Hua Hin, a historic resort on Thailand’s Gulf Coast, is just a three-hour drive from Bangkok, but it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of the capital and perfect for a twin-centre holiday.
A long-time holiday retreat for the Thai royal family, the area boasts the Thailand’s oldest golf course, the Royal Hua Hin. If clients have only a week to spare, or want to focus on Bangkok but fancy two or three days’ respite by the sea, Hua Hin is just the tonic.
Chiva-Som, the Six Senses, Marriott and Anantara groups all have a big spa presence here, and more recent hotel additions include the Veranda in Cha Am, the whitewashed beachfront Aleenta Resort and Spa and the Putahracsa, which opened last month.
Minimalist seaside restaurants, designer boutiques to rival any in Bangkok and an annual jazz festival have upped the resort’s ‘hip’ factor considerably in the past few years, yet the ambience remains one of a laid-back fishing village.
But it’s the award-winning Chiva-Som that put Hua Hin on the international map. This is where a post-natal Liz Hurley emerged, svelte and sexier than ever following a 14-day stint, and the guest roll call has included Tom Hanks, the Duchess of York, Kate Moss, Kylie Minogue, Sadie Frost and Naomi Campbell. No wonder cameras in public areas are forbidden.
Despite its cast of A-listers, Chiva-Som is refreshingly unpretentious – dressing gowns are great levellers. It’s regeneration that counts here, and despite the fact that wine, cigarettes, mobiles and children under 16 are not allowed, guests can’t seem to get enough. One I met was into his fourth week.
So what drives people back to a hotel that frowns on alcohol? It’s the completely holistic ‘mind, body and spirit’ approach to the daily routine. At Chiva-Som wellness is the raison d’être, not an added indulgence. On arrival guests undergo a spa consultation, during which trained therapists can tailor a personal wellness package from a vast range of treatments.
In keeping with the holistic approach, Chiva-Som’s calorie-controlled cuisine is free of salt, oil, fat or sugar. My first spa meal, consisting of a coconut-cream Thai soup, lamb with roasted pepper mash and a sticky date pudding, weighed in at around 200 calories.
Every drink, piece of fruit and speck of dust comes with a calorie label attached. And there’s cold comfort in the mini bar, where an apple juice (120 calories) and a wheat-free snack bar is as dangerous as it gets.
But who needs wine when happiness is on the menu? I treated my mind, body and spirit to a holistic stress management consultation: hot-stone and Thai massages and a back-to-the-womb flotation treatment.
Within a day I had learnt to cha-cha, made international friends and become cocooned in a veritable bubble of Chiva-Som wellness that had me walking, eating and thinking in a lower gear.
Know your Asian twin-centres
Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are all popular long-haul stopovers for passengers travelling on to Australia. But they also have good potential for twin-centre holidays:
Singapore with Sentosa
The island is heavily investing in its island resort of Sentosa, just 20 minutes from the central business district and famed for its butterfly reserve and theme park.
Singapore with Bintan
A tropical island whose pristine beaches lie a 45-minute fast-ferry ride away from Singapore. Although officially part of Indonesia, there are no visa requirements. As well as a slew of luxury resorts including the Banyan Tree and Anantara resorts, Bintan is great for snorkelling, diving, watersports, golf and spa treatment.
Hong Kong with Hainan
Hong Kong works well with the up-and-coming island of Hainan, a former British colony. It has three islands of its own – Lamma, Cheung Chau and Lantau. The latter is particularly popular with walkers and hikers.
Hong Kong with Macau
Hong Kong is an excellent base from which to explore Macau, whose historical centre was recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s accessed in one hour by high-speed catamaran from Hong Kong’s Central ferry pier and return journeys cost less than £15.
Kuala Lumpur with Langkawi
Like Thailand, Malaysia also has the advantage of an attractive city hub. The city and beach combo of Kuala Lumpur and Penang is an easy sell and self-drives (Malaysians drive on the left) are also popular.
Tropical Locations has a twin-centre Bangkok and Hua Hin holiday staying three nights at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok and seven at the Veranda in Cha-Am from £930 per person including flights and breakfast. Single nights at the Chiva-Som cost £220 per person on a full-board basis. Treatments are excluded.
Travel 2 has one night at the four-star Hua Hin Marriott Resort and Spa from £51 per person per night twin-share on a room-only basis between January 11 and April 16. Guests booking before February 28 for stays between April 17 and October 31 will receive a 15% discount on food and beverages at the hotel.