Inside Thailand’s Top Luxury Travel Destinations
From unforgettable elephant excursions to James Bond-themed getaways.
Finding an idyllic, unspoiled Thai getaway is not as simple as it used to be. As Southeast Asia’s original blissed-out backpacker’s haven, coastal Thailand was colonized by the Euro EDM party crowd and wildlife-loving jungle junkies. A new demographic has emerged, however, as more mindful travel moves center stage—Jack Wolfskin-wearing, Keto-dieting, TED Talk-watching digital nomads are now drawn to the nation’s abundant adventure menu.
Are there bonafide Bond junkies in your squad? Savor life in the fast lane at Layan Residences by Anantara in Phuket. The tropical retreat recently launched a budget-blowing bender inspired by the 007 classic The Man with the Golden Gun. From flying-in via private jet to handling the original golden gun from the 1974 film (talk about a killer photo op), this ultimate guys’ trip brims with VIP perks geared towards male bonding of the highest order.
Kick off in high style as your chosen circle of seven boards a private jet from Bangkok to Phuket, then a chauffeured limo to Villa Similan—the largest and most sublime of the resort’s 15 ultra-luxurious residences. Commanding prime ocean and jungle views, this lavish eight-bedroom contemporary villa comes with a live-in butler and an on-call private chef and spa therapist, a setup worthy of Dr. No.
Showcasing a chic indoor-outdoor design, the villa features a photogenic roof terrace, 72-ft. infinity pool, and massage room. A glass-clad wine room leads to the pièce de résistance: a 007-ready man cave adorned with leather sofas, an antique billiards table, and the legendary golden gun itself. One of the most iconic weapons in 007 history, the gun is brandished by the film’s villain, Francisco “Pistols” Scaramanga.
Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the Cuban assassin remains a high point of the Bond canon. His weapon of choice was a custom-built modular pistol made of several seemingly innocuous golden objects. A cigarette case cleverly formed the handle, a gas lighter became the bullet chamber, a gold cufflink was used for the trigger, and a fountain pen screwed into place to form a ballistic barrel. Get a closer, hands-on look at this fabled film prop during a wine tasting with Anantara’s wine guru, before retiring to the terrace for a feast of culinary delights.
This experience comes with a glamorous yacht cruise around Phang Nga Bay, where the spy thriller was filmed, during which you’ll enjoy free-flowing Krug champagne and a gourmet barbecue by the onboard private chef.
Spot the bay’s most photographed mangrove-cloaked rock, James Bond Island, a key location in the movie as Scaramanga’s hideout. Keep an eye out for monkeys, birds and lizards, but resist the temptation to flex your F45 biceps by doing pull-ups on mangrove branches; these are the “lungs” of the ecosystem here. At nearby Tarzan beach however, swing your heart out on vines to drop dramatically into the sea, dispersing shoals of cigar fish.
Back at the villa, brush up on your pugilism skills with a private Muay Thai boxing lesson. Soak up the views over the Andaman Sea as your butler serves up signature dry Martinis before heading to the cinema room for a private viewing of vintage Bond films.
When in season, bioluminescence glitters in the warm sea, a rather remarkable phenomenon to lose yourself in a late-night swim. Float on your back and look up at the stars above; aquatic somersaults spark up your own underwater constellations. The package includes private jet flights from Bangkok to Phuket for up to seven people and exclusive use of Villa Similan for three nights with breakfast, and the villa sleeps up to sixteen.
As a travel impresario who has inspired a generation of global trekkers, Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures tells us, “Adventure travel is subjective, it’s not all adrenaline-fueled activities; to me it’s experiencing something that is new to you.” His company specializes in small-group adventure travel and community tourism, a style of travel that G Adventures pioneered, which is lower impact by its very definition.
Poon Tip’s insights are more relevant now than ever, given how Leonardo Dicaprio’s star-making turn in 2000’s The Beach impacted Thailand tourism like a human tsunami. A generation flocked to Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh Island, chasing their own epiphanies on the famous jungle-backed beach where the film was set. If you’re allergic to such antics and more of a wildlife adventurer, then head to the remote Golden Triangle at the northern tip of Thailand, a haven for elephant enthusiasts.
Spend a spine-tingling night observing majestic elephants in their ancient habitat from the comfort of a fully kitted out, transparent Jungle Bubble at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort. Perched on wooden decks above the forest, two luxurious bubbles offer utterly unique views of the playful pachyderm herds, as well as the sweeping starlit sky.
Fully air-conditioned, the bubble’s 237 square feet of indoor space encompasses a king bedroom and seating area, and an enclosed, en-suite shower and vanity. Bathrobes and slippers are laid out next to crisp white linen with a choice of pillows. Your adventure includes a delectable dinner basket and a fully stocked mini bar.
Meandering down from China in wide, bloated arcs, the upper Mekong river unravels in a serene, sun-soaked sheen. Fortress ruins to the south, now nearly swallowed whole by jungle vines, are the residue of the region’s bloody clash of kingdoms, contested by Burmese, Thai, Laotian and Khmer armies for centuries. Reclaimed from notorious drug smugglers, the area is now a sanctuary of gilded temples and secluded shrines.
Part of Anantara’s allure is its hidden location; achingly pristine jungle crowned by stunning pavilions, exclusively positioned to take in majestic three-country views overlooking the confluence of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. You’d be forgiven for mistaking the resort for a jungle village—one belonging to a tribe with a fondness for fluffy Belgian waffles, walk-in wine cellars, and bubbly Jacuzzis.
If the Pictionary clue was “tropical paradise”, you can bet we’d be drawing this place on our mental sketchpad.