This year for our winter family trip we opted for something closer to home that didn’t have a long minimum night stay. We chose to return to Thailand have not returned there for our vacations for over 7 years now. To switch things up, we decided to try a new spot in Thailand, having been to Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket and not much interest in the Cancun-esque Koh Samui, we went for Krabi. Krabi is located in Southwestern Thailand, just 2 hours drive from Phuket and a 1 hour flight from Bangkok (Bangkok Airways, Thai, Air Asia, Nok Air) and Koh Samui (Bangkok Airways only); Krabi also has some intnational services to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and other Asian cities. We flew Taipei-Bangkok-Krabi, on EVA Air and Bangkok Airways. It is known for its mountains/ rock formations and caves, and many outdoor adventurers come here to rock climb, dive and snorkel. It is also near to many famous islands one can get to from Phuket such as Koh Phi Phi, the James Bond Island (where Man with the Golden Gun was filmed) and the island where The Beach was filmed. Another reason we chose Krabi was to try out Phulay Bay, A Ritz Carlton Reserve, the first of Ritz Carlton’s boutique ultra luxurious offshoot “reserve” concept (currently only two exist, one in Krabi and Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, with around 4-5 more properties due to open in the next 2-3 years). However, there were many aspects that did not quite live up to the Ritz Carlton brand promise let alone an ultra luxurious boutique “reserve” feel the brand is going for. The price is quite expensive for the lack of complimentary services, activities, not so good food, and poorly maintained resort (mostly in regards to rooms and hardware) you get. The rates are comparable to the likes of Aman, Six Senses, Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, Alila, and quite frankly with combined experiences of our family members, we have stayed at properties at those other chains and a former Ritz Carlton resort in Bali (now Ayana Bali), this is nowhere near their level. The resort itself is not 100% owned by Ritz Carlton, it is run and managed by them but is actually owned by Singha Resorts, same owner as Thai beer Singha Beer (which explained the resort’s use of Singha bottled water). But as mentioned in the title of this post, a genuine, professional and honest management staff can take things a long way, as you will see in regards to how a mishap was handled extremely well by the team.
The resort itself is absolutely beautiful, which was one of the reasons it attracted us. We were transported on one of the resort’s private vans, with very plush and comfortable leather seats that come with great recline and even a foot rest. The van pulled up to the tall purple walls surrounding the welcome Pavilion, the symbol of Phulay Bay. And indeed, the welcome Pavilion is worth a trip just to gaze at.
The resort is very private, with only 54 one-bedroom pavilions and villas (with 7 categories) scattered across a massive plot of land. Each room comes with a 24 hour butler (though as we would learn its actually two butlers split into two shifts). Nicely kept gardens, streams, ponds and water falls flow and glide throughout the picturesque property and they all lead to the rocky beach, infinity pool, and sea. The only thing that seems to bother some people, on tripadvisor that is, is an oil pipeline that runs into the sea and is visible if one looks to the left of the hotel. But it really is not that visible from most angles of the resort and honestly is not that big of an eye sore, just ignore it! It has three main restaurants: Seafood, Thai, and Italian/International (mainly at Breakfast is it International); as well as a pool bar and restaurant and a sunset cocktail lounge (where there is a daily sunset happy hour with delicious local mojito blends and great sunsets across the rock laid bay). Other amenities include a full gym, Spa by ESPA, hammocks by the sea, a water activity hut, and a twice daily complimentary boat service to nearby Hong Island for a real beach (the resort’s beach is not really a beach, just a small bit of rocks and sand, which again for some is an issue). The resort used to have a resident baby elephant but it got too big so it went back to where it was born (they have plans to bring another resident baby elephant in), and the resort also has a wedding pavilion that they build and bring down just for weddings (remember The Hangover II?, the wedding was set at Phulay Bay).
We stayed for 4 nights, and the 5 of us split between a reserve pavilion and reserve sea view villa. The pavilions do not come with private pools, but are somewhat closer to the entrance, restaurants and Spa. All rooms feature massive 4 meter long beds and bathrooms that take up nearly 2/3 of the entire room. Most rooms, except Royal Villas and Ocean Pavilions, feature both an indoor and outdoor tub in addition to a shower room and separate toilet. Royal Villas apparently come with a romantic bathtub in its own little villa-esque room. I had requested for a villa with a larger private pool as each reserve villa’s gardens and pool is designed differently. Some have large pools big enough to swim in while others have a small jacuzzi like plunge pool (something I have found not worth paying for). So be sure to make note of what you’d like (larger pool, bigger garden, outdoor lounging areas…etc). The resort was sure to make note of that and gave us one of the villas with the longest private pools, I would say around 15 meters! It is the same one featured in most of the resort’s promotional materials (Villa 12). And the pool was great.
