it is not private and deeply I wished it could be. We had to share her splendor for those few hours. Fortunately for us, we had the advantage to retreat back into the resort where her amenities plenty whenever we needed.

The Ongoing Battle

The Chinese have Came
Racha is idyllically located on the island within a bay blessed with magnificent white shores and inviting waters. Unfortunately, this spot is also exploited by many profiteers and the results are them bringing on the nasty day trippers so well documented in so many other reviews about The Racha. That was the only sour bit of the trip but come on, the world do not revolve about us. I could jolly well live with those few hours of unpleasantness by finding other things to indulge within the resort away from the mob. It is not the resort's fault that the crowd cannot be controlled, in numbers and in behavior. While I was here 7 years ago, the day trippers were significantly fewer. The mix of visitors, inclusive of hotel guests, were a majority of Caucasians and a small number of Japanese. This year, this season that I visited, just gazing out in idleness and between moments of thought, I was really lead to believe the Chinese was setting up Koh Racha as a base for their naval beach invasion.

Mini Pattaya
The local Thai profiteers will not give a second thought to the tranquility that The Racha tries her best to offer her guest. They just come and set up shop all over the place bringing filth and unpleasantness along, all they wanted is cash. Its though the negotiations must have been for The Racha and the independent businesses with the former trying to keep them in check. I wondered sometimes if the authorities in Phuket actually have control over these stubborn operators limiting what they can do and where they can carry out their shoddy business overcharging the tourist. I believe they come and they go whenever and wherever, evidence from the sheds on the bay which were left abandoned and to rot in the corrosive salty air. But looking on the bright side, these structures offered an interesting backdrop for any photographer with a keen eye for subjects, I did.

In tune truly with nature, fortunately no concrete jetty was erected on the island as permanent eyesores breaking the curvature of her bays. The only way for The Racha to get her guests on shore was the use of The Racha's floating jetty which I mentioned. Unfortunately, this means sharing the only way of getting on and offshore with the public. This could be quite a nasty landing experience for some if our arrival and departure coincides with the hours when the day trippers arrive and leave. Most of the marauding invaders were likely never educated on Archimedes Principle of Flotation and moral education during their deprived childhood. They did not make way for us trying to do our best from falling into the water with our bags and cameras on the unstable platform. Two of those idiots actually ran and stomped on the jetty in our opposite direction brushing rudely across and beside us in a hurry, throwing us almost off balance.

The Main Pool
I wondered how the security staffs could differentiate who was hotel guest and who not. Magically, they were able to allow me to waltz into the compound and not let the day trippers through. Management must have trained them to have photographic memory. It will always be an ongoing battle between The Racha and those surrounding who are always trying to expand their encroachment and make quick profit. I don't think this will ever change and my favoritism will always be with The Racha. The small operators are only keen in taking advantage of The Racha's environmental conscious effort to keep the bay in harmony with nature.

Retreating Back

Club Del Mare
The main pool overlooked the beach with her high construction above the diner. On the infinity edge we were and chatted. On occasions the sea breeze strong it grew and the water flipped unnaturally upwards into a spray of misty droplets that soared over our heads. A lap or two we sometimes did but most of the time we just lazed and sipped coffee or that gin tonic ordered we did. Other days we were in her garden pool that was adorned with tall trees that swayed gracefully in the wind. At times the sky grew dark and the rain fell heavy but that did not douse our spirits. What was different from 7 years ago was that now The Racha featured a third pool at the foot of a hill fringing the resort grounds. It was tastefully christened Club Del Mare and the food offered was equally tasteful. Meals offered were reasonably priced in tune with the portion, extremely good service and the exquisite settings. With many pools also means the chance for one to hide effectively should one need a break from babbling wives, she will take at least an hour to find you. And if you are lucky, the sun would be out and that could successfully drive her back into the villa leaving you in peace for the rest of the day.

Waters so Clear
With any tropical island resort means the possibility of a million bites from mozzies and sand flies. Amazingly, somehow the resort had this under control. Unlike other beach destinations we went, we do not need to drink insect repellent and have it ooze out our sweat pores just to potently prevent them bites. Giant monitor lizards occasionally stroll the resort grounds so in case you need an adrenaline rush, you could try capturing one and wrestle with them fun creatures. If you are a cat lover like me, there are aplenty of them that originate from a restaurant of classic wooden built nested at the foot of a hill on the right side of the bay. These island born cats accompanied the guest sometimes as they strolled the beach and I was tempted to test out if cats could surf. I was also surprised at the sight of a mountain goat that made its way every day to the small rocky outcrop above the water in front of Club Del Mare. There it lazed staring at us people, wondering if them bright bikini ladies will be consumed by sharks. Goat shared the view with me as I gazed into the horizon looking for signs of fin.

