By Trip Styler, on December 24, 2013

Luxe-for-less escapes beyond Bangkok

We only had a week bookended by weekends. Thailand was on our bucket list and we weren’t going to let a small vacation window stop us from visiting Southeast Asia. Working with 10 days, my husband and I decided the wisest move for our luxe-for-less jaunt would be to maximize travel exposure and minimize travel time. To do this, we took a page out of the Thai Royals’ playbook, and booked our hotels where they vacation, three hours outside of Bangkok!

First things first; the flight. While evaluating the best flight path from the West Coast to Bangkok, we ended up going with Japan Airlines because they were having an eye-popping seat sale, which put the price of an upper class seat at only a few hundred more than an economy fare. Biz it is! Thanks to free-flowing bubbly, lie-flat seats, moisturizing eye masks, security lane fast passes and lounge access, we arrived in somewhat-rested style.

Once on the ground, we wanted to stay on the ground (inter-country flights would have added extra travel time to an already cozy itinerary). After blitzing Bangkok for 36 hours and placing it on my “cities to re-visit” list, we hopped into a car transfer pre-arranged through our hotel, and chauffeured past factories, salt fields, and farmland to Hua Hin, where the Thai Royals have a vacation home – make that palace.

With eight nights left, we divided our time between Hua Hin’s outer reaches and a closer-to-town resort, both beachfront properties. Our first hotel, X2 Kui Buri, is a true retreat – far from town and the ordinary. There’s no grocery store nearby, nor flashy tourist attractions; at X2 it’s just you, your book, and the beach – oh and that hot French family with whom you want to become BFFs. The rustic-modern resort is set on a windswept, crescent-shaped beach frequented by locals who float in and out carrying the day’s catch. The fisherman reminded me that there’s life beyond the boutique resort’s walls.

Deluxe pool villa at X2 Kui Buri


X2’s architecture and guest-centric design – think stone-built rectangular villas with outdoor showers, a swimming pool-length bar, and chic breakfasts served on industrial marble tables – are right out of the pages of Vogue Living Australia. In North America the same stay would be $1000+ a night, yet in Thailand, we paid $200 for an oceanfront villa with a private plunge pool (the size of 70 bathtubs), filtered drinking water, included champagne breakfast, and WiFi.

On day five, we were chauffeured to our next resort, Hotel de la Paix, on Cha Am Beach in Hua Hin. Upon arrival we were met by a white-uniformed gent who greeted us at the base of regal, white marble stairs – grand enough for a princess to lose her glass slipper.

Viewfinder Tip: In Thailand, hotel staff visit your room as you check-out to ensure everything is a-okay. 

Like X2, Hotel de la Paix quickly rose into my realm of “stay stardom” when I was led to my concrete-cool room clad with crisp white linens, an Apple TV, chill lounge music, and the pièce de résistance: a suitcase-sized shower head. While the shower was not the most eco-friendly feature, it was refreshingly fabulous as it cascaded like a waterfall into the center of my giant bathroom. 

Sunset from Clouds Loft at Hotel de la Paix

Outside the rooms, the resort stretches along a skinny plot between Cha Am Beach and the white marble staircase. Guest rooms line the outer edges, while the center is taken up by a rock-encased, water-topped multi-use space the hotel has turned into an art installation. Peeking out at the top like the crow’s nest on a ship, Clouds Loft offers 360-degree views of the standout surroundings. Here, I watched the rose-red sunset every night as I imbibed spiked sipping vinegar and scarfed down Pad Thai. 

Including luxury and extras worthy of our 14-hour, transcontinental flight, Hotel de la Paix folded WiFi, a posh breakfast buffet, morning yoga, and a daily raid-the-minibar allowance (lobster-flavored Pringles, anyone?) into our $130/night rate. Shockingly, they didn’t even charge a resort fee for the in-room jungle shower.

On my last day lounging in one of Thailand’s many versions of paradise, I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t always break the bank to vacation where royals do, especially if you’re willing to fly a little farther and stay at a boutique hotel instead of a palace.

What are your top luxe-for-less destinations?