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Apsara Resort, Khao Lak, Thailand.

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    Apsara Resort, Khao Lak, Thailand.

    Eager on maximising the stay at my previous accommodation at Paresa Resort, I'd decided against the time involved in figuring out local buses or negotiating cheaper taxis from elsewhere in Phuket. So I simply enjoyed the scenery while relaxing in air-conditioned luxury for the less than two-hour journey across from the island to the neighbouring province of Phang Nga. The resort I was heading for was well away from any town, at the more far-flung reaches of what is collectively called Khao Lak.

    The driver slowed down to a crawl, anxious not to miss the turning. Once off the main highway we meandered along a country road to the coast, turning sharply back south at a junction (it was scarcely a village) with a couple of local restaurants, and on along the beach past several other resort hotels whose names were familiar to me from the initial planning of my trip. Apsara Beachfront Resort is, literally, at the end of the road.

    There was a huddle of tuk-tuks and a taxi or two at the road end, but a barrier was raised and my driver routed around the rear of the property to where the reception was located.

    After my very special luxury splurge of the previous two days, and although Khao Lak in general and this area in particular are far away from the excessively touristy areas of Phuket, I was prepared for something of a culture shock. Despite the welcoming drink and refreshing towel, my first impression of the reception at Apsara did indeed have something of a holiday camp feel about it. Perhaps it was the somewhat retro touches of décor - the reception counter‘s light blue fascia painted with flecks of white suggesting sky or surf in a seaside sort of way. Perhaps it was that I'd arrived just after lunch at a busy time with scantily clad folk coming and going, a queue building up at Enquiries and around a Tour Desk, a Holiday Rep type clutching a clip board, a lingering aroma of sun-cream.

    Last edited by Seagull; July 12th, 2014, 18:07. Reason: ...added link...

    That photo, doesn't really convey any of this, and the corner of the reception desk scarcely peeps into the extreme right hand edge of the panorama. My photos were taken later at a quieter time of day. But everywhere seemed busy and bustling as I was accompanied to my room by one of the reception staff. She was not Thai but European - from Germany or Eastern Europe perhaps - and chatted as she pointed out the various facilities on the way.

    It felt breezelessly hot, the grass sun-browned in contrast to the green jungle undergrowth I'd become accustomed too. Almost entirely European guests around the pool and sun-beds, many tanned and more sun-browned than the grass, others just-arrived pink and slapping on the sun-cream. The row of flags and those column things amused me, recalling the Pleasure Beach of my holiday resort Blackpool childhood home.



      The upper floor bedroom, entered from a kind of semi-open corridor along the back of the building, was large; not really an attribute I feel is a 'must-have' for a hotel room when it is just that - extra empty space rather than the kind of space that constitutes a design feature - but I imagine the purpose here is to allow extra beds to be moved in to accommodate children. The room was rectangular and plain, but made more appealing, at least to my taste, by one of those 'windows' with adjustable blinds through to the bathroom - something I’ve mentioned before in the hotel thread. At the opposite end a large sliding window opened onto a small balcony.


        I think the standard rooms may have been fully booked, for this was classed a superior room, but I never really found out if 'superior' just meant bigger than 'standard', or whether it depended on its location. The location certainly pleased me, being at the far end of the property and hence overlooking a quiet area.

        {Edit …looking back at the details, I see that what I've called their standard rooms are called 'Superior', and the superior rooms 'Deluxe' in the resort's terminology. There are also some 'Pool Access rooms' in a block around a shared pool, which I don't have photos of.}

        I'm the third balcony along on the middle floor - the ground floor level of this building is a spa.
        Last edited by Seagull; July 11th, 2014, 17:48. Reason: Added further room details.



          Here's the view looking towards my room.


            Indeed as I did some unpacking and when my travel mascot Sea Troll was safely placed on the bedside cabinet and I'd really arrived, I was beginning to feel that Apsara Resort would perfectly suit my intentions for the next four days. I would not at all be the typical clientele of such a seaside resort - during my stay I didn't even take meals there (other than the included breakfast), I didn't drink at the bar, I didn't swim in the pool or even sit on a sun bed. Although that marvellous line from Muriel Spark's novel may have come to mind...

            "For those that like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like"

   was recalled with a giggle and a smile rather than the dismissive tone of Miss Jean Brodie's "best Edinburgh voice"!

            Yes, there'll be more photos of this pleasant place here, and what I did during those four special days is to follow in another thread, but for now I simply need to draw your attention to the full name of Apsara Beachfront Resort as your attention drifts to the left of this panorama.



              This is what brought me here …. This is Pakarang Beach.


                Apsara Resort (which I've also seen spelt Apsaras – with an added 's') is situated at the southern end of Pakarang beach, adjacent to a tidal creek. The river seems scarcely more than a stream, shallow at its mouth at low tide enabling folk to easily wade across to the opposite beach, the water scarcely reaching their knees and more usually at ankle-depth.

                The stream is seen here looking seawards from across the swimming pool in the most tranquil of settings.