I'll be Back

Other than additional amenities, nothing had changed compared to the first time I was here. Still The Racha maintained her captivating essence and her villas had not deteriorated from fine mist of the sea. Maintenance crew could sometimes be seen retouching the walls showcasing the ongoing effort management had put in to upkeep The Racha's charm. This will not be the last time I will be here. I had travelled 9 years to cover most shores in Thailand. I cannot find elsewhere luxury strategically located in front of a sheltered mesmerizing shore, the fine white sands that embraced me, they crystalline waters of the Andaman. I was living in a painting for those 4 days. The beauty of which I had captured forever as I did my pre-wedding photography session within. I did not protest the sum when my card was swiped because I knew it was going in for a good cause. We all should appreciate the effort it takes The Racha to maintain the sparkle of her environment even though it is not under her control. The results of which are for us to fully immerse, body and soul, and sink into the enchanted vista as one. Not many places here can balance the comfort offered by manmade infrastructures and the pureness of immaculate nature. The Racha, her amazing management did.

See here for full photo set under The Racha Experiece 2013.

The waves are string in August

Shack where boards are Rented Out

Abandoned for Now

The Rain Came

Day Trippers Came in These

Day Trippers Marching to Beach

The Bay from a Hill

So Wide, So White

Strolling When there are no Day Trippers

Looking Out

Day Trippers mixed with Hotel Guest

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Happy Weekdays at Guti

It was a Thursday, and the journey was easy, way easier then leaving on weekends when getting to Hua Hin could take five hours in the nasty traffic. We left at almost 7 am and reached the resort at 9. Incredible the record time, but again, this was only possible on a weekday. I was there at Aka Guti, within the vicinity of Blank Mountain where springing up are the countless holiday residential developments, a large country club and the recently completed water park. I skipped the water park, we were there for a company team building trip. And yes, it was absolutely good. There were heaps of alcohol, lots of trashing about and silly things that went on which I will not blog about. What I want to transcribe, is just the Guti experience, a romance with the greenery, the scenery and the retreat the resort could offer.

The Pool in Villa
Set in our villa between the 2 sleeping rooms, the infinity pool I floated. Staring up the grey skies, the fine droplets fell all around. The circular ripples broke shape sides of me. I could just make out the outlines of clouds if I stared l long enough in stillness. These months were the rainy season. The view out and beyond into the mountains bordering the Kingdom, the pastures surrounding stretching wide. There at the edge of the pool I rested my head, the morning freshness I breathed.
The villas fringing the resort offered the best views, the sunset is spectacular I heard. Spending time sprawled on the breach chairs in the late afternoon, within the privacy of a villa, the smell of a hot brewed coffee from the Nespresso machine, with the skies transiting through the colors of dusk. I wished I did that but this trip those hours, I was in my meetings. Next time I will. These villas that offered the best views have two sleeping rooms that slept four in total. Each with its own large bathroom and a stone bathtub in a setting of bamboo walls. I am not sure if just a couple on a holiday are allowed to take these up, for if not one will have to take on the one bedroom villas which are nested higher up the gentle hills. The view would be overlooking the roofs of others.

The Common Pool
The pool within the villas are already sizable, but if it laps you want to do for that morning exercise, then the enormous hotel pool you will have to head to. Of infinity concept, the inviting water blends with the landscape beyond. Someone brought a ball and when there's a ball, any team of hot blooded Thai men will instinctively start kicking it around till it turns into a game of soccer. Ok no field, so instead they instinctively started throwing it about the water and turned it into a game of water polo. We were there breaking the peace.
Beside laid the eatery, a sumptuous buffet breakfast was served. A network of footpaths links the resort, the avenues through foliage a pleasant walk. The occasional golf buggy ferrying laundry and housekeeping staffs we had to made way for. As we stopped our chatter wherever we were at Guti, only the resonance of insects and birds we heard. The night before we sat in a group by the pool within one of the villas and played cards into the wee hours. The coolness of the air through our tropical clothes, the cold beer the accompanying contentment. In between our breaks from ranting about bad cards, only the enveloping calmness and the darkest of night beyond our orange porch lights.

The Pool in Villa
Weekdays at the Guti, other than my company dominating the resort taking up five of the villas, there were only one or two others taken up by other guest. So if it is privacy one wants, then weekdays will be the answer. So it is for the rest of the resorts in Hua Hin, and back again on weekdays I will for the enchanting experience.

Villa Front

The Breakfast