Travel

The Racha: Your Island Escape in Thailand

Luxury and natural beauty await at this resort near Phuket
TIMENovember 26, 2021

I can think of a lot worse things than a private villa overlooking a crescent moon stretch of sand and a small bay opening up into the sea with a sunset view—in fact, add some Thai food and I think I’m in heaven. If that sounds lovely to you, then take a look at The Racha.

I love Thailand for its islands, and I had the opportunity to visit one of them earlier in 2021 for an unforgettable escape.

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Boats gather at a snorkeling point in Koh Racha Yai. (LightRecords/Shutterstock)

Phuket (pronounced “poo-KET”) is typically the star of Thailand island tourism, a 209-square-mile island connected to the nation’s southerly reaches by a short bridge. It’s well known for its beaches and high-end resorts.

The landscape is lined with karst, towering limestone rock formations that rise straight up from the earth, verdant with plant life or multicolored with minerals and erosion-sculpted rock—like wedding cakes melting in the sun. Those formations also rise out of the sea as islands large and small. Koh Racha Yai (“koh” means island, “yai” means big) is one of them.

Situated a half-hour’s boat ride from the southern port of Phuket, Koh Racha Yai is the green-covered variety. Racha Yai itself has very limited lodging with only three resorts, the nicest of which is The Racha.

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While at The Racha, make sure to head to the spa and get pampered with massages and spa treatments. (Kevin Revolinski)

Luxury and Natural Beauty

The Racha is comprised of 85 villas, which are nicely spaced across the 20-acre property that slopes gently to the seaside. The landscaping is meticulously crafted to grant further privacy between villas and create a very natural look. When I stayed there in May, it was the season of butterflies: Throughout the property, several of them fluttered above flowering trees, flashing iridescent blue when they caught the sunlight and giving the property a magical, dreamlike air.

We checked into a villa with a private pool, sun deck, whirlpool bathtub with a view to the sea, outdoor and indoor showers, and a sound system that piped our music into any part of the villa—including underwater.

In the morning, a brahminy kite, a large brown bird of prey with a white head similar to its American cousin, circled just above the treetops along the beach, scanning the sea for a meal. It returned daily and took up perches in trees to either side of the bay. As we strolled the wet sand at low tide, we watched black Pacific reef herons hunt along the reach of the waves while their gleaming white counterparts, the egrets, poked through the green spaces back on dry land. The bird population is abundant on Racha, and the only large animals are a few domesticated water buffalo in the interior and the occasional monitor lizard.

(Kevin Revolinski)
(Kevin Revolinski)

The Dining Experience

As Koh Racha is mostly green space and surrounded by sea, the food options aren’t numerous. Yet, they’re quite satisfying. A mom-and-pop restaurant that has been around for nearly 40 years is tucked into the rocks along the northern edge of the bay and serves local cuisine. A path leads diners to the narrow collection of seaside tables and continues a bit farther up to a scenic overlook of the sea, the bay, and The Racha itself.

The resort has three main eateries: a Thai-style grill along the beach, an international dining room, and, unsurprisingly, a Thai restaurant. The local fare is nothing short of amazing—with traditional dishes from all regions of the country, including the northern-style khao soi curry, larb from the northeast, and a traditional southern beef curry. Spice fans be warned: Phuket is considered part of the spicy south and the tendency among chefs there is to add a few more peppers to anything. Most dishes can be made mild upon request.

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(Kevin Revolinski)

Staying Active

The Racha has two large swimming pools, one of which overlooks the beach from the second floor with an infinity edge. A dive center operates on-site with its own special training pool, and a diving or snorkeling trip to Koh Racha Noi is recommended. ATVs and mountain bikes are available for rent for those who want to explore the island’s small network of rustic dirt roads. One can reach any one of the five snorkeling beaches in less than 10 minutes—or even 20 minutes on foot. And the sports center sets up visitors with snorkeling gear and standup paddleboards.

Get your activities in, then head to the spa. Thai massage and spa treatments are an important part of Thai culture, and the resort’s Anumba Spa was voted the Top Island Resort Spa in Asia in the 2017 World Luxury Spa Awards. Be prepared for pampering.

One morning during our stay, General Manager Devan Bhaskaran helped out as his staff prepared the beach for the day, and he spoke of the spell The Racha casts on its guests.

“About 30 percent of our clients are returning, and not for two or three days, but 14 days to a month,” he said.

Lounging in our own pool, a bottle of Singha beer in hand as the sun angled to the sea, I could imagine that.

(Kevin Revolinski)
(Kevin Revolinski)

If You Go

When to Go: From November to April, the snorkeling is great along the rocky areas of the shoreline. From May into October, the bay is better suited for modest surfing, body-boarding, or playing at the beach.

Getting There: Fly to Phuket from Bangkok or select international airports. A floating dock accommodates the resort’s private ferry three times a day. The floating dock migrates to the eastern side of the island and a trolley makes the 10-minute crossing to accommodate a daily boat run.

Kevin Revolinski is an avid traveler, craft beer enthusiast, and home-cooking fan. He is the author of 15 books, including “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey” and his new collection of short stories, “Stealing Away.” He’s based in Madison, Wis., and his website is TheMadTraveler.com