                  It was such deceptively beautiful and peaceful scenes as these that were so tragically shattered on the 26th of December 2004 when the tsunami struck. Around where Apsara now stands, and across the river, there was once the Blue Village Pakarang Resort. Heartbreakingly, its rooms and bungalows in the most elegant modern-Thai style of an earlier decade still stare out at one on lingering webpages and booking sites.

                  That the resort was so completely devastated and suffered disproportionately in loss of life than even the toll in neighbouring resorts was in no small measure due to that innocent-seeming stream. After the tsunami along the whole length of the beach to Pakarang Cape had inundated the extensive flat area inland, the receding waters took the path of least resistance along the natural drainage channels, and that tiny river became a terrifying raging torrent of scarcely imaginable force. Few would have been prepared for the greater danger to come from a direction inland rather than from the sea itself.

                  I'm not entirely sure everyone staying here would be aware of that danger even today, or remember that a tsunami itself isn't just one big wave (it is believed that many in 2004 who had survived the first onslaught in upstairs buildings had left only to be caught up in subsequent waves).

                  The resort has buildings of greater reinforced construction and the tsunami warning system today would at least afford some precious extra time for evacuation to be initiated. Emergency procedures in the event of a tsunami alert are displayed on notices or information folders in the hotel rooms in the same way as one is accustomed to seeing fire escape details. But I suppose I am the kind of person who routinely reads such things, and tend to be aware of the layout and geography of my surroundings.

                  The Thai people are resilient, and a decade on and along with the ever-present remembrance of those tragic events and those lost, everyday life has reasserted itself. There was much to reflect on – much that was so positive - during my evening walks along the beach to the coral cape, the time spent with local people there who made me feel like family, and the time alone in the early mornings beside the river as the sun rose on a new day.


                    I ought to show you around more of the resort now.
                    Elephant motifs here, in an area with some seating just along from the reception.

                    Next, an elegant sala, though largely used as a short cut - I never saw anyone sitting here, though I briefly did so myself, enjoying moments in the shade, and I wondered what it would be like in the rainy season.


                      I liked the high ceiling and the lamps.



                        Here is what it looks like from the outside. Such a style of building would in many Thai resorts be a more integral part of the entrance, reception, and lobby lounge area, but for the various reasons I’'ve touched upon the road access is at the rear of the resort.
                        The building on the right is the restaurant, called Kinnaree, which was also where breakfast - a buffet - is served.

                        At the other side of the restaurant is the garden below my room.



                          The front of the restaurant is seen here from across the pool.

                          I used to like to take my breakfast in the semi-outside area and preferably nearer the far side, which was closer to the coffee machine! The buffet itself was the kind that at first glance seems to have an enormous choice - there was a lot of walking around involved - but which doesn't quite add up to much variation or refinement, nor did I find the limited Asian choices particularly tempting. The fruit juice came from a dispenser and was also rather ordinary.

                          None of which remarks should be taken entirely as a criticism - indeed more an observation that a good management know their clientele and provide accordingly. I'm neither typical nor personally a fan of the pile-it-high British-on-holiday breakfast. However, it was during my first reconnoitre of the buffet that I became aware of another nationality among the guests.

                          It was at the bacon! There were two distinct containers, one with large lean rashers that seemed British and flabby, and where I would have been unsuccessful in poking about trying to find an 'overcooked' piece stuck to the bottom. But next to it there was a second container - full of streaky strips all well cooked and crispy. Just as I like it! Delicious with simply a fried egg (more successful than the scrambled if standing around a while) or an omelette, and, if one could catch a new freshly cooked batch, a kind of waffle or pancake. It was at the streaky bacon and waffles that I first realised I'd been hearing a lot of Swedish spoken when I found myself muttering 'Tack' on being handed the serving fork by the person ahead of me. There were a lot of Swedish guests it seemed, and I certainly didn't mind their apparent influence on the breakfast buffet! I even stalked them to see what else they were choosing, and discovered a kind of yoghurt which had a slight resemblance to filmjölk!

                          I didn't fancy the busy Kinnaree Restaurant buffet for other meals though, having the feeling (backed up by observation as I walked by to get to my room) that there was slightly too much emphasis on western food, plus a similarly western interpretation of the most standard of Thai dishes.



                            There was an alternative beachbar and restaurant called 'Zeus' which seemed to be open longer hours after lunchtime (hence the handful of diners on this photo taken at a quarter to four in the afternoon). I was at one point considering the 'Seafood Night', but didn't actually end up going there.


                              There is another restaurant and indeed a whole other area at Apsara that I haven't shown you yet, and which to some extent could be considered a separate resort. The area south of the river was not initially redeveloped, but now there is new all-villa accommodation across the bridge - some 60 villas altogether.

                              I was quoted a price to upgrade to a villa when I arrived, but, un-tempted, declined the offer. The normal villa rate is somewhat over twice that of rooms in the rest of the resort and more for a villa with its own pool. I couldn't help wondering if the resort has star rated and priced itself a little too high in a competitive market. But it's difficult to know what people are actually paying, because I imagine most are booking as package holidays through various travel agencies or internet booking sites both local and international. I was myself spending accumulated points, (on a credit card I use for practically everything and pay off in full each month), and was thinking of these few days of my trip as conceptually free! - thus funding more tempting room upgrades elsewhere.