Think themes are only for amusement parks and birthday parties? Some hoteliers are reconsidering the basic box by infusing their properties with distinct and sometimes outlandish leitmotifs. While not for everyone, these unconventional stays around Asia are well executed and sure to be memorable for guests.
The Slate Phuket, Thailand
This resort draws inspiration from an unlikely source: Phuket’s rich tin-mining past. Wichit Na-Ranong, a descendent of the town’s original tin baron, settled on a 21st-century interpretation for his resort on Nai Yang Beach. The effect is one of lightness and whimsy among the 177 guest rooms, down to the nut and bolt toilet-roll holders. Materials salvaged from the 2004 tsunami feature throughout, too, so rice buckets have become rain showers and driftwood has been upcycled into wall art. Keeping to the theme, the main Tin Mine restaurant features subtle industrial references like wrenches and hammers; it’s the place to be on Sunday mornings for a bountiful brunch of sushi, Peking duck, New Zealand mussels, Indian tandoori, French oysters and Phuket rock lobster.
Marrakesh Resort & Spa, Thailand
Can’t get to Morocco? This 76-suite resort is the next best thing. Hanging lanterns, Islamic latticework, star-pinnacled ceilings and double-height curtains hiding romantic lounging nooks are only a few of the very Maghrebi design details here. Zellige tiles clad the ocean-facing, palm-lined swimming pool. Opt for a table under the hand-painted ceiling tiles at Al Hamra restaurant or ask the staff to set up a private Bedouin tent on the beach complete with oriental rugs, elaborately stitched Moroccan pouffe cushions and a hookah pipe. The menu here features classic Marrakshi fare like lamb tangine and chicken couscous yet also extends to Italian and Thai favourites. Suites too offer fusion, incorporating vivid Moroccan blue hues and Berber design motifs into the contemporary white-washed abodes.
Helga’s Folly, Sri Lanka
Enter the mind of the eccentric Helga De Silva. The Sri Lanka-born London socialite has decorated this 1930s mansion on the hills above Kandy into a marvel. It started as her family’s ancestral home, which Helga turned into an art-therapy project to channel her anguish over her protracted divorce from her second husband and the suicide of her first. Inside this brutalist concrete block with great views, every bit of space from floor to ceiling is covered with paintings, frescoes, murals, photographs and mirrors. Curios from the East and West abound in every direction, as do candlesticks heaving with years of melted wax. Guest rooms are individually decorated with Kandyan antiques, including grand four-poster beds and woven cane planter’s chairs. For those who relish such idiosyncrasy, the endlessly entertaining Helga is the ultimate perk here.
The Castle, Chinese Mainland
This princess-perfect, Bavarian-style castle sits amid lush foliage on Lotus Mountain, overlooking the Yellow Sea in China’s northeastern city of Dalian. This is no fairy tale but a hotel with 292 sumptuous, silk-laden guest rooms. From the hand-chosen stones on the facade to the opulent interiors with a regal staircase under a glass atrium roof, every detail here reinforces the majestic ambience. Some stay here for a peek at age-old European opulence without even leaving China. The casual Royal Cellar restaurant serves German beer and northern European dishes, while the formal Cantonese restaurant Zhen Bao features 15 private dining rooms named after legendary castles around the world and decorated to recall their gilded parlours.