Aleenta Hua Hin

Pranburi, Hua Hin & East Coast, Thailand Book from THB6,667

Reviewed by Viv Monahan
Barefoot-chic spa hotel on a secret golden beach, 3 hours south of Bangkok
After a few days in Bangkok, chances are you’ll want to head to the coast for some S&S on the beach (R&R is so last year, don’t you know). But the question is, where’s the best place? Well, it depends what you think S&S stands for. If it’s sleaze and sex shows, then jump on a bus to Pattaya and begone with you. But if it’s sand and sea, swimming and sunbathing or spa and style, then you should head south, past the resorty sprawl and golf courses of Cha-Am and Hua Hin, to the little market town of Pranburi - a gloriously uncommercialised stretch, with a long empty beach, where Baht billionaires’ villas brush shoulders with palm trees and towers of lobster pots. At one end is Aleenta: it’s Sanskrit for ‘a rewarding life’ and it’s the original - and best - boutique resort here, its 2 stylish beachfront wings separated by a short tuk-tuk ride.

The hotel - one of the most relaxing places we’ve stayed in Thailand - comes beautifully together through a mixture of brilliant environmental policies and inspired management. Happy staff tend the cool residences (every one unique), while guests - long-haul travellers, ex-pats and well-heeled Thais - congregate in the ‘collision cuisine’ restaurant, by one of the swimming pools, or at Ayurah Spa. Outside the grounds, this part of Pranburi is still Old Thailand. It’s a place where local fish cafés, golden wats, grazing oxen and street food sellers reassure you that you’re a long way, at least spiritually, from the soulless corporates further north.

Highs

  • The lovely residences have wraparound windows and open-air bathrooms; some have Jacuzzis or plunge pools, while other feature quirks like trees growing through the ceiling
  • The endless sandy beach, the 2 raised infinity pools and a little-known national park on your doorstep
  • Food is fun: from the canapés brought round at sunset to breakfast served on a tiered cake stand
  • Most rooms can only accommodate over 12s, but the Frangipani Wing welcomes all ages and there's a Children's Concierge plus children are welcome in the restaurants and spa
  • Pranburi has been overlooked by the developers: when we revisited in 2012, the tallest thing on the horizon was still the hill

Lows

  • It’s a 3-hour drive or 4-hour train ride from Bangkok
  • The beach isn’t Bounty-ad beautiful, but it’s clean, wide and peaceful
  • The sea shelves very gently and jellyfish occasionally make an appearance (kite-surfers may need leggings and rashies), but the staff are well prepared
  • Annoyingly, mozzies at dusk and dawn stop you sleeping with your windows open
  • Only a handful of the private sundecks are truly private: in the Frangipani Wing, you can see into some ground-floor residences from the pool when doors are open

Best time to go

The temperature is a fairly stable 30-35C all year round, making this a feasible destination at any time of year. There's a light northeast monsoon from October to January, bringing winds, cloud and some rain. It also gets some spillover from the southwest monsoon between July and September. But you'll rarely if ever get more than a couple of hours of rain in one day. February to May are the driest months, and September to November are the prime months for migratory shore birds.

Our top tips

  • Aleenta runs its own driving school and guests may qualify (but only for fun) as a tuk-tuk driver!
  • Consider coming over Thai New Year, Songkran, when the garden is filled with torches and spirit lanterns light the sky
  • Instead of driving down from Bangkok, you can take the train, which arrives at Hua Hin station, with its stunningly pretty Royal Waiting Room built for King Rama VI. If you can work out the rather complex train schedule (look at Seat 61), the hotel will pick you up
  • Great for...

    Beach
    Eco
    Family
    Spa
    Wedding
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Boutique Hotel
    • 24
    • Restaurants and bars (open daily)
    • Some rooms welcome all ages
    • Open all year
    • Outdoor Pool
    • Spa
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Daily Maid Service
    • Towels & Bedlinen
    • Bicycles Available
    • Kayaks
    • Yoga area
    Room:

    Rooms

    Set among beachfront lawns, the residences and villas are housed in whitewashed buildings looking out to sea. Against this white, blue and green backdrop, the lovely design includes clean lines, thatch canopies, glistening plunge pools, swinging hammocks and sliding windows. It's thoroughly cool and calming, compromised only by a slight lack of privacy.

