Shop, eat or just feel the serenity
Balconies at Amari Hua Hin are a great place to relax. Picture: Amari

Amari may not be a name you're familiar with. But all that could be about to change, for there are now 13 Amari hotels and resorts across Thailand with Amari Doha in Qatar set to welcome visitors by the end of the year and Amari Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab to follow soon after.

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This is a rapidly growing hotel group starting to make a splash but my first impression of Amari comes in the dead of night, at 12.40am to be exact.

And the welcome I receive at the 569-room Amari Watergate in Bangkok is cheery, efficient and fully supportive of my desire to get to bed.

My bags are slipped off my arms as I'm escorted through the cavernous lobby to a desk where a young lady greets me, hands pressed gently together, and a slight bow.

"Sawasdee," she whispers. It is genuine, welcoming and appreciated.

Then it's all action.

Meticulously and with obvious practice, she transfers my passport details to a form which she politely asks me to sign. She tells me where and when I can eat breakfast and gives me a room number that's impossible to forget - 3333.

There's just one storey above me but the lift has me at the 33rd floor like a shot. I take a wrong turn, delaying by no more than 20 seconds, but still my bag has arrived at my room before me.

And within seven minutes of leaving the car, I'm standing on the luggage rack attempting to photograph the room.

Yes, it's now 12.47am but I want to capture it before my clothes are strewn everywhere.

In front of me in this executive room is a big double bed which I'm aiming to get in to as soon as possible, a 40-inch TV, an office area with complimentary internet and a comfortable armchair next to a window with views over Bangkok and down to the street far below.

The bathroom is marble with a tub and separate shower and there's a huge hanging area to unpack or to store shopping - for, let's face it, that's the main attraction of this district, Pratunam.

The hotel even offers shop-and-stay packages which combine accommodation with discount cards for use at massive malls such as CentralWorld, one of the biggest shopping centres in the world.

And these cathedrals to consumerism continue to mushroom all over the Thai capital.

One of the newest is the sprawling Asiatique Riverfront Mall, built on a section of the river which was the conduit that saw Siam established as a modern trading power in the early 1900s.

The old wharves have given way to an expansive open-air development of waterfront restaurants, a concert venue and more than 1500 shops - just the spot for a dose of retail therapy.

In fact, I had two split stays at Amari Waterfront in the space of five days. But sandwiched in between was a trip down the coast to Prachuap Khiri Khan and the brand new Amari Hua Hin.

And there I found an altogether more agreeable form of therapy than that at Asiatique as I lay prone at Breeze Spa where Anna the masseuse was doing a fine job.

The only bags handled were the ones under my eyes as I drifted close to sleep during my "Serene" massage, one of five being practised at Amari Hua Hin and soon to be rolled out across all the company's properties.

That morning I'd resisted the temptation of a 7am Fitball workout. I was tired after a visit the previous day to vineyards outside Hua Hin and a walk and jog through the seaside town which rose to prominence as a royal retreat in the 1920s.

I'm not normally one to enjoy being squeezed and stretched with my head buried facedown in a sponge donut but I virtually floated out of Anna's care.

I could have chosen the rejuvenation massage but the tropical air and relaxed ambience of the resort, which opened only in August, had already lifted my spirits as I relished the invigorating freshness of the decor and the facilities.

The resort is contemporary rather than traditional but there's an ebb and flow in the modern buildings that mimics the swash of the Gulf of Thailand's waves which lap Hua Hin's long beach.

The interiors are elegant and stay the cool side of kitsch - the rectangular lobby a study in the eclectic.

This check-in area is divided from the Coral Lounge by shelf walls adorned with giant chess pieces which sit next to globes, goblets, bird cages and voluminous white books and vases. It's all slightly Alice in Wonderland, a real feast for the eyes.

The opposite walls are faux blue shutters reminiscent of Chinese shop-house facades and this is a theme replicated throughout the resort where the modern melds with the exotic.

Take the morning and afternoon teas, for example. A selection of classic blends and fine coffee are served with wraps, toasties and donuts along with Amari's signature cake-pops - a riot of icing, cream and sponge on a stick. The between-meals treat is an absolute snip at $8.

The restaurants are similarly eclectic. At Mosaic where I took breakfast, rows of wicker lamps hang from the ceiling. At the far end, a red wall is covered with moulds of crabs and lobsters , while another is decorated with intricate lattice painted in soft pastels of pink, blue and yellow.

Each morning I'd enjoy a top-notch resort breakfast, an impressive spread that has something for every palate. Besides my favourite of sausages, egg, bacon and beans there were fruits, cereals and Asian staples such as congi, steamed fish and clear soups with pork balls as well as cheeses and some of the best cold meats I've ever tasted.

These are also served up as fantastic tasting plates of mortadella, salami, spiced chicken, olives and goat fetta at the Reef Deli. The same high quality is maintained with a really authentic twist in the courtyard at Aqua where a noodle cart serves Thai dishes such as chicken and squid sticks and tom yum.

Great for families is the yard-long sub packed full of meat and salad and typical of Amari Hua Hin's shared menu, which is another innovation being introduced at the other properties.

The same is true at the Shoreline Beach Club where mains are less than $10 and diners can buy individual cuts of beef, chicken, fish and lamb for about $3 each to grill at the table.

This courtyard is the nucleus of this family-friendly resort and around it are 16 suites and 223 almost-identical rooms. These buoyant, breezy affairs have comfortable beds, modern sofas and full length shutters on the bathroom windows and are decorated with commissioned black and white photographs of Hua Hin and its regal train station hanging on the walls.

Each has views of either Khao Takiab beach, the hills or the pool which is surrounded with black sunbeds and red umbrellas.

My afternoon is as busy as sitting on the balcony with a cup of plunger coffee watching the sun glint off the infinity pool. And I'm quite at home with that. For refreshed by the Gulf breeze, I feel truly serene in this very new favourite.


FACT FILE

• At Amari Watergate in Bangkok, I stayed in an executive floor room which entitled me to free wi-fi, a buffet breakfast, pre-dinner cocktails and canapes and a private check-in although my speedy 12.40am arrival was facilitated by the standard reception. Rates for deluxe rooms start from $112 per night while executive rooms start from $227.

• Deluxe rooms at Amari Hua Hin start from $112. amari.com Amari Hua Hin has a comprehensive website about the seaside town which includes information on where to shop, eat and play. destination.amari.com/en/huahin

• Signature mood massages at Amari's Breeze Spa start from $43 for one hour. breeze-spa.com

• Asiatique The Waterfront is open from 5pm to midnight every day. thaiasiatique.com

• For more on Thailand, see tourismthailand.org/au.

Niall McIlroy was a guest of Amari and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The West Australian

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