Living the high life

A mini-break in Khao Yai with money no object. Yeah, right.


My wife and I very recently celebrated two ‘milestone' birthdays. On the 27th April, I reached the golden age of fifty (Oh, I'm a ‘middle-aged' man now alright) and two weeks later, my wife turned forty (which I told her is officially ‘old' for a Thai woman, but she is of course having none of it)

Rather than buy each other birthday gifts that neither of us truly wanted or fill the house with junk and clutter that we didn't really need, we decided we would treat ourselves to a luxury mini-break - a four-day holiday with no expense spared. The only problem was where?

Our regular Bangkok getaway is a charming, quirky bed and breakfast called The Resort de Paskani. It's a Mediterranean-style guest house in a peaceful beach resort called Khao Takiab, which is a few miles south of Hua Hin. The Paskani's clean and spacious rooms run for about 3,500 baht a night, there's a decent swimming pool, which no other guests seem to use, the staff are cheery and helpful and the breakfast is edible if not exactly memorable.

The B&B is also only fifty metres from a long, deserted beach - ideal for those late evening romantic walks and early morning jogs. We love it there! However, despite the fact it ticks an awful lot of boxes, you would need to be one easily pleased individual to describe Resort de Paskani as the last word in luxury. 

No, this time we were in the market for something far better - a bit more upmarket - and dare I say it, a little more expensive?

We thought about going to a neighboring country but slowly and surely, one by one, we crossed them all off a list. Singapore is too hot and always disappoints. Malaysia was too much of an unknown quantity. And my wife has no interest in the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (and neither do I much for that matter)

The world was our oyster - but there was nowhere for us to go.

We turned our attentions to Thailand. The wife doing the suggesting and yours truly supplying the rebuttals.

How about Phuket? Naaah, never fancied it.

Nice 5-star resort on Koh Samui or Koh Chang? I'm not really an island person and all I can picture is an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of noisy children.

Pattaya? Oh behave.

I know, let's go to Chiang Rai, where we spent our honeymoon ten years ago? Hmmm, well Chiang Rai is lovely but I'm not sure I want to fanny around with airports and low-cost airlines.

How about Khao Yai National Park?

I immediately stopped fiddling around with my smartphone Scrabble app. Khao Yai National Park - just a two-hour drive from Bangkok and a verdant jewel in the crown that is Central Thailand (and other clichés) It was a perfect idea. We'd been several times before and had a smashing time. Only one problem - isn't every accommodation in Khao Yai National Park either under canvas or 200 baht a night bungalows of the crusty, dusty ceiling fan variety?

"No" said my 40-year old wife, "have a look at this place - The Muthi Maya Resort. Lots of Thais rave about it on various travel discussion forums. It looks fantastic"

Quicker than you can say "credit card transaction completed" we'd booked a 200-square metre private villa with panoramic views of the mountains and golf course - along with indoor jacuzzi, two bathrooms, kitchen area with microwave and fresh coffee-maker, international breakfast buffet - oh, and a private swimming pool and sundeck thrown in for good measure. For just under 7,000 baht a night, it felt like they were giving it away.

I'll confess right now - I don't think I'd ever looked forward to a holiday in Thailand quite this much.

Fast forward to our arrival at The Muthi Maya Resort.

We parked the car, grabbed our bags from the boot and then from out of nowhere, a gleaming white golf cart pulled up alongside. The driver - looking dapper in a well-pressed, khaki uniform - flashed a welcome smile and told us he would take us to reception to check-in and then on to our private villa. Hop aboard!

As we trundled along in the golf cart, I squeezed my wife's arm and said "this is going to be such a terrific place. And remember what we said - no expense spared. This is our birthday treat". We were both feeling ridiculously happy.

When we eventually got to the villa and our driver opened the front door, our mouths fell open. I've stayed in some nice hotel joints around the world but this was on another level. We spent a glorious first hour jumping in the pool, flicking through the TV channels on both TVs, figuring out how the jacuzzi and coffee maker worked and being left in awe over the fact that everything in the well-stocked mini-bar was absolutely free.

As evening fell, it became time to seek out somewhere for an evening meal. Muthi Maya had a choice of just one restaurant at the resort, which it describes on its website as an open-air restaurant serving an irresistible fusion of Japanese and Italian cuisine. On a Friday night in early May, it was virtually empty. Restaurant staff outnumbered diners by about five to one. When the menus arrived, it become all too apparent why.

