Rooftop infinity pool at Ad Lib Hotel Khon Kaen

Franco’s Thai-tanic Adventures: Part 4

Paradise Refound at Pimalai Resort & Spa

Monkeys, Mangroves … and Man!

Pimalai Resort & Spa on the southern Thai island of Koh Lanta has always held mythical status for me. But how to get there from Phuket? ‘Ordinary folk’ typically fly into Krabi and then enjoy a leisurely combination of car and boat provided by the resort itself.

However, rarely does anyone opt to journey from Phuket. So, your friendly ‘stunt monkey’ decided to give it a shot…


By Franco Sessini | Director of Sales – UK & Ireland

(All photos taken by Franco)

The smiles at Pimalai are always this bright

Goodbye Phuket, Hello Koh Lanta

Leaving Paresa Resort behind, a 40-minute taxi whisked me to Rassada Pier, where I hopped aboard a speedboat for a one-and-a-half hour journey to Koh Lanta via Phi Phi Island—a rollercoaster of a ride across stunning seas. For those preferring a more sedate crossing, an air-conditioned slow boat offers a four-hour leisurely alternative, ideal for dodging any ‘mal de mer’ mishaps. After a pit-stop at Phi Phi, we docked at Saladin Pier on Koh Lanta—a charming jumble of stilted buildings, worlds apart from Phuket’s bustling terminals. Greeted by a sharply dressed driver from Pimalai, we embarked on a scenic 30-minute drive south to the resort.

Koh Lanta immediately charmed with its tranquil vibe—a serene sanctuary compared to Phuket’s hustle. Once sparsely inhabited, the island’s slow pace reflects its sea nomad heritage of fishing, farming and trade. The tranquility is preserved by locals driving slowly and (mostly) politely through lush farmlands, sleepy villages and verdant forests.

Along the way, unassuming cafes, bars and restaurants dotted the route, enhancing rather than disrupting the island’s allure. Finally, at the end of a narrow, winding road emerged Pimalai Resort & Spa—where I last set foot 23 years ago, and oh my, how she has transformed into a breathtaking beauty!

Pimalai Resort & Spa

Upon checking in, a buggy ride took me to what can only be described as a cliffside palace with sea below and lush forest behind. This is one of the new One Bedroom Hillside Oceanview Pool Villas featuring a living area and bedroom separated by a pool. Tastefully extravagant!

The resort is neatly split into Beachside (downhill from the lobby) and Hillside (uphill from the lobby). Going downhill was a breeze for a fairly fit but slightly chunky bloke like me, but tackling the uphill trek in tropical heat—not for the faint of heart! Thank the coconut gods for the resort’s ingenious app, from which you can pre-check-in, reserve tables, book tours, chat with guest services and summon a buggy—a lazy person’s lifeline without a hint of guilt!

Word around the palm trees is … the resort is digging a tunnel! Currently, a narrow road divides the hillside and beachside. The tunnel will bridge this gap, ensuring smooth access for guests and buggies without dodging traffic, even if it’s quieter than a sleeping gecko. This will unite the entire resort into one perfect paradise!

Hillside… Exploring Pimalai is an adventure all its own. Besides the luxurious Pool Villas, the Hillside section now boasts the brand-new Heritage Bar—a perfect hangout for cocktails, pre-dinner aperitifs, sundowners, or those post-dinner snifters. It’s bright, breezy and breathtaking, overlooking the hillside pool and the shimmering ocean. Adjacent is the Seven Seas Restaurant, offering the same spectacular views. Both spots are opulent yet approachable, and the staff here, as everywhere at the resort, are as charming and chatty as they are professional.

Beachside… The original beachfront section of the resort should be buzzing with activity, but actually is an unexpected oasis of tranquility, just like the rest of the resort. Whether you’re in the Bayfront Deluxe Rooms, Pavilion Rooms or Beachfront Pool Suites, expect nothing short of excellence. Every corner maintains the same impeccable standards.

All rooms and suites are just a short stroll from the one-kilometre stretch of private sandy beach, the beach bar (where cocktails come with a side of sea breeze), Rak Talay Restaurant (perfect for dining with your toes in the sand), Spice & Rice Restaurant, the magnificent pool, and the world class Spa. If you’re feeling adventurous enough for tennis or other sports, they’re up the hill—a good excuse to hop in a buggy!

The Spa and Spice & Rice are temporarily closed for a makeover but will reopen towards the end of the ‘green season’.

Walking with Elephants

It would be so easy to just lounge around the resort, however I had the pleasure of having my itinerary crafted by the owner herself, Miss Kade. Intelligent, thoughtful and incredibly hospitable—with a hint of ‘Yorkshire grit’ from her days in Harrogate, Miss Kade is not your typical hotelier. While most places keep guests on-site to maximise spending, Pimalai’s ethos is all about getting out to experience the island and the local communities.

Activities range from snorkelling trips at Koh Rok to hikes through the forest, and from exploring tidal caves to the every unexpected ‘Walking with Elephants’! This surprising tour is part of a future-oriented initiative ensuring these majestic creatures can thrive in as close to their natural habitat as possible—and on Koh Lanta this means 40 acres of pure elephant bliss.

There is no touching the elephants, just following and observing as they scratch against trees, rumble, trumpet and, if lucky, luxuriate in a mud bath! It’s both awe-inspiring and thought-provoking—as no doubt lively debates about elephant tours will continue. But ‘Walking with Elephants’ is a step in the right direction and can only evolve over time. At Pimalai, it’s a must-do excursion.

Mangrove Tour

Another highlight is the boat trip through the mangroves—a protected haven and focus of the island’s environmental efforts. Miss Kade, the wonderfully eccentric Sonia (Product Manager for a Chinese tour operator), and I leisurely cruised through winding waterways for about an hour and a half. Macaque monkeys and their babies watched us watching them, and showed off their incredible swimming prowess.

It was serene, calm and meditative. Fish jumped around us and kingfishers plunged in iridescent flashes into the water—all against a backdrop of meandering waterways fringed with untouched greenery. This tranquil experience was just what my busy little brain needed—a natural escape far removed from Thailand’s usual hustle and bustle.

I recommend doing this in the afternoon when the temperature cools, followed by a stroll through the Old Town with its colourful shops and boutiques. We capped off the tour with a few drinks at a bar perched precariously over the sea followed by a wonderful dinner. Spending the day with Miss Kade and Sonia made it an unforgettable adventure I’ll always cherish.

Three days at Pimalai is not nearly enough. Next time, it’ll be at least a week!

So, goodbye to Pimalai, to my wonderful host Miss Kade and my new mad friend Sonia. Next stop – a whirlwind tour of Chiang Mai and the iconic 137 Pillars House.

Contact us for more information about Pimalai Resort & Spa…