Before I get into my detailed review, I will say two things:
- This is, by far, the nicest hotel I have ever stayed at.
- The UPGRD podcast about Marriott Rewards was completely wrong in saying that there are no good properties to redeem at.
On my business trip to India, I decided to redeem some Marriott points at the recently opened Phulay Bay, Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Krabi, Thailand. Let me jump to the conclusion and tell you that this place was the most ridiculously awesome hotel I have ever stayed at. I'll try to focus this post more on the hotel itself, rather than all the great activities we did in Krabi (reserved for a later post).
I used 150,000 Marriott Rewards points to redeem 3 nights at the Phulay Bay Ritz-Carlton property. That's quite a steep per-night fee, but I found it to be well worth it. My girlfriend and I came in on the redeye from Delhi, India to Bangkok, Thailand. We then hopped on the quick flight from Bangkok to Krabi. Oddly enough, for such a quick flight, Thai Airways actually used a wide-body Airbus. Our trip was timed a bit oddly. Not only is the globe in a bit of an economic slowdown, or whatever you want to call it, but there was also a volcano that had shut down most of Europe's flights (this was in April). Furthermore, the Red Shirts were rioting in Bangkok. We figured the resorts / airlines would be hurting. We were right! Check out how empty our flight was to Krabi.
Checking into the hotel is an amazing experience. They try to wow you right from the start. When the taxi first pulls up to the gate, it is very anassuming. The car goes up a pathway next to a concrete wall and parks in a small gravel entry way, with no front desk, or really anything, in sight. There is just one long path leading to a watery pond. Before we were able to explore, a butler immediately greeted us and welcomed us to the property. We paid the cab driver, and the butler took all of our bags from us, and whisked them away in a golf cart. Another butler then met us and walked us to the "Welcome Pavilion."
We walked down the long path leading to the pond, only to find that the pond was actually the welcome pavilion, and we would "walk on water" across stones to get to the pavilion. Once we arrived, we realized that there is no front desk at this property. One of the property managers came out to welcome us to the hotel. She explained that Ritz-Carlton was in the process of creating a new line of "Reserve" properties that would be more exclusive and secluded than normal Ritz properties. Phulay Bay is the first offering. The next will be Molasses Reef, which has seen some delays.
Our personal butler, Ken, took us via golf cart to our villa. It was a full five minute drive, and the resort really isn't designed to be walked. The paths are long, curvy, and meandering. The landscaping is beautiful. It really was a fanastic experience to drive through. There are streams and fountains all around, lush vegetation, and every detail seems taken care of. Arriving at our villa, we were completely blown away at what we were getting. Pictures speak louder than words so take a look.
Our villa included the largest bed I have ever seen, a mini-bar with almost everything (including alcohol) being complimentary, an indoor hot tub, an outdoor hot tub, and a "plunge pool" that you could swim laps in. Absolutely stunning. I've never had such an amazing hotel room in my life.
After relaxing in the room for a couple hours, recover from our DEL-BKK redeye and BKK-KBV short hop, we decided to go relax at the pool. The pool at the Reserve isn't over the top. There are no waterslides, giant fountains, or gimmicks. It is considerably large, especially when you take into account that this place only has about 50 villas. I think it was very much designed to never look like it was overly crowded, adding to the overall feeling of serenity you get when you're there. It's a beautiful infinity pool, complete with swim-up bar, that looks out over the southern Thai coast. The coastline down there is unlike any I personally have ever seen because instead of seeing any sort of horizon, all that can be seen is thousands of tiny islands scattered across the water. It really is a sight to see.
The bartenders at the pool told us that there would be a baby elephant (!!!) coming to visit us that night if we decided to swing by the beach bar's happy hour. Of course we made it to the event. We were relaxing on some lounge chairs out at the beach bar happy hour that evening, wondering if we had misunderstood the bartenders, when all of a sudden, we spotted the trainer walking the baby elephant down the beach toward us. The Ritz provided us with bananas, free of charge, to feed the elephant, whose name was "Em." SO COOL! Em was quite aggressive in taking bananas. You really didn't have to hand him a banana. If he spotted one in your hand, he would reach his trunk right on over and grab it from you! He also knew how to play the harmonica, spin a hula hoop, and do both at the same time! I'll upload video in the near future to show that. Em wasn't just a quick parading walkthrough either. They let him hang out at the bar with the guests for at least a full hour.
As we got ready to call it a night in our room, our doorbell rang. Ken, our butler, was at the door with a plate of complimentary Thai desserts that he suggsted we try. Two out of the three nights we were there, Ken brought us treats in the evening.
So what DIDNT I like about the property? Well, everyone who stays there gets free breakfast. Oh... wait... did I say everyone? I meant everyone, except those who use Marriott Rewards points, get free breakfast. I expressed disappointment to the manager about this. Because the property is secluded and there are no kitchens in the villas, you can't really bring your own food and eat your own breakfast. I suppose you could buy a box of cereal and put milk in the fridge, but that's really your own option. We had breakfast one morning, and it was a classy, yet simple, breakfast buffet. There were no prices because everyone else had breakfast free. After we ate, we received the bill, and we saw that we had just dropped over $100USD on breakfast. What!??! I was just coming from 2.5 weeks in India, staying at four or five different properties there, and all of those had much better breakfasts than this property's, and they were included in the rate. That breakfast stung, as we didn't even see the prices beforehand. We probably should have asked. It soured us on the food there, and we decided not to give them any of our money for food (except for lunch at the pool) anymore. This was actually a good decision, though, as it let us explore some of the local spots.
Our butler recommended a place called "Sun and Sea" that was on the beach, and we had amazing dinner there. We had plenty of food an two alcoholic drinks, and the bill was still under $30 USD total. I told the manager that they should consider giving free breakfast to people using Marriott Rewards points, as they're not likely to gain much revenue from a breakfast here and there, and all guests there should be treated equal. He was actually very receptive to that feedback, and he asked how we would have felt about some sort of e-mail in advance, letting us know that our rate didn't include breakfast and giving us an option to purchase it for our stay. I told him that while of course I preferred free, that would have been perfectly fine as well. At least we would have known what we were getting into
In any case, I have already spent two paragraphs complaining about something that really didn't detract from our trip too much, but I think it's worth noting, as it was the ONLY thing we didn't like about our trip there. If you need anything, your butler will do it for you. We asked Ken about getting a longtail boat to take us around to some of the prettier islands. He said he would take care of it. When we got back to our room, there was a voicemail on our phone, letting us know that arrangements have been made and that Ken would be at our villa at 10AM the next day to pick us up and take us to where the longtail boat driver would meet us. At 9:55AM, our doorbell rang. Yes, everything at this property does run this smoothly.
I could write about this place all day long, and I think I even forgot about a few things like the amazing poolside service, complimentary happy hour, fantastic gym, free PS3s that you can bring to your room, but I think you get the idea. I LOVED my stay here. The explorer in me wants to try a new place next time I go to Thailand, but my heart is really pulling me back to Phulay Bay, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve.