Laos/Thailand 2019, Stage 7: Exploring Thyn B’eech Taol

We’re up at dawn to say goodbye to the Golden Buddha Resort and to the manager, who comes to wave us off.

There she is, waving

The aquatic equivalent of a tuk-tuk takes us to Kuraburi Pier and from there we embark on a 150 mile road trip to Yamuu Pier by donkey. The journey takes over a month. All right, we go by car and we reach the pier by noon.

We transfer to a modern, shiny speedboat and 30 minutes later we’re on an island to the east of Phuket called Ko Yao Yai (there’ll be a test on all this later) for what will be the last of our holiday destinations. Almost last.

The resort complex is a bit of a culture shock. Whereas our last beach resort was all charmingly laid back, laissez-faire and pleasingly hippyish, Santhiya is faster, busier and way more organised. It’s a big operation, with a string of three-storey apartment blocks carved out of the hillside, numerous swanky private villas with their own staff, and a central resort area by the beach where all the restaurants, swimming pool and other facilities are located.

Your hotel room can be hundreds of metres away up a steep hill, so there’s a shuttle service of what the resort likes to call wooden buses but which are basically Toyota pick-ups painted to look like wood. (In our last place you either walked or, well, decided you were quite happy where you were.) OK, that’s the last time I talk about our last place. As in, ‘well in our LAST place, all the turmeric was sourced locally!’

The, ahem, wooden buses

One of the drivers

We are shuttled to our room and within seconds have spread bags and clothes everywhere, thus rendering it totally unphotogenic. So you’ll have to take my word for it when I say the room is staggeringly beautiful, with intricate natural teak carvings, the standard county-sized bed and a fabulous view that we never once tire of. It even has a Sonos-like sound system that connects effortlessly to my iPhone.

Isn’t it, though?

I set about removing all the overpriced tonics and Pringles from the mini bar to make room for our illicit supply of supermarket-bought wine, then we head for the beach. The next woody bus must be due soon.

Where to, sir or madam?

The resort is a bit like The Village in the old ATV television series The Prisoner. One, you’re pretty much trapped there (although there is an actual village nearby that you’re free to visit); two, when we ask about a secluded beach shown on the map we are told ‘no, madam, there is no beach there’; three, the frequent ‘Sawatdee-kah’ greeting you get from all the staff COULD be construed as ‘Be seeing you!’ and four, huge inflatable balloons smother you if you venture too far away. OK, not that one, but there is a truncheoned guard standing by the pier, beyond which you are not encouraged to explore. Funnily enough, it’s in the direction of the mystery secluded beach.

We ask for beach towels are and given the most ridiculous pieces of cloth you’ve ever seen.

I mean, that’s absurd! Hang on, wrong shot. That’s the bedspread. THIS is the beach towel:

Thyn B’eech Taol. Geddit?*

So, yes, it is bigger, but look at it. It’s virtually see-through and has all the absorbency of a rizla. And they make you SIGN for them for god’s sake, like they’re the equivalent of luxurious bathrobes from the Ritz. In the event, the sun is strong enough to dry us off in minutes and anyway who really cares. The beach itself is lovely, with plenty of room to find our own little spot away from other people’s adorable families.

*The resort is actually called Santhiya. 

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At night, a choice of three or four open-air restaurants would normally prompt a comment along the lines of ‘spoilt for choice’. But the menus seem very similar, so it’s a more a case of picking the venue with the least intolerable live music act, then positioning ourselves so that we can only hear the one Talented & Versatile Cabaret Duo. Get it wrong and you could have Simply The Best playing in one ear and Sunshine of My Life in the other.

In fact, choosing where to sit when eating out is for us a complex affair involving calculations and predictions and a deep understanding of restaurant variables. Amongst the factors we have to take into consideration are:

  • Closeness, quality and repertoire of musical acts
  • Proximity of babies or booming loudspeakers
  • Groups of drunks or (casual racism alert) parties of Chinese
  • Likelihood of table remaining in shade or gradually being exposed to harsh sunshine
  • Nearness of plate-stacking or cutlery-sorting areas
  • Ditto with tills, toilets and tantrum-throwing toddlers
  • Availability and cost of wine or beer
  • Popularity of establishment. It mustn’t be too busy or worryingly empty
  • Recency of any previous visit, regardless of enjoyment level
  • Whether one or both of us gets a view
  • Menu prices and range of choices
  • Proximity of electric fans
  • General ambience

But each night we somehow manage to find a venue that ticks all the boxes and, to be fair,  we’re never disappointed.

Now, the idea of lounging on a sunbed for large chunks of the day is my idea of what a beach holiday should be like. You can read, doze, have a stroll, go for the occasional dip then dip back into the book. But other people expect more from their beach holidays and Santhiya caters for them in buckets ‘n’ spades. There are organised events, excursions, experiences, activities, courses and clubs and, inevitably, massages. Ahem.

Went for a Thai massage today. Can’t put my hand on my heart and say I enjoyed it. She must have done something to my arm. Boom tish!

One of the excursions is to a place known locally as James Bond Island. No idea why. We look at the cost (a lot),  pull up some pictures on Google and immediately head back to the beach. Because this is what it’s like:

We were neither shaken nor stirred into visiting

Nature’s nightly miracle
Each evening we’d kick the night off with a glass of wine (our secret stash thankfully not confiscated by hotel staff) and a balcony view of the sunset. What is it that makes a good sunset so magnetic to the eye? For us, it’s probably a) living in a built-up area so we don’t get to see them and b) living in England so there aren’t any anyway.

Out here, they’re terrific. Majestic. Awe inspiring. Jaw dropping. We take photo after photo, hoping that each one would be better than the last. Sometimes they are, marginally. But no single image can ever capture the cosmic immensity of the sinking sun, nor convey the philosophical reflections that it provokes.


This last one wasn’t from our balcony. And none of these pictures were our BEST ones, obviously.

On our last night at Santhiya we discover what we feel is a more authentic Thai restaurant experience within walking distance of our room. It has air-conditioning, subdued lighting, traditionally-attired staff and, best of all, no husband-and-wife team belting out I Got You Babe. It’s the perfect ending to this almost-last stage of the adventure.

We sleep well and, the next morning, pack reluctantly. Santhiya is not for everyone and probably not somewhere to spend more than a week. But with its funny wooden cars, Truman Show vibe and cast of convincing extras, it does what it sets out to do very well. 

Next up: Our plane gets hijacked and we’re held to ransom and all sorts of stuff like that*

*No stuff like that

Update: Santhiya’s following me around on Facebook. Hope they don’t read what I said about their beach towels…

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