My wife and I looked over the menu and shot each other anxious glances. The dishes and drinks were eye-wateringly expensive. I wondered if we'd been given the wrong menus and the ones we were holding were usually reserved for visiting sheikhs and oil barons. 400 baht for a salad? 450 baht for a spaghetti in tomato sauce? Ok it had a pretentious Italian name but it was still very much a spaghetti in tomato sauce.

You see, it's moments like this when I come down to earth with an almighty bang. I know I said this was going to be a no-expense-spared mini-break but you have to understand one thing - I will always be a working-class lad from Birmingham. I know what it's like to have a weekly scrub with carbolic soap in an old-tin bath in front of the fire. I've carried bottles of milk stout back from the off-licence for Granny Powell. I've delivered newspapers for ten shillings an hour and begged on the streets in the days leading up to Guy Fawke's Night to make enough money to buy fireworks. 400 baht for a salad my arse!

Anyway, I go for a spicy pasta dish (350 baht) my wife orders a Japanese fish with rice (550 baht) We share a 400 baht salad, and we wash it down with two spectacularly ordinary non-alcoholic cocktails, sensibly priced at 200 baht each. And as if we haven't been fleeced enough, there's the double whammy of a 10% service change and 7% government tax. The bill comes to 1,960 baht. I scoop up the 40 baht change and we exit the restaurant, mumbling our thanks to the waitresses and avoiding eye contact as best we can.

Tomorrow would be another day.

As well as the private villas, the golf course and the Japanese / Italian restaurant, The Muthi Maya also boasted a ‘world-class' spa facility (as you would expect) where, and I quote ‘our highly-trained staff will pamper you and leave you feeling more relaxed and nourished than you ever thought possible'

My wife had promised herself a spa treatment and a spa treatment she was going to have. As we rode the shuttle bus over, I couldn't begin to imagine how much the resort would charge for a guava and coconut oil body wrap, when they felt no shame in charging 400b for a f***ing salad.

The spa manager greeted us like long-lost relatives and the list of treatment prices only confirmed my worst fears. Does that list actually say 1,800 baht for a 60-minute foot massage? I blinked hard and re-focused. Yes, there was no getting away from it. A foot massage was almost two thousand baht - for an hour. It worked out at 180 baht a toe.

Now before you people still reading this cry out, ‘oh my God, I only pay 200 baht for two hours to get my feet massaged' let me echo what my wife said, ‘you're paying for the masseur's expertise. You're paying for the environment. You're paying for the cold towels and the hot herbal drinks served to you on a rattan tray'

Convinced? - No, neither am I.

I had to laugh to myself though. The spa offered a ‘mind and body package'. I don't know the exact details, perhaps you were immersed in goat's milk before being thrashed with kaffir lime leaves but apparently the whole four-hour program was the ‘ultimate way to relax'. It was 8,000 baht. How could you possibly be relaxed knowing that you'd have to fork out a week's wages once it was all over?

My wife looked a tad crestfallen as she was led away for her ‘aromatic salt glow' and I decided against having the ‘white tea and grape seed detoxication' It's not that I couldn't afford to have it - but I'm a working class lad from Birmingham.

I decided to hit the fitness room instead. I did ten minutes on the cross-trainer, ten minutes on the stationery bike and then pumped some weights. And you know what the best part was - it was all free. Free! All free I tell you!

On our final two days at the resort, we made our minds up not to patronise the restaurant again. Instead, during the day, we walked around a couple of local minimarts and filled our shopping basket with microwave meals. And that night, as I sat on the sofa eating crab fried rice from a plastic container with a plastic spoon, I felt not an ounce of guilt or shame. It was almost like I had beaten the system. 


Comments

I have one simple rule. If it costs more here than in the USA I don't do it. I am a 46 year old on a fixed pension so need to save every penny for big trips. I fancy Thai dinner at home cost around $14 and a Sing beer around $4 (plus tip).

By GARY C. MILLER, PHI PHI ISLAND (2 years ago)

I worked out a while ago that when I go on holiday I never stay in my room. It is the base, but from there I explore and spend money on food, excursions, nightlife. I find I can always get a good place for a thousand baht, often with a pool. I might spend 5000 in a day, but 4,000 of that on fun and frolics. If you spend 7,500 baht for a room 150 pounds, $225 ouch, then the food is going to be of a similar price and who wants to stay in the hotel room when you can eat and explore outside. I guess in Khao Yai outside eating options were limited. (For myself I always research like a devil before I go anywhere)

I don't like Hua Hin much but when I stayed there I got a room on a pier for 300 baht a night and had a better view than the Hilton across the bay. I went to the end of the pier and sat drinking beers and eating food I'd bought outside. The water below me, the sun setting in the distance, 600 baht all in. http://www.thebeachfrontclub.com/beach-hotel/asia/thailand/hua-hin/hua-hin-beach-north/bird-guest-house/?ref=featured

In Bangkok I know a hotel on the river, 1400 baht a night. At night you can eat with a view of the river and the bill is never more than a thousand for 2 people drinks/food.

