Robin Bennefield explored the Hong Islands on a long tail boat.

Robin Bennefield explored the Hong Islands of Thailand on a long tail boat.

“I don’t think this is relaxing enough,” says my friend Nancee as she stands waist deep in the Andaman Sea staring out at the otherworldly rock formations of Thailand’s Krabi Province.

She’s being sarcastic in that way that only Nancee can. Karen is submerged up to her neck in bath-like water and has a serene smile on her face, while I’m trying to judge exactly what shade of blue the water is: Turquoise? Aquamarine? It’s clear that our stay in Krabi will surpass our expectations for relaxation.

Before The New York Times declared the southern Thailand town as one of the 52 Places to Go in 2014, we’d already witnessed the pristine beauty of this hidden gem of a destination on an isolated stretch of Tubkaek Beach, facing the Hong Islands. Many guidebooks and travel magazines direct travelers to the much ballyhooed island of Phuket off Thailand’s southern coast, but I knew that I wanted to skip busy beaches, an over-the-top party scene and pocketbook-busting luxury. Krabi turned out to be the perfect alternative.

When we arrived at the Amari Vogue Krabi via the hotel’s 4×4, we stopped short in awe. The open breezy lobby revealed the most stunning seascape any of us had ever seen. This was the Thailand that I wanted to see — limestone karst islands cropping up out of an unbelievably blue sea. When I looked up the hotel, touted as a Traveler’s Choice Winner on TripAdvisor, I had no idea that it would live up to the glowing reviews or gorgeous pictures.

The property at the Amari Vogue Krabi gracefully flows down toward the hotel's private beach in a series of stairs and crystal clear plunge pools. (Photo: Robin Bennefield)

The property at the Amari Vogue Krabi gracefully flows down toward the hotel’s private beach in a series of stairs and crystal clear plunge pools. (Photo: Robin Bennefield)

The property gracefully flows down toward its private beach in a series of stairs and crystal clear plunge pools lined by elegant water-spouting elephant fountains. Our room was decorated in the lovely wood accents of northern Thailand, with a balcony overlooking the pools below and the Andaman Sea beyond, which is where we decide to spend much of our day.

We join several couples and a few families on well-shaded lounge chairs before venturing out into the sea, which laps at our ankles, then our knees and waists. It seems that we are so far out that we can touch the Hong Islands, but the water hasn’t even reached our shoulders. At sunset, we watch the water recede to reveal a massive sandbar, the perfect place to stand under the dazzling array of ambers and golds decorating the sky.

Karen and I opt for a closer look at the Hong Islands the next day while Nancee stays beachside and indulges in some pampering at the hotel’s Breezes Spa. Besides coming to Thailand to visit another friend, as part of a two-week trip that also included Cambodia, my main reason for traveling to this Asian nation was to explore its islands on a colorful, long tail boat. So, I was thrilled to see the narrow boats with colorful ribbons on their bows lined up on the beach after breakfast.

A shoreline view of rocky outcrops in Thailand's Adaman Sea. (Photo: Robin Bennefield)

A shoreline view of rocky outcrops in Thailand’s Adaman Sea. (Photo: Robin Bennefield)

A boat captain named Sundana steps up to take us on a journey to the Andaman’s rocky outcrops. We watch him in wonder as he balances on the back of the boat, using his thighs to lift and get the engine started. It’s the clearest day yet, and the islands seem to glisten like emerald gems against a powder-blue sky and turquois sea. Our first stop is Hong Island, the namesake and largest of this group of islands that are a part of Than Bok Khorani National Park.

We join a handful of European sun worshipers on the island, along with another boat captain named Bao, who was especially happy to see me arrive. He puts his brown arm next to mine and excitedly says, “Same, same!” I must be the first black person that he’s seen travel on a long tail boat as a tourist, and he’s thrilled to learn that I’m from the United States. After this cultural exchange, Karen and I spend time snorkeling, sun bathing and walking along a densely forested trail on the serenely beautiful island.

Sundana continues to guide us from island to island, until we find ourselves with an entire island to ourselves, floating listlessly in its warm water and wondering if there is a more beautifully peaceful place on earth. At the end of our four-hour tour, Sundana asks if we are happy. We are, and we pay him more than the 700 Thai baht that he requests, a mere $25.

I didn’t think I could get more relaxed, but an hour-long visit to the hotel’s Breezes Spa reduced me to an almost catatonically chill state. Nancee bragged about her blissful experience, so I opted to get slathered in aromatic detoxifying oils too, in one of the spas flower-strewn rooms. I leave, parting with only $45.

During a dinner of delightfully spicy curry dishes, we sigh over our impending departure the next day, still a little awe-struck by Krabi’s secret, unspoiled beauty.

Go now, before the secret gets out.

Robin Bennefield is a travel writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.


Getting There:

  • Fly the budget airline, AirAsia, from Bangkok to Krabi, an hour and 20-minute flight. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the airport has expanded to welcome more domestic and international flights. Amari Vogue offers free airport transfers.

Other Activities:

  • Visit Ao Nang, the touristy resort town 20 minutes away, a good jumping off point for other adventures like kayaking, diving and cruising to nearby islands.
  • Take a short but strenuous hike along lush scenic trails overlooking Krabi Bay in Than Bok Khorani National Park.