July 22, 2024

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6 ‘White Lotus’ Thailand hotels without the price tag

5 min read

HBO’s hottest hotel group, “The White Lotus,” is expanding to Thailand — on screen at least. The location for season 3 has been confirmed, and Bloomberg reported in January that loose-lipped industry insiders say filming is taking place at the Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, the Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas and a still-undisclosed hotel in Bangkok. The network has stayed quiet on specific hotels.

The news is a boon for Four Seasons and the Thailand-based Anantara group; the show’s previous two seasons, set in Hawaii and Sicily, have proved to turbocharge travelers’ interest in their already popular respective locales. After the seasons aired, bookings soared at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and the Four Seasons’ San Domenico Palace in Taormina.

It’s safe to say that these Thai resorts can expect a similar uptick in reservations after season 3 premieres in 2025. But living out the White Lotus fantasy isn’t within every traveler’s reach. One night at the Four Seasons in Koh Samui will cost you at least $1,400. And while at $660 per night, starting rates at the Anantara in Phuket are a fair bit lower — they’re still not exactly a steal for anyone but the most deep-pocketed visitors.

Nightly rates at Thailand’s big-brand luxury resorts can often be on par with those in Europe or the United States, but a burgeoning ecosystem of local hospitality groups and independently owned hotels offers many of the same five-star perks at a fraction of the price. For about $180, the average rate of a night in a three-star hotel room in Miami Beach, you can book a villa with a private pool and round-the-clock service on the beach in Koh Samui.

Here are six Thailand beach retreats offering five-star luxury on a Best Western budget.

On palm-pinned Choeng Mon Beach, a few bays east of the Four Seasons Koh Samui, sits the first Thai outpost of Spanish hotel brand Meliá. Still fresh from its opening in 2020, this family-friendly resort aims for midmarket rather than high-end, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of its five-star label. Rooms, starting at $181 per night, riff on the island’s maritime past with nautical rope decor and licks of ocean-blue, while its top-level suites occupy reclaimed teakwood barges. Even the standard rooms open to a bubble bath on their balcony, and suites with either a private pool or direct access to a more than 2,200-foot pool that meanders through the resort’s manicured tropical gardens have the option to have breakfast delivered in a floating basket (if that’s your thing).

Rumors circulated that Amanpuri, one of Phuket’s ritziest beach retreats, would be one of the film sets for the third season of “The White Lotus.” They were ultimately dispelled, but the resort remains a firm favorite with wealthy travelers. With rates often shooting to well over $1500 per night, this is territory for the privileged few — but insiders know that the Surin next door offers similar perks and the same palm-tufted setting at a fraction of the cost. This beachfront spot is the only resort offering access to Amanpuri’s semiprivate Pansea Beach, one of Phuket’s prettiest. Pitched up among the treetops, the Surin’s airy deluxe cottages start at $220 per night and overlook the Andaman Sea from their snug, parasol-shaded balconies. The resort is part of White Lotus lore, too: it was here that creator Mike White first hinted at Thailand being the show’s next location.

A short speedboat-hop from Phuket, the island of Koh Yao Noi feels like a trip back in time. Its palm-fringed beaches remain blissfully free of tourist crowds, and sleepy coconut farms — not shopping malls or amusement parks — still cover most of its jungled inland. Cape Kudu, on the sunrise-facing east coast, is one of the island’s chicest places to stay. Its breezy rooms and villas come furnished with lots of linen, sun-bleached woods and wickerwork; a similarly laid-back theme dresses the spa, restaurant and beanbag-lined infinity pool. With low-season rates from May to October starting at $122 per night, this small resort offers excellent bang for your baht. And those dazzling views over Phang Nga Bay’s dramatic karst formations? They’re free.

This resort in the beachside holiday hub of Khao Lak, about an hour north of Phuket, delivers a textbook example of classic Thai hospitality — fresh orchids, jasmine-scented towels and lilting sawatdi ka, or hello, greetings included. The Sarojin’s rooms are teakwood-clad wonders with spalike bathrooms and heaps of private space, but you’ll probably spend more time in one of the pool cabanas, which are lined with gauzy curtains billowing in the breeze. A powder-sugar beach stretches out in front and is a jumping-off point for kayak trips and sailings on the resort’s charter yacht, which can end with candlelit dinners on a nearby private islet. Rates for garden views start at $180 per night and include leisurely all-day breakfast with sparkling wine served until 6 p.m.

From taxis to cocktails, prices on Thailand’s most popular islands are generally much higher than on the mainland. The beaches, however, can be equally pretty — which makes booking a seafront resort ashore a smart way to cut holiday costs (additionally, you’ll save on boat transfers and plane tickets — flights to Thailand’s island destinations tend to be pricey). One of southern Thailand’s most popular hideouts is Krabi, a string of honey-hued beaches and jungle-cloaked karst formations. The ShellSea resort, a ten-minute drive from postcard-pretty Ao Nang beach, makes for a plush base with suites from $120 per night, a spa and three swimming pools. A hammock-lined private beach hugs part of the resort’s oceanfront, while island-hopping day trips can take you to Phang Nga Bay’s prettiest stretches of sand.

While Koh Samui’s three-mile Chaweng Beach, sits just ten minutes from its doorstep, SAii Koh Samui Choengmon’s perch on little-developed Hanuman Bay feels a world away from the crowds. Its most affordable room will set you back about $170, but the amenities are anything but cheap. At this all-villa resort, even the entry-level digs open to a generously sized sun deck and private pool, have a tropic-tinged bathroom with rain shower and include bespoke bathroom amenities mixed with your preferred scents. Other perks include complimentary yoga classes every morning, and a pick-and-mix of free snacks to bring back to your room.

Chris Schalkx is a Bangkok-based travel writer. You can follow him on Instagram: @chrsschlkx.


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