A big part of travel is experiencing other cultures – seeing how other peoples live and eat and have fun and so on. In an increasingly globalized world, it is possible to experience far-flung cultures close to home, with Thai culture being particularly well-traveled. Thai food, for example, is known around the world and is almost universally loved.
There is absolutely no doubt that the best place to taste Thai food is in Thailand; the best place to get a Thai massage is Thailand; the best place to see or train in Thai boxing is Thailand; the best place to buy Thai silk is Thailand. The question is, when you are visiting Phuket, who does the best resort?
Tourism is admittedly not a Thai invention, though it cannot be denied that the Land of Smiles has quite a gift for it for relative beginners. Thailand was only really “discovered” in the last 30 years or so, but has become an essential stop on the bucket lists of almost every traveler, thanks to its breath-taking scenery, beautiful beaches, mysterious jungles, remarkable culture and, perhaps most importantly, the infinitely welcoming people.
The best Thailand resorts feature spectacular rooms which combine the charming traditional local architecture with modern amenities and fixtures. The grounds, too, manage to marry the nation’s remarkable natural beauty with everything you would need or want from a modern five-star hotel, including swimming pools, restaurants, spas and sports facilities.
While Thailand is certainly host to plenty of the major international hotel brands and such places do provide a comfortable place to stay, it is like comparing McDonalds to Royal Thai food. One is popular because of its spectacular flavour, skilfully crafted and honed by people who have been immersed in the culture and the cuisine for their entire lives. The other is widely popular, but mostly for the fact that it is consistent and reliable, even if that means that it is consistently considerably lower in quality and flavour.
That is genuinely the reason why fast food chains are successful internationally. People like what they know – they don’t like to gamble their lunch on a small local restaurant which may be considerably better or may be considerably worse. Why take that risk, no matter how small, when you could go to a chain restaurant and, while it certainly won’t exceed your expectations, you can guarantee that it won’t fail to meet them, either.
Holiday accommodation is exactly the same. Big international brands have been a major success because people don’t like to risk their holiday on a hotel which may or may not be exceptional. Instead, they go for the “safe bet” of a place which they know will be just adequate. As understandable as this mentality is, it is undoubtedly a shame, given how much such people are missing out on.
In order to create that consistency, even spanning totally different countries, continents and – most significantly – cultures, international brands create very safe but exceptionally bland holiday experience. It is the fast food of holidays – cheap, tasteless and severely lacking in nutritional value of any kind.
The best Thailand resorts are those which are run by Thais – the smaller local brands and the entirely independent hotels which don’t just offer you somewhere to sleep in the evenings, but create a complete holiday experience. Forget the blank white décor, bland international breakfast buffets and a swimming pool which is nothing but a body of water. Thai-owned and operated facilities boast glorious traditionally-styled rooms, tasty local cuisine and swimming pools which meld with the natural surroundings, becoming more like lagoons and small lakes than just a 25m x 10m hole in the ground.
The big difference between a hotel and a meal is that you can clearly see the quality of your accommodation before you book, particularly with high-quality websites and online travel agencies. There is therefore no good reason to settle for second-best. The gamble is no longer such a big one and you can quite safely settle for a cordon bleu holiday instead of a Happy Meal!