    Beds are sumptuous, with mountainous pillows and Egyptian cotton bedlinen. Indoor-outdoor wet rooms (some with double tubs) are huge and have zingy, eco toiletries; 21st-century touches include a ferocious shower-spray, WiFi and a pre-loaded iPod and dock (but no television). There's a proper selection of teas and coffees, too. Though wardrobe space is limited, you'll probably live in the fishermen's pyjamas provided. Most rooms bring the indoors out, with living space spilling onto shady verandas, sundecks or roof terraces. We found our air-conditioning sluggish, but units have since been upgraded.

    The Main Wing only accommodates over 12s, although please note that children can use the restaurants and spa in this wing. The thatched Pool Residences (Ylang Ylang, Jasmine and Kaffir Lime) are the lightest and brightest rooms, with outdoor Jacuzzis or plunge pools. The larger, more secluded Palm Pool Residences (Coconut-, Raffia-, Salak-, Chusan- and Acia-Palm) also have private lawns leading down to the beach. Ocean View Residences (Nutmeg, Vanilla, Cumin, Cannella, Khamin and Thyme) are large and airy, some with split-level sitting areas, set in the pretty flower-filled courtyard. The 2 Bedroom Beach House is split over 2 levels and has its own indoor and outdoor living space, a beach front plunge pool and roof terrace. The lofty Penthouse, rumoured to be a favourite of the Beckhams, has wraparound views and a double bathtub on its large terrace.

    A short walk along the beach (or 2 minutes by shuttle) is Aleenta's Frangipani Wing. Ground-floor residences have private decks leading onto the infinity pool whilst those on the first floor benefit from a roof terrace and ocean views. The latter are the ones where families can stay as these can fit rollaway beds or a baby cot.

    Next door, in a blossomy garden, is the curvy 2 Bedroom Chaba Villa for guests seeking extra privacy (Hollywood A-Listers were in residence when we visited). All ages are welcome, and there are 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a pantry, plenty of living space and a screened garden sofa looking out onto the Gulf of Siam. Private chefs and yoga masters can be supplied.

    We're yet to view the 2 Bedroom Frangipani Suite and 3 Bedroom Beachfront Villa, but with direct access to the pool or beach they're perfectly located for unwinding.

    Features include:

    • Air conditioning
    • Bathrobes
    • Coffee tea making
    • Cots Available
    • Extra beds
    • Fan
    • Fishermen's pyjamas
    • Hairdryer
    • Ipod dock
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Mosquito net
    • Phone
    • Pre-loaded iPod
    • Radio
    • Safe box
    • Slippers
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi
    • Wifi internet

    Eating

    The open-sided main restaurant has just 6 tables, overlooking the sea by day and lit by candles at night, so it's all very intimate. It's in the Main Wing, but children are welcome to dine here. If you prefer, you can have meals brought to your own beachside table next to your room.

    Breakfasts are generous and interesting: a buffet of cooked meats, cheeses, tropical fruit and pastries arrives at your table on a tiered cake stand beneath a net - it's rather Betty's of Harrogate. Eggs are cooked however you like them, with bacon or shiitakes, or coconut cream and almonds. There are also Asian alternatives (congee and sushi), and the things you only get on holiday, like fresh crispy waffles and Bircher muesli.

    Aleenta's manager is an experienced chef and a dab hand with the liquid nitrogen (and not only in the kitchen - one Christmas, he used it to turn the swimming pool into an ice rink), and you'll spot his influence on the lunch and dinner menu. Many of the dishes are based around the idea of 'collision cuisine' and, mostly, it works: we adored the tempura prawns with silky-sweet satay ice cream, but were less convinced by canapés of clams in chilli oil with a chocolate shot on the side. Also on the menu are spicy traditional Thai dishes - we couldn't get enough of the Tom Yam, or the lip-enhancing green papaya salad - and Western standbys for when you need to give your digestion a break.

    The Cellar is the latest addition to Aleenta and we can’t wait to go back and try it ourselves. The restaurant is a celebration of local produce, everything used has been sourced from within 30km of the hotel. These fresh, seasonal ingredients are transformed into numerous Thai and international favourites with a twist, such as fish and chips with Thai spices, followed by pineapple and chilli spring rolls. There is also a poolside lounge (at the Frangipani Wing) which serves drinks and light snacks throughout the day.

