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The New Name in Thai Hospitality

With Cape & Kantary, hotelier Tirawan Taechaubol breathes new life into the notion of Thai hospitality.

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TIRAWAN “WAEW” TAECHAUBOL has quietly revolutionized the Thai hospitality industry over the past ten years, growing a devoted following for her small hotel group, Cape & Kantary. With 21 properties throughout the country, including luxury service hotels and residences as well as glorious island sanctuaries in both the north and south, Cape & Kantary has built a reputation as one of Thailand’s secret gems. Of course, the country has no shortage of luxury hotels: all the big brands have set up shop. However, Taechaubol’s properties provide the high-end razzle-dazzle international travelers have come to expect, paired with a healthy dose of real-world interaction — experiences that aren’t as isolating as those typically offered by the large chains.

During a whirlwind tour through Southeast Asia earlier this year, I made the snap decision to extend my journey to include a side trip to Thailand. It turned out to be a fortuitous one for many reasons. Not only was I able to have a few days eating incredible food and dipping into some of the most beautiful hotels I’d ever seen, but I also had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Taechaubol, the owner and project development manager of Cape & Kantary Hotels.

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After taking a cab through steamy, bustling Bangkok, I catch Taechaubol at the Cape & Kantary offices just before she jumps into a car (followed by a flight and a boat) to attend an opening at one of her new island properties. The sunny office, while lovely, is apparently where she spends the least amount of time. “I cannot run my hotels while sitting here in Bangkok,” she explains. “I cannot know if the food is amazing unless I go there and taste it. I cannot talk to my staff. You don’t know how the places actually feel unless you are there.”

The history of Cape & Kantary, as Taechaubol describes it, is truly a family affair that goes back to her early childhood. Her family owned a 100-year-old beachfront vacation home on the southern tip of Phuket island, which, in those days, was almost wholly inaccessible. “You could only get a flight there once a week, and then you would drive several hours to get there,” she recalls. “We’d buy eggs and fish from the villagers because it was so far away from any town.” When word got out that a nearby stretch of beach was slated to be sold for shrimp farming — a practice that would destroy the local ecosystem — Taechaubol’s father impulsively bought it. Worried about how he might explain such an extravagant purchase to her grandmother, her father invented a reason. He told her he’d purchased the land in order to build a proper hotel. And that is what he did. The property would come to be known as Cape Panwa, and the original house they lived in, one of the oldest on the island, still stands.

Though the company first came to be known for its service accommodations — luxury hotels and apartments designed to meet the needs of expats and business people working in Thailand — the brand’s vision evolved under Taechaubol’s direction. The marquee luxury properties, known as the Cape Hotel Collection, most closely reflect her personality and, as she sees it, most clearly amplify the landscape and culture of Thailand itself. The success of such properties — such as Cape Fahn on Koh Samui and Cape Kudu on the tiny island of Koh Yao Noi, halfway between Phuket and Krabi — not only has to do with the spectacular locations, but also with the curated blend of amenities and experiences. These are the sorts of places where you can have all the requisite beach moments and spa options Thailand is famous for. But you might also take a workshop with a local artisan or spend an afternoon with the fishermen who will be catching your dinner, which then might be served up for you in a nearby beach cave as the sun begins to set. The success of such properties and their offerings are deeply rooted in the communities that support them.

“It works because of the villages and the community,” she says. “There are places you can go, like in Phuket, and it’s hard to find a person who was actually born and raised there. But in a place like Cape Nidhra, about 80% of the staff live there. Their parents and grandparents live there, as do their children. It becomes like a family. Because the island is so small, I get to know everyone’s family, and I get invited to go and have dinner at their homes. I’m friends with all the fishermen. I spend a lot of time there, so we enrolled my son in the local school there, so he has friends all over the island. It becomes more than just business, which makes it feel really special to me.”


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In the wake of the pandemic, the idea of traveling — even for the luxury consumer — has shifted significantly. Ocean views, infinity pools, and fine dining are expected but no longer enough. In this sense, Cape & Kantary properties are perfectly suited to the change. After the prolonged isolation of the pandemic , travelers are seeking less insular accommodations and activities that allow for more authentic connections with other people. “People like to experience real culture,” she says. “They actually want to talk to people, not just go to the pool, eat french fries, swim in the sea, and take photos. When given the opportunity, they really are interested in what the locals are like and how they live.”

