Wind gently lifting my hair, luke-warm water up to my neck, and arms resting on the side of my midnight blue-tiled plunge pool, I had a Beyoncé moment. For that one second, I thought we could relate. Cycling between pool dips, sunning on my villa's private loungers and secluded beach walks, I was at a celeb-caliber resort for the price the paparazzi could afford.
Known for extremes—either $5/night beach bungalows or $600+/night private villas—Thailand has a well developed and lesser known luxe-for-less hotel scene outside of the major tourist catchments like Koh Samui or Phuket. Bundle a service-oriented culture, idyllic landscapes, and high-design hotels with ultra-reasonable prices, and Thailand is one of the world's best value destinations for luxury travel.
Spend around $160/night to secure a Beyoncé-esque hotel and become privy to an opulence you may-or may not-want to get used to. What's more, this price isn't going to force you on a plane, boat, and tuk tuk trek into the bush, but rather on a two- to three-hour car transfer from Bangkok, complete with services we like WiFi and a champagne breakfast.
Most major international flights go in and out of Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, so don't miss this convenient opportunity to explore the river-front metropolis. Spend at least two nights in the city of contrasts where gourmet restaurants commingle with street food, and sky-high towers coexist with age-old Wats (Buddhist Temples).
Start low and end high with a visit to Chatuchak, the mother of all Thai markets, which runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday. At 15,000 stalls-strong, you can pick up everything from a puppy to a stylish midi-skirt for under $12. When the clock strikes eight, hit the street in your new skirt and pick up a $1.50 pad thai plate en-route to Sky Bar on the 64th floor of the Lebua State Tower. A cocktail in the clouds will set you back $15, but you saved money on dinner, so think of the drink as your cost of admission for the far-reaching view.
Stay: The LIT! Bangkok, from $105/night. Three words: foot massageincluded. Calculated and calm, the LIT! is a cool haven from the city's hype and heat. With an urban-sized infinity pool and a hint of ambient music playing throughout the hotel, this mod retreat includes a full-sized breakfast buffet with yogurt parfait shooters, a daily mini bar allowance, WiFi, bottled water, and a 10-minute foot massage for each guest.
Insider Tip: Skip the 45-minute taxi from the airport and ride the airport express train into the center of town in 25 minutes for under $2.
Prachuab Khiri Khan
Located about three and half hours outside of Bangkok by car, you'll turn off the highway onto a winding road past multi-purpose fields and a small train station. Not an area that draws many tourists, Ao Noi beach is dotted with more fishing boats than people.
Stay: X2 Kui Buri, from $110/night. The object of many photoshoots' desires, X2 caters to a crowd seeking a raw, yet chic anti-resort far from the hotel circuit. Boardwalks naturally aged by the elements connect 23 villas with a large beachfront pool, a one-room spa, and an indoor/outdoor restaurant hub with views over the Gulf of Thailand. Extra touches like in-room beach bags, outdoor rain showers, minimalist flower arrangements, and the restaurant's hip jazz soundtrack will make the regular hotel-goer smile. Includes WiFi, bottled water, and a standout champagne breakfast.
Hua Hin: Cha-Am Beach
Due to its proximity to Bangkok, Hua Hin is an oceanfront city where many of Bangkok's weekend warriors escape the concrete jungle. Big enough for multi-national hotels like Hilton and Sofitel to occupy the shore, and a highway-side outlet mall to beckon bargain shoppers, think of Hua Hin like Bangkok's petite, beachy-keen cousin. Weekenders and locals looking for a true escape typically stay on the beach, just outside of town.
Stay: Hotel De La Paix, from $160/night. A hip, beachfront hangout for jetsetters with and without kids in tow, Hotel de La Paix features a chill and communal pool, multi-mile beach, and large rooms.
At once zen and tech-savvy, start the day in downward dog by the beach, retreat to your room's air conditioned cool for a quick what's-happening-in-the-world iPad session, lounge until sunset on a beach bed, and finish with a drink at Clouds Loft overlooking a soccer field-sized reflections pond. Includes beginner morning yoga, fast WiFi throughout, bottled water, a daily mini bar allowance (including beer), shuttle into Hua Hin, and a breakfast buffet that will make you wish you didn't have to don your bathing suit.
Thinking of a trip to Thailand?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our Thailand Travel Guide.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Trish Friesen.