Having been to Thailand many times before, our primary purpose on this trip was really to relax rather than to see and get to know Thailand like we’ve previously done. However, because it was a new part of Thailand that we’ve never been to we still opted to do an excursion. The resort can arrange multiple excursions for you, from island hopping, snorkeling, diving to land trips. I had read that Krabi was known for a famous temple in Thailand called the Tiger Cave Temple and these natural hot springs and pools (called Emerald Pool, Blue Pool and Crystal Pool), as well as rock formations that many go rock climbing on. So in finding out what options we had from the resort, we booked ourselves a full day excursion in Krabi to visit the pools, hot spring and Tiger Cave Temple.
They recommended that we start early to beat the crowds at the Hot Spring and Pools. This was a great idea, and we arrived at the hot spring right as it opened. The hot spring flows down a few small natural pools and into a river below. Our guide/ driver recommended going into the hot pools for 20 min. before walking down and jumping into the cold river to cool off and get maximum circulation. This is exactly what I did. Overall it was a very relaxing experience to get a hot spring bath out in nature with very few others around. I enjoyed laying on the lower rocks of the with the hot spring waterfall flowing behind and my legs knee deep in the cool waters of the river, looking up at the trees and soaking in the small rays of the early morning sun. As we left, the crowds starting coming in. However, when we arrived at the Emerald pool, the crowds were already there. The pool itself is like the local swimming pool, with more locals than foreigners, which I was quite fond of. The color was nice and we jumped in for a quick swim but it was just too crowded so we got out and walked along the paved walkway towards the Blue Pool (the source of the Emerald Pool and another nearby hot spring). The Blue Pool was really pretty, and had a bright sapphire shine, unfortunately there was no swimming in this smaller pool due to “deep waters and sucking mud,” which we interpreted as quicksand. Afterwards we walked back along the 800 meter forested pathway and hopped on the car and headed for a local restaurant for lunch. Our favorite meals on the entire trip were two meals we had at local restaurants, one on the excursion and one for a seafood dinner as recommended by our butler (Krabi has great seafood!). After lunch we drove to the Tiger Cave Temple. The main temple is located right at the foot of the mountain (or rock formation), with an inner temple dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of the Seas. But the main attraction is the 1,237 steep steps to the top of the mountain where the main Buddha is as well as exceptional views of Krabi and the surrounding Mountains. I noticed that there were more Thai people visiting and hiking than there were foreigners, which to me reiterated what I had read about the significance of this temple for Thai people. After many breaks throughout the steps, we finally made it to the top, and I must say that it was very much worth it, more so that a similar hike we did up monkey excrement filled steps in Burma to a very confusing temple. We then returned to our villas and enjoyed a bath in our two tubs after a long day of exploring the natural wonders of Krabi.
I will just list some Pros and Cons about the resort, specifically based on our experience.
– Beautiful resort grounds and rather nicely designed villas, albeit each villa is different.
– Nice pool.
– Genuine and friendly staff. At Jampoon, the Italian restaurant a waitress doubled checked on a food allergy that we had noted on our guest preference form, which shows they do try to make it a personalized experience.
– Nice spa facilities, and massages.
– Do the day excursion to Emerald Pool, Hot Springs and Tiger Cave Temple, it was worth it.
– Nice special dining options, especially the pricey but unique welcome pavilion dinner (recommended)
– Great cocktails, especially at the daily sunset happy hour with great views (weather depending).
– Resort is poorly maintained, we thought some of the reviews on tripadvisor were simply being picky (I really do not like tripadvisor reviews that point out every single tiny flaw or issue with their room, even a small chip or scratch), but this resort was quite bad and those reviews were actually quite reasonable (to my own surprise).
– The resort food is so-so, our butler recommended us to do a local restaurant 25 min. away and that was the best meal we had. Despite my aforementioned personalized service at Jampoon, on our guest preference form we indicated how we like our spicy food (mild, hot, not spicy), yet we were asked every time we ordered something spicy, you can double check per the guest preference but we were asked as if no one had read those forms or knew which guests we were.
– Almost all activities, even a Yoga class, are at an extra charge (Which the general manager later explained is to still give guests the option but only have certain instructors brought it when needed rather than having them be at the resort at set times).
– Service is good and genuine but not as tailored and attentive/ fast as they claim.
– Rooms/ resort lack amenities one expects to have/ see at a resort of this category.
– The complimentary wifi is sporadic at best.
– Inconsistent room amenities throughout the resort, we had two rooms in different categories and could compare. Also inconsistent housekeeping, one room received nightly bedside amenities and snacks while the other more expensive room only received one during a 4 nights stay.
