The Best Hotel in the World
In Thailand’s cities, the streets and waterways hum. Tuk tuks sputter along the avenues. Aromas of sizzling street food waft through back alleys. Vendors hawk brightly colored fruits and fabrics. Luxury high rises tower next to shells of concrete tenements. On the country’s southern shores, limestone cliffs covered in lush green dot the turquoise sea. Rickety wooden boats cruise the calm waters and dock on sandy shores where VIPs sip tropical beverages alongside local fishermen, both taking in the explosive sunsets. Thailand is a gateway drug. Once you visit, Southeast Asia is in your skin and it is impossible to shake it.
For me, my first trip to Thailand was the ultimate overdose in sensory overload. It was also where I discovered my most favorite hotel (and hotel brand) in the world - Six Senses, specifically Six Senses Yao Noi.
After two days in Bangkok filled with temple hopping, street food, midnight swimming, and cruises along the Chao Phraya river, I boarded a plane and jetted down to the islands surrounding Phuket. Phuket is a party paradise in Thailand, packed with hotels, restaurants, and, ugh, tourists. But I was in search of tranquility and authenticity (and also on assignment, so perks were bound to ensue). The journey took me to Yao Not, an island 45 minutes off the coast of Phuket, where Six Senses emerges out of the jungle like a Robinson Crusoe hideaway - with five-star status.
The predominantly Muslim island is home to just 4,000 inhabitants, scattered among seven villages. The island is a combination of rubber tree farms, jungle, rice fields, and mountains, with views of long tail boats and towering cliffs in the distance. It's everything you see when you close your eyes and think of Thailand.
For those new to Six Senses, the idea is cultural immersion mixed with a fantastic wellness experience, and ultimate five-star luxury. Guests arrive via boat transfer to the resort's private dock. Luxury villas peek out among the trees. From here, I was whisked by private buggy up the paths into the resort compound, which is laid out like a small Thai jungle village. With an end goal to be completely self sustainable, the resort has its own herb gardens, prides itself on using only local products, and is among for a zero waste policy.
I checked into a two-bedroom pool villa (I was traveling with two friends at the time). All villas at the resort have their own private plunge pools. Ours was a split-level unit with two bedrooms. There was a deck area and master bedroom with open shower. Stairs led to a second bedroom with open garden and shower room on the lower swimming pool level.
From there it was simply about enjoying in a perfect blend of pampering and adventure. Start at the tree house-style Six Senses Spa, which is designed like a jungle village, with wooden huts along the hillside. Please note: I do not travel this way on my own dime. When I am writing an article I am usually hosted at a property. That said, if I COULD afford a resort like this, I'd absolutely 100 percent hands down treat myself and feel zero regrets. What I love about Six Senses is its true, unpretentious belief in barefoot luxury. Sweat, get dirty, explore, and immerse. But return back to the resort to enjoy a world-class massage and infinity thread count sheets, plus remarkable, make-you-okay-with-death cuisine.
Now...where was I...
The spa can customize each treatment to specific needs. Apparently I NEEDED an outdoor shower followed by a foot scrub and than an 80-minute four-hand massage. This was not to be outdone by a private yoga session for me and my friends, on a deserted beach in the middle of the Andaman Sea. We boarded a long tail boat and headed for the secluded beach on a private island, just in time to spend an hour Sun Salutationing as the sun dipped behind the horizon and moon rose behind us.
And then, of course, there was the day island hopping, complete with a private picnic, and another day of biking around the island tasting local street food, cruising through rice fields, and stopping on a pier for one last look at the sea as the sun began to slope again.
But beyond the experiences, the resort takes dining to another level. The Hilltop Reserve restaurant overlooks the iconic limestone cliffs that jut out of the sea. We dined al fresco at sunset as the sky (and sea, and infinity pool) faded a pale shade of pink. Here we feasted on lobster, prawns, scallops, and squid, while drinking cold white wine that is grown and processed on Yao Not itself.
The secret to serenity at Yao Not is in the details. The final night, the staff told us that the Hilltop Reserve, where the main pool is located, would be left unlocked for us before sunrise. This is the best spot on property to take in the sunrise over the cliffs and ocean. At 5 a.m., we found towels waiting for us so that we could take a morning swim underneath a sky erupting with oranges, yellows, and purples. It was a moment that is forever emblazoned in my mind. Completely metaphoric of Thailand. And it is for this reason why no other hotel will ever come close to touching Six Senses Yao Noi.