    Outside, there are loads of grazing opportunities - there's a night market at Hua Hin (a taxi ride away), lots of safe fish cafés at the anchorage, and a few bustling, open-air Thai eateries along the beach.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Children meals
    • Coffee tea making
    • Cooking classes
    • Minibar/fridge
    • Restaurant
    • Restaurants nearby
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • Aleenta is all about unwinding, so your activities will likely consist of sunbathing, walking along the beach and paddling or swimming. Sunrise-facing sands lure shell collectors and early morning joggers and, happily, there are no motorised watersports
    • Don't miss a spa treatment at Ayurah Spa; the delicious ingredients such as rose petals, Inca Omega and Luk Prakob will revive your jaded palate as well as banish jetlag
    • Borrow one of the resort's mountain bikes - within 10 minutes you'll be out in the countryside where you can watch Thais at work on their farms and tending their cows. Or head south towards pretty Dolphin Bay
    • The kitesurfing school in the village takes experts and beginners: a good wind blows up every afternoon. Or tone up your upper body with a spot of sea kayaking
    • The coastal walk is brought to a full stop by Khao Kalok (Skull Mountain) at the southern tip of the beach - good climbers should make it to the lookout point at the top in 30 minutes
    • There are cooking classes for couples, with a private tour guide/chef to take you round the local markets and then teach you how to concoct classic Thai dishes, followed by lunch on the rooftop, and a copy of your own recipe booklet
    • Golf is available at a variety of courses around Hua Hin, which itself is a pleasant enough resort town, patronised by Thai royalty and bustling with seafood stalls, souvenir markets and bars
    • If you want to explore the countryside, we can recommend the little-visited Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, about 15km south of Aleenta. It has an idyllic white-sand beach accessible only by longtail boat (Laem Sala), various hiking trails along the coast and up to rocky peaks, a wildlife reserve with interpretative trails (langurs and serows are the elusive highlights), saltpans and marshflats hosting numerous waders (including the purple heron), and a trio of impressive caves, including the multi-chambered Tham Phraya Nakorn with a royal pavilion inside
    • Other day trips include the elephant hospital at Hua Hin, or the Tiger Temple, or the Bridge over the River Kwai

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Birdwatching
    • Cooking classes
    • Cycling
    • Golf
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Kayaking
    • Kitesurfing
    • Plantlife / flora
    • Shopping / markets
    • Swimming
    • Tai Chi
    • Well being
    • Wellness
    • Wildlife
    • Yoga

    Kids

    Children are greeted with a goodie bag (colouring books, painting sets and a guide to activities on offer) on arrival. This is a lovely place for kids, who are genuinely welcomed by the caring staff, and a Children's Concierge is on hand for families to make the most of their holiday.

    Although the Main Wing at Aleenta welcomes children over the age of 12, the Frangipani Wing with its smart and roomy family rooms is open to children of all ages. Children can also use the restaurant and spa in the Main Wing (though not the pool). Children aged 6 and below stay for free and there's a supplement fee for older children. There's even a 15% discount for single adult families and complimentary babysitting if you've booked a spa treatment!

    Best for:

    All ages

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Within the Frangipani Wing, 3 of the first-floor residences have space for a rollaway bed, and 2 have space for a baby cot. Our favourite place to stay with little ones would be in the 2 Bedroom Chaba Villa (breakfast arrives on a tuk-tuk, which is fun), as it has plenty of space and views out to the Gulf of Siam. Rooms in the Main Wing are suitable for over 12s only and none can accommodate extra beds. Families with older kids and teens should opt for the 2 Bedroom Beach House with has 2 double/twin bedrooms and a private plunge pool.

    Babysitting:

    The Children's Concierge can arrange nannies, babysitters and even teachers through the hotel

    Baby equipment:

    • High chairs
    • Baby cots
    • Car seats
    • Cot-sized mosquito nets

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Children's meals:

    Fussy eaters will love the breakfast juices in little bottles, and the menu has familiar items that won’t terrify. Children under 6 eat for free. Milk and cookies are offered at bedtime

    Kids Activities on site:

    • Cupcake making and decorating classes
    • Family cooking lessons with the chefs using organic produce from the farm
    • Coconut beach petanque
    • Kite making and flying
    • Movie afternoons and evenings

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • Visit the local farm and meet its animals
    • Surfing lessons on the beach
    • Trips to local markets, waterfalls and temples
    • Complimentary bikes for exploring the area

    Families Should Know:

    Non-swimmers need to be watched near the unfenced swimming pool (it’s a maximum of 1.2m deep), and you have to be on the lookout for jellyfish in the sea

    Distances:

    • Airport: 3 hours (Bangkok)
    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    9/
    Rooms
    9/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    9/
    Value
    9/
    Overall

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