In November 2017, I'd gotten my first taste of Asia. 19 hours in flight to Hong Kong, and a quick hop from there to Bangkok, I was well on my way to the uncommonly known, yet rising star of Thailand, Hua Hin. Tucked away just a few hours south of the nation’s capital of Bangkok, Hua Hin is the jewel of its majestic nation. Uniquely exquisite, the region is a less obvious destination for tourists; a fact that only enhances intimate weddings and honeymoons with its placid charisma, paving the way for untethered bliss in this coastal town. Quite literally fit for kings and queens, it is not by accident that Hua Hin is the location of the royal family’s summer palace.
An uncommonly beautiful destination for lovers and dreamers, Aleenta Hua Hin Resort & Spaignites serene passion along the Gulf of Thailand. Twenty-two thoughtfully designed residences extend commanding views and elegant décor amidst a private setting. The picturesque Pool Residences are each equipped with its own private plunge pool, hammock, and thatched roof structure with open door windows that overlook its seafront landscape. The Beachfront Villas offer a taste of Thai home and comfort, each complete with a living room, dining room, and pantry. Sun loungers and a private terrace make an ideal space to partake in relaxation and even private dining and entertaining, paired with the sumptuous Asian flavors prepared by the resort’s culinary masters. With a private beach merely steps away, a peaceful barefoot stroll in the balmy tropical breeze rejuvenates the senses. One need not to look far to find inner zen, as yoga mats and a plentiful library of soothing sounds ideal for meditation await in every residence, alongside a state-of-the-art audio system to set the mood.
The dedicated staff at Aleenta are as friendly as they are knowledgeable, eager to fulfill guests’ every desire to ensure an experience like no other. With a wealth of activities including but not limited to windsurfing, biking, diving, golf, cooking classes, tai chi, and yoga all within reach, couples never find themselves without what to do. Matched only by the idyllic atmosphere, on-site wedding professionals expertly arrange for all of the wedding day essentials, from florals and décor, to custom menus and personal touches, in either a traditional Thai or western fashion. Flying lanterns in the sky, Thai dance performances, and fire fountains are just some of the elements that make Aleenta truly stand out in all its glory.
Honeymooners will find romance at every turn from the moment they step on to the property. Upon arrival, Aleenta’s signature refreshing welcome drink awaits its guests. A romantic candle-lit dinner for two on the beach offers complete privacy and a choreographed arrangement of delicately draped curtains to frame the occasion. An endless array of enhancements from live music to a dedicated fireworks display, inspire a spark of creativity, as a curated feast is artfully prepared. As the meal comes to a close, an invitation to set your wishes free with fire lanterns is yours to release into the night sky.
To truly experience the magic of Thailand is to embrace its flavorful yet wholesome cuisine. Aleenta Restaurant prepares delectable traditional and modern Thai cuisine, as well western fusion recipes, using the freshest catches from the sea, locally sourced ingredients, organic herbs, and exotic spices that elevate the senses. The Aleenta Bakery serves freshly baked bread and pastries, complemented by a full-range of coffee selections to enjoy. Breakfast at Aleenta is Instagram-worthy as it is generous, with a tiered platter of cooked meats, cheeses, tropical fruits, and pastries, served beneath the netted restaurant alongside a comprehensive menu complete with delightful morning treats.
At the Ayurah Spa, lovers of luxury and wellness will be pampered to the fullest with a plethora of treatments to choose from. The spa menu features a vast selection of massages, facials, Thai healing treatments, body wraps, deep soaks, manicures, pedicures, and hair treatments. Stretch with yoga masters for a holistic wellness exercise, or indulge the day spa’s organic and sustainable farm produce offerings—there is no limit to the ways Ayurah will enhance the mind, body, and soul.
Although one never needs to leave the resort to find balance, harmony, and inspiration, just outside the resort there is discoveries to be made in the town of Hua Hin. For a taste of old Thailand, experience the region’s culture at the Cicada Market, filled with handmade art and crafts by local vendors. The Hua Hin Night Market is not to be missed, where stalls of merchandise are lined up with trinkets, and tasty Thai street food are prepared for an inexpensive feast. Although the U.S. dollar goes a long way in Thailand, polite haggling on the prices is not only expected, it is practically encouraged. Through exploration of the local markets, the opportunity to practice speaking the Thai language is both a fun and informative way to spend an afternoon.
From Hua Hin, it's time to head back to Bangkok for a transfer flight to Chiang Mai in the northern province. Arguably a city with the most diversity to be found in Thailand, Chiang Mai blends ancient Buddhist culture and nature preserves with modern luxury. It is here you will find a wide array Buddhist temples, animal encounters, bountiful shopping excursions, and everything in between. Throughout my Thai travels, I find Chiang Mai appeals most to my fancy; the weather is a drop cooler, the cuisine a touch spicier, and the surrounding vibe like an urban playground filled with ancient gems.
On the surface, Akyra Manor Chiang Mai simply appears to be one of the hip downtown area’s most chic quarters, and while that is a fact that rings true, this centrally-located boutique hotel goes above and beyond to invent a luxury experience unrivaled by anything we’ve ever seen. Thirty opulent and oversized suites make up the property with sweeping views of the city’s urban and mountainous horizon. The impeccably deluxe design of each room offers a distinguished assortment of amenities, including a private courtyard bathtub, lavish bathroom and dressing area, plush linens, and top of the line appliances. Guests are invited to find their most perfect custom comfort, utilizing a pillow menu and a selection of aromatic essences to be lightly misted upon the bed for a well-rested beauty sleep.