Having roots within the local communities, as well as understanding the cultural specificities of each particular destination, which can vary greatly from northern to southern Thailand, are key components of the loyalty Cape & Kantary has cultivated with its visitors. Taechaubol credits the company’s success to staying small and nimble (which made eliminating single-use plastics a relatively painless move, for example). But she also cites inclusivity among her staff and a deep respect for the culture and history of Thai hospitality as some of Cape & Kantary’s hallmarks. Beyond that, she stresses that the most informative practice for anyone involved in the hospitality industry is simply being a curious traveler.

“When I travel, I like to see what other hotels are doing. But it’s also to discover what I want to experience myself as a traveler,” she explains. “You find things that you can take back with you. When we were in Cuba, my husband loved that the hotel had a cigar sommelier. We don’t have cigars at our Thailand hotels, but we do have a wide variety of fruit. So I kind of stole that idea a little bit. You are presented with this big basket with 20 different kinds of fruit inside, and then a fruit sommelier comes by and explains them to you — how to find them, how to best eat them. People love it. Most people don’t know that in Thailand, we don’t just have one type of banana, we have 10. Some are tiny, some are bigger than your arm. That’s the kind of thing people love to remember.”

The Best Luxury Digs in Thailand

  • Amanpuri (Phuket)

    Overlooking the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, this resort, surrounded by Buddhist temples, occupies its own private peninsula and offers a unique spin on the classic Thai retreat.

  • Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle (Chiang Rai)

    Situated at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers in northern Thailand, this luxury tented camp allows visitors to see an entirely different side of the country, all while traversing through bamboo jungles and meeting rescued elephants.

  • Cape & Kantary (Multiple locations)

    With 21 properties spread throughout Thailand, Cape & Kantary has built a reputation as one of the country’s secret gems. Locations such as Cape Fahn on Koh Samui and Cape Kudu, located on the tiny island of Koh Yao Noi, are among the most special.

  • Banyan Tree Samui (Koh Samui)

    This sublime property sits perched on a jungle-covered hill overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. This remarkably secluded location includes a private beach and a world-renowned spa.

  • Park Hyatt Bangkok (Bangkok)

    Thailand’s capital city has no shortage of incredible hotels, but the Park Hyatt remains one of the chicest. Located in the city’s center, the hotel boasts stunning views, beautiful rooms, and easy access to nearby museums, temples, and mind-blowing street food.

  • Amanpuri (Phuket)

    Overlooking the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, this resort, surrounded by Buddhist temples, occupies its own private peninsula and offers a unique spin on the classic Thai retreat.

  • Banyan Tree Samui (Koh Samui)

    This sublime property sits perched on a jungle-covered hill overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. This remarkably secluded location includes a private beach and a world-renowned spa.

  • Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle (Chiang Rai)

    Situated at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers in northern Thailand, this luxury tented camp allows visitors to see an entirely different side of the country, all while traversing through bamboo jungles and meeting rescued elephants.

  • Park Hyatt Bangkok (Bangkok)

    Thailand’s capital city has no shortage of incredible hotels, but the Park Hyatt remains one of the chicest. Located in the city’s center, the hotel boasts stunning views, beautiful rooms, and easy access to nearby museums, temples, and mind-blowing street food.

  • Cape & Kantary (Multiple locations)

    With 21 properties spread throughout Thailand, Cape & Kantary has built a reputation as one of the country’s secret gems. Locations such as Cape Fahn on Koh Samui and Cape Kudu, located on the tiny island of Koh Yao Noi, are among the most special.


AMERICAN EXPRESS® CARD MEMBER ACCESS

Fine Hotels + Resorts®

Amanpuri, Banyan Tree Samui, and Park Hyatt Bangkok are all Fine Hotels + Resorts properties. When you book with American Express Travel, you’ll receive an exclusive suite of benefits including daily breakfast for two, a $100 experience credit that varies by property, guaranteed 4pm checkout, and more. Plus, book on AmexTravel.com and you can earn 5X Membership Rewards® points, or use Pay with Points, on prepaid stays. Terms apply. Learn more here.

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Our Contributors

T. Cole Rachel Writer

T. Cole Rachel is the deputy editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.

John Tods Photographer

John Tods is a Bangkok-based fashion photographer.

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