The details of our mishap and how the management team handled it follows, if you do not want to read anymore, just note this: Phulay Bay has potential and is truly beautiful and unique in terms of the property and villas, but for the value of what you are paying, take your money and go elsewhere, OR wait a few more years when they have updated the pool (happening mid 2015), and done some maintenance work on the villas. Unless of course Krabi is a top destination for you, or you have run out of options in Thailand (Krabi is not Thailand’s best), then this is your best option in Krabi.
The first 2 nights we noticed a slight stench in our toilet area but didn’t think to complain or raise an alarm because it was not that bad and contained in the toilet area. Then on the 3rd day/ night the plumbing stench spread throughout the entire villa and caused one family member to have a very bad headache and we simply could not stay inside or go to sleep. This in addition to the fact that our Villa, Villa 12 had many broken switches and lights, and other parts that were missing/ not working. We called our butler, who lacked to inform us that despite being 24 hours, each villa actually has 2 butlers (1 night and 1 day). So the night butler came and they tried to fix the situation by first lighting scented oil, and having engineering come to lower the water level. It was not all that efficient and the butler and staff were clearly distraught and unsure of what exactly to do to help, but I will say at the same time they really wanted to right the situation. Nonetheless, we called George Vlachopoulos, the Director of Rooms, who had given us his business card on arrival. He immediately arranged a temporary room for the night. We packed up only what we needed for the night (George was considerate enough that he said he didn’t want us to pack everything since it was already so late) and stayed overnight in a beach villa. The next morning we went back, having called twice and waiting 15 minutes for a buggy (not a big deal necessarily, but at a resort of this level it really should be a lot faster regardless of how spread out things are), only to find the plumbing stench was still there. Bag were packed and we prepared to switch rooms after breakfast. At breakfast, George came in person (after a meeting to address the incident) to apologize and explained that it was a far bigger problem with the plumbing than expected and it required a major fix that would have been too loud and long to do that night. He was exceptionally humble, honest, polite and generous when explaining everything and offered his sincerest apologies. He had already arranged for us to switch to a much nicer, and better maintained villa, Villa 16 for our last day/ night. The Spas we had booked were complimentary, and he was able to credit us a night’s stay in resort credit (after talking to and asking us to how we best felt the resort should compensate us, something I have never seen a manager do). He checked in on us, especially the member who got sick, a headache and poor night’s rest as a result of the incident, throughout the day to ensure we were still enjoying our last day and that we were feeling better about the incident and we got to know each other on a personal level which was very nice as it made things more friendly. While overall this incident is not the end of the world, it still caused a guest to feel ill and the fact that housekeeping didn’t raise the alarm/ our butler who said she knew of the stench did nothing, is indicative that the resort has work to do in anticipating and meeting guest needs.
This incident could have happened at almost any average resort, but it really should not happen at one of this level and price, one in which the personalized and attentive service is a key point. But the management, specifically George, truly showed us that the resort is actually in good hands and despite the large room for improvement, with a management team like this, it can improve and narrow that gap to really fit the “Reserve” promise.
I dont anticipate returning to Phulay Bay anytime soon, and would be hesitant to try the new Reserve properties opening in the next few years. However, a few days after our return, having filled out a feedback form and written a review on tripadvisor, we received an email from the general manager, Carlos Tarrero, to arrange for a call so he could apologize in person and hear our thoughts on how the resort could further improve. I received his call and we chatted about the incident and how the resort could improve. He, like George, was genuinely apologetic about the incident and truly wanted to improve on all aspects we felt the resort was lacking in. He then offered us a coupon for complimentary nights so that we could return and experience the resort again. While I worry that they will simply overcompensate and give us extra attention just to prove a point to us, having heard what George had to say, I do believe that if we go back, we won’t get such an experience and it will be a genuine stay in which we will experience what the Ritz Carlton Reserve concept has to offer.
Take what you will from this review. Again, this was my family and I’s experience at Phulay Bay. From what I have read, it seems most people have truly enjoyed their stay at this resort, and who knows if we had gotten Villa 16 from that start, we would have had a better experience. But nonetheless there are some points the resort misses in creating a truly personalized experience, despite having some of the nicest and most genuine staff around and a beautifully designed resort.
If you do decide on this resort, avoid villa 12. I recommend Villa 16 for a reserve sea view villa, it has a large enough pool, with beautiful gardens and even a small outdoor daybed that overlooks the bay, pool and resort gardens/streams. Try to avoid the beach villas as they are not very private, and honestly the sea and reserve pavilions are very nice and probably more worth the buck than the villas on this property.
Phulay Bay, A Ritz Carlton Reserve