The warm northern Thailand hospitality transforms the space into a sanctuary in its own right. A gateway to the ultimate destination wedding (and honeymoon) space, the professional team of this Small Luxury Hotels of the World member arranges every incumbent facet to deliver an elevated affair, so the celebrated couple are left to escape the stresses of planning, decompress, and absorb the magic. It is highly recommended to indulge in an in-room Thai massage to get the journey off to a most harmonious beginning.
At Italics, Akyra Manor’s premier culinary destination, traditional Thai cuisine is infused with an Italian twist, for an inventive and innovative dining odyssey. The rooftop RISE Bar is an absolute must for its alluring cocktails, and photogenic transparent infinity swimming pool, which overlooks the fetching Chiang Mai outlook.
The knowledgeable concierge gurus serve as your portal to once-in-a-lifetime day excursions for every fancy. Trendy boutiques, galleries, markets, night bazaars, and coffee shops make for great ways to pass the time, but it is the exotic and mystical passages that are truly otherworldly. Get one-on-one time with nature at the nearby Tiger Kingdom and elephant sanctuaries, and indulge in the ancient art of palm and numerology life reading that dates back centuries. Capture a moment of culture with a photo shoot in traditional Thai dress, where you will have the chance to partake in a full makeover and meet with a professional photographer that will guide you through the most popular and visionary districts about town for a most memorable experience. Get in touch with your spiritual side while exploring the Buddhist philosophy with a genuine monk advisement and meditation encounter at the holy temple of Wat Phra That, located near the top of Doi Suthep. While many locations are within walking distance in this compelling urban terrain, one must not miss a joyride in a tuk tuk, and for travel to the outer-lying regions, Akyra provides chauffer service, but Uber is always an option too.
Back down in southern Thailand, Phuket is known for its crystal sands and divine waters, attracting lovers of luxury to its tropical climate. The focal point for many major motion pictures through time, this coastal region is most definitely one for the bucket list.
The newly-fashioned Akyra Beach Club Phuket sits right along the enigmatic Natai Beach. In each of the fifty-eight luxurious rooms, suites, and villas overlooking the Andamn seashore, generous in-room comforts adorned at every turn, and a myriad of facilities make the leading luxury resort a gem of the southern province. Private villas are paired with spectacularly plush king-sized beds, deep soak bathtubs, mosaic tiled interiors, and comprehensive deluxe amenities.
Soak up the sun on Akyra’s private beach while relaxing in cushioned cabanas and beachside loungers with refreshing cocktails, and bliss is more than a mere certainty. The sounds of the sea make for heavenly oceanfront al fresco dining, only surpassed by the palatable culinary fare created by the resort’s world-class chef. For added taste and convenience, Akyra’s ice cream parlor and Galleria Boutique are worth a visit as you roam the lavish and environmentally conscious retreat.
Just down the beach at Akyra Beach Club Phuket’s sister property, Aleenta Phuket Resort & Spa, exclusive luxury venues are within reach for a truly personalized ceremony and reception. Passionate wedding consultants take care of all the logistics, tirelessly executing every imaginable desire. The palatial four bedroom Grand Villa Satis is a vision, standing alone as a massive abode, complete with a large private beachfront pool, and great lawn, which may accommodate tenting and custom décor. East meets west with Thai tradition in a genuine Buddhist blessing ceremony hosted by local monks to add luck and charm into newly cultivated nuptials. Long drum dances leading guests to the beach, and a special turtle release gift loved ones with an extraordinary perspective that is anything but commonplace.
The Ayurah Wellness Centre awakens the spirit in its rejuvenating holistic therapies, with integrative spa services in a tranquil environment. An extensive menu of offerings leaves no stone left unturned as the compelling peripherals extract a serene piece of heaven. Highlights at Ayurah include signature Senses of Ayurah massage for deep relaxation, oxygen therapies for peak immune system performance, and the healing hydrotherapy bath to promote detoxification and even jetlag recovery.
Venturing out to Phuket’s distinctive habitat makes for a truly unforgettable experience. Explore the sheer limestone cliffs and emerald green waters of Phang Nga Bay at James Bond Island and Koh Panyee, or travel by boat to the famous Phi Phi Island, and see why travelers in the know have deemed Phuket’s seascape as the ultimate quest for love at first sight. Witness Big Buddha first-hand, which sits atop the Nakkerd Hills and overlooks Chalong, Kata, and Rawai. Island hopping through snorkeling, diving, and boating adventures evokes the senses in the most beautiful expanse this world has to offer. Rent a scooter and drive along the coast to instill a sense of freedom and release unfounded in the western hemisphere.
Thailand is absolutely one of those places that is so diverse across its landscape, you must visit several cities from the north to the south to get the complete picture. It's really no wonder why so many westerners find themselves as expats in Thailand... once you've been, you know a return is imminent. As for me, I can't wait to be back!
A version of this story written by Samantha Sendor originally appeared in the 2018 Sophisticated Weddings.