JW Marriott Khao Lak is a sprawling kid-friendly resort, on a beach with one of Thailand’s best sunsets, that manages to make everyone, not just families, feel satisfactorily spoiled and relaxed. Come with us for a short drive north of Phuket as we review this newly renovated vacation destination with the longest lagoon pool in Southeast Asia.
KHAO LAK IS HAVING something of a moment. This sleepy stretch of beach about 90 minutes north of Phuket known for its surfing and gentle vibe has been rediscovered by travellers and millennials alike. Indeed, we at Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia have already covered some of the excellent resorts in the area including Devasom Khao Lak Beach Resort and Villas (which is now in the middle of their inaugural, pioneering month-long holistic wellness festival called Sol) and Avani+ Khao Lak Resort.
A familiar face on this coast of expansive beaches and spectacular sunsets, the JW Marriott Khao Lak has long been a favourite in these parts. The resort recently underwent an extensive 18-month renovation and expansion. The nip and tuck resulted in a younger, smoother look, but despite the addition of 127 rooms and villas that bring the total number to a whopping 420, the renovation, designed by Clint Nagata and his team at award-winning Blink Design, whom I sat down with recently, is seamless.
The most stunning additions to the property are the new pool villas. The two-bedroom villa located right on the beach is actually a cluster of three free-standing houses: one contains a spacious living room, another a master bedroom and the third a children’s or guest room with two twin beds. Each building is decked out in light wood and stone and floor-to-ceiling windows. The bathrooms have comfortable tubs (and fizzy, homemade bath bombs that you can learn to make yourself with lemongrass grown on site). All look out onto two adjacent infinity pools, one of which is eight meters long.
The centerpiece of the hotel is the 2.4-kilometre(!)-long lagoon pool, the longest in Southeast Asia. Many of the new rooms have direct access to the pool. You can take a coconut boat around the pool. Some of the most popular water features along the way include a slide, an impressive wave pool and a slippery water trampoline that kids will love.
That doesn’t mean grown-up visitors shouldn’t give it a shot. If you’re concerned that some small child will show up your bouncing skills, well, head there in the morning when you are pretty much guaranteed to have the trampoline to yourself while families are still at breakfast. It worked for me, and other than a couple of gardeners who offered their encouragement, my inner kid had a great time.
Proof positive that the resort isn’t just for the children: my in-room amenities included a cocktail discovery kit with ingredients like Thai rice vodka (a.k.a. lao khao or potent Thai moonshine) that was given the sheen of respectability with a fat-wash of coconut oil. Other ingredients include essential oils and infusions of makrut leaves from the hotel’s own garden. You can follow the recipes designed by Nattha Apiwattanakit (call her Khun Airin), the head mixologist at Drift Bar and Grill. You can also sign up for a mixology class with her. Kids—OK, yes, them again—can even sign up for the mocktail version.
Obviously if you don’t want to make your own drinks, you can head down to Drift and ask Khun Airin for one. She made me a Pompelmo (pink grapefruit) Spritz. Drift is just one of the many food and beverage outlets across the resort. You’ll find all-day tacos, showy teppanyaki or traditional Thai dishes, but the hotel’s flagship cuisine is perhaps a little unexpectedly Italian. Under the leadership of chefs Silvano Amolini, who is passionate about the ingredients and produce of his home country, and Vincenzo (call him Enzo) Sorrentino, who heads up the Italian restaurant Olive, the hotel is an unexpected outpost of la cucina italiana.
Witness the extensive selection of olive oils that chef Silvano presents with the same enthusiasm you might see at a wine tasting. Take a whiff of the homemade breads and pastas fresh out of the oven. Enjoy porchetta that tastes like Rome, risotto that could be in Milan or cannoli you’d find in Palermo. And if the plin, little stuffed ravioli-like pasta, are on the menu, even your Italian nonna would be asking for seconds.
For a private dining experience in the herb garden, chef Silvano has concocted a menu that pairs the subtleties of his olive oils with different dishes. A custom-built outdoor grill right by the table allows you to see your meat or the catch of the day being cooked before your eyes. Italy on the beach in Thailand? Mamma mia!
Round out your stay with different activities at every hour of the day from mindful meditation to bike tours and Thai boxing to magic lessons for the kids. I didn’t even see the days go by, and neither will you.
JW Marriott Khao Lak is about a 90-minute drive north of Phuket International Airport. The two-bedroom oceanfront villa starts at Bt52,400 THB.
Images courtesy of JW Marriott Khao Lak, unless otherwise noted.