In Chiang Mai ditto. 2000 a night would get you a luxury resort with a pool in the mountains. Leaving you 5,500 baht to spend on tours, massages, fun and frolics, good luck spending that amount.

Unless you have 20,000 baht to spend a day, spending 7,500 on a hotel is just crazy.

Anyway I think you have learned your lesson, good luck for the next birthday.

In Pattaya you could actually have stayed at the 5 star Hilton at the centre of the beach and gone to its Horizon bar for rooftop drinks 200 baht a pop but well, well worth it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b31DXMMnEgw You could then have eaten great international or Thai food anywhere in the city for next to nothing and spent days on boat trips to the islands, diving. Much as everyone bangs down on Pattaya if you stay away from the filth it can be awesome.

By Paulo, Chiang Mai (3 years ago)

"I couldn't splash out that kind of money myself in Thailand as it really seems such a waste"

I agree. I wouldn't normally spend that kind of money on a resort in Thailand. No way! But this was to celebrate birthdays.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (3 years ago)

I agree Phil, prices like that just ruin it all.

Btw, I couldn't splash out that kind of money myself in Thailand as it really seems such a waste. On top of that I feel it is just too decadent to spend that much when the average Thai labourer makes no more than 300 baht a day. Most of my memorable holidays were at budget or middle of the road places.

By John Brown, Bangkok (3 years ago)

Enjoyable read. We are all prone to think about value for money in nonsensical ways. Not sure it was intentional, but I found it absolutely spectacular that there was nary a word of complaint about the BHT 7000 a night room, to go along with the diatribes about the cost of salads and spag dishes.

By UrbanMan, Near An Aircon (3 years ago)

I think the point that Steve from Qatar was making was that there shouldn't be that annoying second 'R' in Prakarn... at least that's what I got from his post.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (3 years ago)

I like this story. I am a working class man from Walsall (near Birmingham, but definitely not Birmingham - not as though I have anything against it) and currently live in Bangkok - so I feel I can relate to the sentiment expressed.
Its not about being stingy or tight, its about value for money. Just because you pay for an expensive hotel, it doesn't mean that you want to fork out for other things that cost a lot of money when you know you can get virtually the same thing for a lot cheaper price.
I was on the phone to my parents this week and I told them I paid £50 for a meal in Bangkok last month (at supposedly the 17th best restaurant in the world). They thought that I was joking as they genuinely didn't think that a meal could cost that much - they wouldn't pay anything over £10. I enjoyed the meal and the experience but it most definitely wasn't value for money - and there is nothing wrong with expressing that, it doesn't make you thrifty as others have pointed out!
I will show this article to my Thai girlfriend so she knows where I am coming from when I ever refuse to pay a lot of money for something.

By Robert Davies, Bangkok (3 years ago)

"No expense spared then complains over the cost of the salad."

Steve, no disrespect but that was the whole point of the blog. Sorry you missed it.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (3 years ago)

"I squeezed my wife's arm and said "this is going to be such a terrific place. And remember what we said - no expense spared. This is our birthday treat".

No expense spared then complains over the cost of the salad.

LOL

By Steve, Qatar (3 years ago)

Mark,
You appear to be a pompous, cheap, westerner that thinks he should throw pennies at the poor brown man in a foreign country who will in turn thankfully grovel and serve. I ran the numbers on your prices and found them to be very reasonable for a luxury resort. I'll agree that your food prices are a bit high, but you indicated that there were staff and accommodations aplenty. You are akin to a fat plantation owner complaining that the malnourished slaves are costing you too much in feed costs. No sympathy here buddy.

By Matthew Kintner, Oregon (3 years ago)

Sometimes at Thai resorts you really just have to open your wallet and turn the other way! (I'm talking about Thai resorts... not the horrible western hotspots where they haggle over the cost of a bucket of ice!)

Also, we tend to get itchy feet after a couple of days at these remote camps and driving home is the best bit! There's only so much pampering you can take before opening someone else's empty fridge starts to darken the soul!

I would urge you to reconsider Malaysia. The people there are amazingly friendly... even the blokes selling suits in Kuala Lumpur are apologetic and non confrontational! 24 hour Indian curry buffets, fantastic and cheap markets, great public transportation...

By Mark Newman, Thailand (3 years ago)

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