In Thailand, the spa retreat is elevated to an art form. Put it down to the culture, the long tradition of massage treatments or the Thai sense of aesthetics, but nowhere else does the soft-centred, silk-lined spa reach such a state of sighing perfection.
Something else that shines brightly in the Land of Smiles is its golf courses. There are a few select places where golf and spa fuse, with plush accommodation on the side, to form a combination that is well above par.
Banyan Tree Phuket
The pleasant sound of the fountain in the reception pavilion, the pointed-roof villas that rise above the palm trees, the Buddha-like smile from your waiter everything at the Banyan Tree Phuket (www.banyantree.com/en/phuket) suggests a perfect world ruled by politeness and calm. Even the lower-priced deluxe villas are opulent and serene, with cool timber floors, plump cushions and a private spa bath in your well-manicured courtyard.
Banyan Tree Spa subtitles itself as “a sanctuary for the senses”, and in the 15 years since it was established, it has refined and elevated the spa experience to a state of perfection, and a template for the high end of the pampering business. The signature three-hour Royal Banyan treatment pushes the pampering envelope to the suburbs of heaven.
Wrapping itself around the resort, Banyan Tree’s Laguna Phuket Golf Club is rated one of Asia’s finest courses. The gently flowing coastal landscape sets the tone for the layout of the Max Wexler and David Abell-designed, par-71 course.
Consistency is worth more than mercurial brilliance to make par, with the outcome of the final two holes starring the monster 560-metre 17th hole with two plays over water looming large on the scorecard.
Blue Canyon Country Club
Blue Canyon (www.bluecanyonclub.com), also in Phuket, is one of the most electrifying golf courses in all of Thailand. Built on the site of a former tin mine, the Canyon Course is a masterwork. Architect Yoshikazu Kato has made sublime use of natural woodlands and the water‑filled cavities left by the mining operation to sculpt a course that delivers unrelenting challenges.
At the 13th hole, the tee shot takes you over water to a sharp dogleg and uphill around a canyon to a shallow green. The layout is an inspired combination of grace and danger. The only three-time host of the Johnnie Walker Classic, Blue Canyon has seen some sensational golf over the years from the likes of Tiger Woods, Bernie Els and Greg Norman.
While most visitors tread in their footsteps on the original and more famous Canyon golf links, the Lakes Course part of the same country club offers exhilarating golf without the crowds.
Guest accommodation is provided by the spacious and elegant suites in Golfers Spa Lodge or the Resort Apartments and Villas. Luxurious and well-tailored in every aspect, the Spa Lodge suites are the more opulent choice but it’s hard to find fault with the spacious apartments and villas, which offer the option of self-catering.
The spa at Blue Canyon is well equipped and expertly staffed to deliver high-quality massages and treatments. The treatment rooms are among the prettiest you’re likely to see. The spa’s signature Canyon Royale treatment involves two masseurs working in unison using aromatherapy, and Balinese, Swedish and Thai techniques.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai resort (www.fourseasons.com) is a loose arrangement of two-storey teak pavilions wrapped around a complex of pools, ponds and jade paddy fields that nuzzles against the green fastness of the Mae Rim Valley. The resort is about a 30‑minute drive from Chiang Mai in the mountainous north of the kingdom. Bangkok is within easy reach, 70 minutes away by regular flights. A regular in “world’s best” lists, the resort’s seven spa treatment suites are housed in a triple-decker complex inspired by temple architecture. The spa treatments take their cues from traditional Thai techniques and include use of native herbs, spices and aromatic oils from the Yt‑sara organic spa line, complemented by Elemis products.
To tee off after your treatment, the Summit Green Valley Country Club is a five-minute drive away. The flat terrain has been sculpted to create gently rolling fairways, many of them flanked by water. Greens are elevated and well bunkered, and the par-72 course will test your approach shots. Four Seasons guests have preferential tee times.
Chiang Mai Highlands Golf and Spa Resort
Set on the floor of a wooded valley just east of Chiang Mai, the Highlands Resort (www.chiangmaihighlands.com) is rated one of Thailand’s finest by arbiters of golfing excellence. Rooms are big and plush with dark timber floors and a restrained decor that does nothing to compete with the surrounding golf course.
Set at an altitude of 400 metres, the resort’s climate is comfortable while the natural contours of the valley dictate the rippling fairways of the par-72 championship course. The bunkers are arranged cunningly and are nearly deep enough to require an abseiling harness. The spa, set between the main clubhouse and the villas, takes inspiration from the traditional Thai massage repertoire.
Whether golf is your passion, or fishing, cycling or surfing, business travel offers the chance to take your hobby with you. Travel manager Jeremy Motbey from Stage and Screen offers some useful advice.
Allow extra time at both ends of the journey
Sports gear usually has to be checked in at a separate counter. But, says Motbey, expect delays at the other end because the gear won’t be put on a carousel with the other luggage. “Often airport staff will wheel it out on a trolley or you’ll have to track it down from another counter,” he says.
Check excess baggage fees
Some airlines allow only a single piece of checked luggage so sports gear will be deemed excess baggage and attract hefty fees, regardless of the combined weight. Consider sending your gear by freight if the golf really will be that good.
Weigh the options
High-quality baggage will keep gear safe and secure, but it can add substantially to weight.
You may have to pay more to insure individual items, such as a surfboard or racing bike. Be sure to check the fine print.