Stepping from the air conditioned terminal into the humidity-laden chaos of Phuket International Airport, I anxiously peer through the throng of arriving travellers and their greeters. I’m searching for someone holding a board with my name on it but it’s hard to distinguish one placard from another, which are all bobbing up and down in the crowd.
Moving away from the mass I spot an immaculately pressed white tunic with the Sarojin Hotel logo embossed on it. Moving closer, the man wearing the tunic turns and I see an attractive man holding a card with my name printed on it. Gratefully I introduce myself and receive in return the traditional Thai welcome: Than bows his head, placing his hands together at chest level and greets me with a smiling 'sawasdee' before he whisks my luggage away and beckons me to a waiting 4WD limousine.
Retreating into air conditioned comfort I’m handed a cool scented towel along with a be-ribboned welcome letter that invites me to partake of any of the refreshments or music choices on board for the 80 minute transfer to Khao Lak. The drive to boutique resort The Sarojin takes a tantalising turn. Perusing the room service menu, which I’m advised I can order now and the order will be rung through to be waiting in my room upon arrival, I’m tempted by a Thai favourite: mu sap bai kraphao (crumbled fried pork with basil).
Leaving Phuket Island behind, the road to Khao Lak passes through large towns and small villages interspersed with thick jungle foliage overhanging the road. Eventually we return to the coast, winding down through sharp bends as beachfront hotels clinging to the cliffs of southern Khao Lak start to appear. It’s a pretty drive that allows the time to pass swiftly and one that is far more enjoyable than the drive south from Phuket Airport to the tourist hubs that most visitors opt for.
Arriving at The Sarojin is an event that seems to send the staff into a delighted frenzy. Presented with a bunch of wild orchids, check in is processed seamlessly over a cool glass of fresh juice and more refreshingly chilled towels.
But it's when I'm shown to my Pool Villa, complete with plunge pool, alfresco massage cabana within the villa's enclosed gardens and split level guest room that I feel truly blessed. Miraculously my luggage is already in the room and my flowers, which I inadvertently left on the coffee table prior to taking the scenic route to my room, have been placed in a vase on the work desk. The serenity of this luxurious enclave is blissfully palpable.
The Sarojin distinguishes itself from the plethora of swanky hotels on this unspoilt stretch of sand with its strong service focus. Guided by the spirit of Lady Sarojin (the resorts speedboat bears the same name), the eldest daughter of a Thai nobleman, she became mistress of her fathers' house. Responsible for the comfort of her father's guests, Lady Sarojin pursued the vocation of passionate hospitality with the household renowned for its hospitality, comfort and appeal. The Sarojin follows this same ethos of exceptional service and attention.
It's a philosophy that is apparent throughout. Staff name tags are a case in point. They are large enough for even the most short-sighted guest to see. By allowing guests to readily know staff members name it creates an immediate intimacy that encourages interaction. And staff seem to genuinely enjoy providing personal interaction. Sure, every five star hotel says their staff offer superb customer service. At The Sarojin, they seem to have lifted the bar ever so slightly higher.
The hotel oozes an easy relaxed ambience that encourages guests to linger over a long leisurely breakfast by serving an la carte breakfast menu all day. In the late afternoon as twilight descends, the beachfront bar and restaurant becomes the place to hang out with tables and chairs scattered across the sand beneath the coconut palms. As wavelets lap the shore and candles are lit to enhance the mood: it's the sort of place that encourages romance. Appropriately, children under 12 years are not welcome and should be left at home. Feeling rather melancholy travelling alone, I wish my own lover was also not left at home.
Verdict: Highly recommended for couples or families with children older than 12yrs
Fiona Harper was a guest of The Sarojin