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Food Hotel: The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.

60 Moo 2 Kukkak, Takuapa, Phang Nga, 82190
+66 (0)76 427 900-4
Cuisine: Thai
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The Sarojin hotel on the coast of Thailand’s Andaman Sea tells a remarkable story of adversity overcome. Andrew Copestake checked in before being sent off on the back of an elephant to cook up a storm in the jungle.
Sometimes I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Other times…Right now I look like the last placed contestant in a wet t-shirt competition and my feet smell of fish. Let’s call it one of those ‘other times.’
The wet t-shirt look comes courtesy of a sudden tropical downpour as I negotiated Thailand’s Takuapa River in a pleat boat and in the company of the Sarojin Hotel’s chef Goh. We were looking for local produce to cook in the jungle, come rain or shine.
Goh is one of the Sarojin’s 40+ chefs, an impressive enough quantity for a hotel that can claim three figure room numbers, but remarkable for one with only 56 . They come in three guises – suites, pool and garden residencies – but all share a commitment to understated luxury, with soft, natural materials utilised to create an ambience of uncluttered opulence. This is not atypical of Asia’s best hotels, but the Sarojin has a different story that should be told.
It almost never happened. It was first due to open in early 2005, but on December 26th 2004 was all-but-washed-away by the Boxing Day tsunami. Mercifully nobody was on site at the time, but English owners Andrew and Kate Kemp, who had fallen in love with the area in their more reckless backpacking days, could easily have succumbed to despair and returned to Blighty.
Instead, they picked themselves up and (along with their staff) started from scratch. Ten months later they were ready to open. What this says about their spirit, dedication and loyalty is almost beyond words. But it has not been beyond awards.
In 2006 the Sarojin was named Asia’s Best Boutique Hotel at the World Travel Awards, an accolade also bestowed on it in 2007 and 2008. This year it has won the Wine Spectator Award for Excellence for the second year running, made it on to Condé Nast Traveller’s coveted Reader’s Awards and was a finalist in the WTA’s World’s Best Boutique Hotel
Surely such a travel-Oscar-winning establishment would turn its nose up at a man with smelly feet and a t-shirt dripping to his knees? Never! Whether it was the tsunami that taught them humility, or the constantly breathtaking scenery of verdant palm jungle and cerulean skies, of perfect white crescent beaches and mournful Ficus that has made them humble, but the Sarojin staff are always welcoming and warm without that over-servility that can sometimes lead to awkwardness in the Orient. They have a twinkle in their eye that I put down to their bosses’ sense of fun. Only a person with a love of pantomime would employ a personal concierge called an Imagineer and pluck him from the bosom of the Moulin Rouge.
Chef Goh has his own sparkle; and pitch perfect English. He spent time cooking in Basingstoke, but came to his senses and moved back East. He hands me a slab of beef, an onion as big as my head and a knife that could easily function as a machete, and instructs me to chop. We are making Yam nue yang, one of the classic Thai dishes that has made Thailand’s gastronomy such a world-wide favourite. Opposite me a colleague is grappling with the 23 ingredients that will be used to make a fragrant Gaeng kiew warn gai (green chicken curry with aubergine).
It’s a recipe that could easily daunt the uninitiated and lead them to run for the nearest sun-lounger, but most people come to the Sarojin to relax (it is located on the Honeymoon trail of boutique hotels along the Andaman Sea north of the mass-packers of Phuket) so, despite the quantity of ingredients, Goh likes to keep things simple. Within minutes I have fashioned a passable Yam nue yang and moved onto a Tom yam goong (spicy prawn soup), pulling heads off the plump little crustaceans and dropping them into a pot of boiling stock with shallots, gently bruised lemongrass and fruit-filled cherry tomatoes. My colleague is already piling his Gaeng kiew warn gai into a dish made out of a hollowed papaya.
The rain has ceased and steam is rising from the Takuapa. Bottles of Tiger beer and champagne are cracked open and a one-legged man rides up on a scooter and starts to fish. After lunch I will ride back to the hotel on the back of an elephant before feasting on a pan-Asian buffet dinner at the Sarojin’s breezy beachside restaurant The Edge. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest man in the world.

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12 April 2010
By: Andrew Copestake
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