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Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist – 22 Nov 2006

It’s a family affair

I arrived at Khao Lak courtesy of Thai Airways, to be met by Gay from Pacific World. In no time at all I’d been transferred and installed in the Sarojin Hotel, an award-winning resort that lives up to its soubriquet – ‘Asia’s leading boutique hotel’.

Its success is largely owing to the vision of its founders, Andrew and Kate Kemp. Naming their establishment after the mythical Lady Sarojin, daughter of a prominent Thai nobleman and a hostess whose care of her father’s guests was legendary, Andrew and Kate hope her spirit is evident in their own resort.

The Kemps are extraordinary people. Three weeks before their dream of opening a hotel was to become a reality, the tsunami hit. It would have been easy to abandon the project and throw themselves on the mercy of the insurance companies, but that’s not their style. Committed to their Thai staff and the local community, they took a lead when it became apparent help would be some time in coming.

Throughout the crisis, staff were paid their regular wages plus an ‘earthquake bonus’, enabling them to remain in the region to rebuild their homes. The couple distributed lunchboxes to the workers involved in the clear-up.

Each room in the hotel is named after a staff member as a tribute to their loyalty.

A visit to Cape Pakarang only confirmed how significant their contribution has been. A fully operational boatyard has been established with help from the Kemps, the combined efforts of a small group of US donors and volunteers from the Tsunami Volunteer Centre in Khao Lak.  One new traditional long-tail boat is made every five days and each boat built goes to a fisherman whose vessel was destroyed in the Boxing Day disaster.

In a world riddled with exploitation, it is a privilege to stay in a place whose very existence is an expression of mutual respect and co-operation. To find out more, visit the website at tsunamiboatproject.com.

The Sarajin Hotel is fabulous beyond imagination, with every detail considered. Kate told me the only input she had was the stipulation that the rim of the bath should be wide enough to accommodate a champagne glass. Now that’s magic!

The property is spacious and borders a beautiful beach and rainforest. And there’s no shortage of things to do, from a visit to the Pathways Spa, to elephant trekking and jungle walks, white-water rafting, Thai cooking classes and a swim safari. It’s a month’s-worth of TV reality shows in one trip.

I enjoyed visiting Khao Lak village, which is making an inspiring recovery. Shopkeepers are happy to see tourists back and are only too willing to yell “best price, best price!” and mean it.

Paradise found

It was sad to say goodbye to Kate and her team, but it was time to move on to Koh Yao and the Paradise Hotel. The boat ride took an exhilarating hour. Forget Casino Royale, I was doing the James Bond thing for real.

This four-star hotel offers thatched bungalows that would make great little hideaways for honeymooners. I sipped my mai tai and considered whether or not I had the balance required to climb into a hammock on a sandy beach without losing my dignity.

For the more physical, there are activities galore – snorkelling, diving and island hopping, rounded off by a seafood barbecue accompanied by a chorus of night frogs.

Jungle fever

Like a frog leaping between lily pads, I was off again, heading for my final destination of Tubkaak Krabi Boutique Resort.

If Tarzan and Jane had designed a resort, this is how it would be. Ten houses built into a jungle landscape. The owner was adamant that no tree would suffer to create the resort so you shouldn’t be surprised to find trees growing through the floor of the dining room.

Again, this serene retreat would be perfect for couples – champagne and candles are the order of the day. The night market at Ao Nang makes for fun shopping too; I managed a bit before my Eva Air flight home.

I remain convinced; I will never tire of Thailand.

Maureen Hill works at Wessex World Travel, Gillingham, Dorset

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