Winter is Over (if You Want it)

Once, when I was in New York staying at the W on Union Square, the alarm in the room next door would not stop ringing. Obviously whoever had set it was either dead or not there. So I called to the front desk and asked if they could do something about it and some dude named “Axel” (not his real name?) responded: “I’ll be right up with a hammer, boss.”

The trademark “whatever, whenever” W service in action. It was all part of the script, of course, but when you are staying somewhere special, you want to feel special. The problem is that at The W it felt make-believe.

At Casa de La Flora in Khao Lak, Thailand, it all comes naturally.
I’ve spent a lifetime wandering Asia and the South Pacific looking for that awesome beach hotel. Malaysia, Bali, The Maldives, India and beyond.

I’ve got to say there is a lot of awesome out there. But this summer I found a place that combines “awesome” with an unscripted “whatever, whenever” approach that was so laid back and authentic that I never once felt that I was a just a guest – I literally felt that everyone at the hotel was happy to be when and where they were and welcomed me to feel the same.

It all started when I read that the hotel was on the “Hot List” of a Condé Nast publication. I kept it in the back of my mind just in case I found myself with a few spare days and needed a five star solution to whatever one star problem I was facing. A little while later, I was cyber-stalking Facebook and noticed that Casa de La Flora was offering a free stay to the winner of a beach photo contest they were holding.

“OK” I thought, “When I have a moment I’ll search for one of my awesome pre-two-year-old-kid-life travel moments” which I planned to post so the world could gawk and weep.

And then I was hit by a bout of food poisoning that left me begging for death. I rolled around in agony, plotting revenge on the kindergarden whose festival food had brought me to the darkest moment of my life. Naturally, I checked Facebook on my phone every few minutes to see what was happening in the bright shiny world of the living. And then I remembered the contest. I was going to need that vacation.

So I rose from my deathbed and stumbled (crawled mostly) down the stairs, past the maze of “forts” and a minefield strewn with LEGO and dinosaurs, to the computer. I searched in vain for a photo that would say to the world: this man deserves to win, if you have any humanity, taste, dignity or a couple of minutes to waste, send him to Casa de La Flora. People there are smiling and happy. He deserves to live. He needs cold towels and a nice alcoholic bevvie on his ride from the airport in a 7 series BMW. This man should be saved.

And so it came to pass that I was a contestant with a reason to live.

Did it matter that the only pic I could find was one taken of me wearing ugly beach shorts and holding my flea-bitten dog, Surfer, at the ocean the week that Elvis died in 1977?

Did it matter that my chief competition had submitted a professional shot of two young and happy people jumping up and down on shimmering white sand? No it did not. This was for “The Children”, specifically it was for their father who needed to spend some time in an Ultraman-free zone without them. And I won.

I won and it was worth it. The pleading, the begging, the cajoling of all of my “friends” on Facebook – many of whom were only vaguely aware of who I was – worked. They sent me to a better place and I thank them. For three blissful days my wife and I enjoyed the warm and sunny aura of a spot that was created for just that moment when all you need is a menu with five different types of pillows of varying firmness to choose from. Casa de La Flora may be authentic and laid back, but trust me when I say this: Nothing here – nothing – happens by chance.

Architecturally the hotel is in a certain class of its own. It rises from the ground and opens to the sea organically. The buildings, which have grass growing on each roof, are literally part of the verdure that surround and envelop them. Verdant and peaceful, the villas are set in a kind of neoteric labyrinth of stone and wood, grass and flora. Each of the secluded rooms feature private pools as standard and include a suite of mind-bending electronic gadgets and fixtures that would be at home on any version of the Starship Enterprise. Warm and wooden inside, stylish yet unpretentious – the accommodation is organic, electronic, secluded and connected – all things which are subtly coordinated to let you know that you can be any of those four at any time.

Of course for me, a hotel is all about the water and the sun. Here Casa loaded the big guns. James Bond would be more than happy to drink any martini he was served – shaken or stirred, beside the main pool. Sure, it features the now de rigueur infinity edge. But the lounges are actually in the water. Nice touch. Not feeling motivated to do much? Just roll over and slide in. The briefest of eye contact before you submerge is all that is required to bring a barman to the rescue. Whatever. Whenever.

Naturally the ocean is the determining factor when I decide if I’ve spent my time wisely. Honestly, why would you want to look up from a gripping page-turner about the president’s daughter held hostage on a prison satellite in space if there’s nothing worth distracting you? Here Casa doesn’t disappoint. The sound of the surf was omnipresent and the way the brilliant blue sky pretended to be the ocean was pretty flirtatious.

Sun, sleep, water and sand. Mix with great food and a young and energetic staff. Put them in one of the most incredible countries you could ever visit. My friends, may I introduce you to Casa de La Flora.

On the web:  www.casadelaflora.com

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