CASA DE LA FLORA (MR & MRS SMITH)
Katie Treggiden was invited to review Casa del Flora in Thailand for boutique hotel guide Mr & Mrs Smith. ‘Despatching Katie as an undercover hotel reviewer is never anything short of a delight,’ says editor Richie MacKichan. ‘She tells the tales of her stays with wit, warmth, a deft turn of phrase and an eye-catching eye for detail. If you don’t happen to be on holiday yourself, I highly recommend living one vicariously through Katie’s words.’
‘Which scent would you like for you room?’ (Lemongrass)
‘Which shower gel would you prefer?’ (Scented wood)
‘Which of these pillows can we get you?’ (Heavy duck)
It felt a bit like the Spanish Inquisition (albeit with less torture and more cold towels), but as we sniffed at tiny bottles and twizzled the cinnamon sticks in our ice-cold coconut water, we started to relax and take in our surroundings at Casa de la Flora. The combination of cool concrete and warm wood had a decidedly Scandi-Modernist vibe quite at odds with the 38-degree heat and Khao Lak location, but far from feeling incongruous, it felt like a confident, worldly approach to architecture perfect for its well-travelled clientele.
Room scents and pillow combinations decided, we headed up a spiral staircase worthy of a Guggenheim and were shown to our room. A concrete bathroom and dressing room complemented a wood-lined lounge and bedroom – and a private pool and terrace overlooked the grassy roofs of our neighbours to the sea. The sun goes down in a matter of minutes this close to the equator, so we watched a speedy sunset, before being plunged into darkness and our own private pool.
‘Nightswimming deserves a quiet night,’ sang Michael Stipe, and the only thing stopping us from having one was me singing the same every time I came up for air. Mr Smith looked quietly irritated, but I put that down to jetlag and carried on. Given that our luggage was still on its way from Kuala Lumpur, I will leave the issue of whether we carry swimwear in our hand luggage to your imagination, but needless to say, it was a very private space.
Suddenly exhausted, we delighted in the chill of the air conditioning and climbed into the implausibly large, ridiculously comfortable bed, surrounded by a grand total of eight ‘heavy duck’ pillows and that crisp white bedding you only seem to find in hotels. We were asleep by 9pm, lulled by the sound of Jacuzzi bubbles in the pool behind our headboard.
I woke up bright and early for one of three complimentary yoga classes I’d signed up for. Sadly, the tranquillity of the class was shattered by some idiot on a running machine in the same room – an experience made slightly less annoying, if infinitely more embarrassing, by the fact the idiot in question was none other than Mr Smith, who was there at my suggestion and completely oblivious to the racket he was making due to the noise-cancelling headphones I had bought him. Needless to say I rolled my eyes with my fellow yogis and sidled out after the class without acknowledging him.
Reunited at breakfast, we sipped cappuccinos served with sugar encrusted cinnamon sticks and free-flowing bucks fizz. Faced with an extensive menu, Mr Smith plumped for quesadillas and I ordered the Spanakopita Eggs Benedict, (largely for the sheer joy at saying the word ‘spanakopita,’) but not before we’d thoroughly savaged the Continental buffet, piling our plates high with incongruous combinations of everything from smoked mackerel to pecan pastries.
Sated, we headed back up to our roof terrace for a morning of sunbathing, punctuated by much-needed dips in the pool when it all got a bit sweaty. It was only afterwards that we noticed that the white parts of both my bikini and Mr Smith’s chest hair had turned a delicate shade of green. It took us a little while to work out that our habit of hanging over the infinity pool edge to people-watch had brought us into close contact with the algae growing happily in the chlorine-free water. Luckily a double shower, concrete bath the size of a small swimming pool, and our specially-selected ‘scented wood’ shower-gel proved more than adequate to return everything to its proper hue in time for lunch.
We took advantage of room service – spring and summer rolls – on the roof before my second yoga class of the day, this time on the seafront instead of the gym. It turns out crashing waves and birdsong make a much better backdrop for yoga than your noisy husband on a treadmill. I met Mr Smith at the pool bar where my yoga-teacher-turned-barkeep served us happy-hour cocktails as we watched the sun go down over the bobbing heads of German tourists taking a dip.
We sidled over to the table-lined lawn outside the restaurant and nabbed front-row seats for the hotel’s watery equivalent of a fireworks display – booming waves crashed against the promenade, splashing into the air to ‘oooh’s and ‘aaah’s from our fellow diners. Mr Smith ordered the ‘007’, feeling slightly apprehensive having been served neat vermouth in response to a request for a martini on holiday once before, but with three green olives this debonair concoction turned out to be the perfect cocktail. I turned down offerings from Norway, France and Italy that cost more than the wine, and opted for the local mineral water. In keeping with the architecture, Thai recipes were given the fine-dining treatment, which meant a choice of breads in a napkin-lined basket preceded crispy noodles with salmon, squid, scallops, prawns and kale for me, and a soft-shell yellow crab curry for Mr Smith. What it may have lacked in street-food authenticity it more than made up for in white-tablecloth indulgence.
The following morning, we checked out and headed off on the ‘Three Temples Tour’ to learn more about the Buddhist temples that embrace Hinduism and Chinese fortune telling as well as tourists and locals alike. As Casa de la Flora disappeared in the rear-view mirror, it struck me that its approach wasn’t so different – Scandinavian architecture and French-inspired fine dining meets generous Thai hospitality for citizens of the world. There’s an incense stick burning in a temple carrying a wish that we’ll be back.
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