Fancy Hotel of the Week–Villa Chan Grajang

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Fancy Hotel of the Week-Villa Chan Grajang. Well, it’s not quite a hotel, but an absolutely stunning and very large private villa, but since it comes equipped with its own Thai chef, large staff and the most wonderful housekeeper ever, it feels like you’re staying in your very own exclusive boutique hotel and therefore seems to work for the purposes of this ongoing series (which I’m sure none of you remember, it’s been so long since I last did a Fancy Hotel post).

 Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

One of the reasons I jumped at the chance to go to Thailand for a retreat with life coach Susan Hyatt was the fact that Miz Susan doesn’t do anything by halves. When she was organising her retreat she went straight to a website called AwesomeVillas.com which, awesomely, specialises in, you guessed it, awesome villas. Except that the villa we ended up in – the Villa Chan Grajang overlooking Surin Beach – was more than awesome. Stupendous and sensational are superlatives that come to mind, and, judging by the collective intake of breath that occurred when we all arrived, I guess breathtaking would fit the bill too.

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

As you all know I have a terrible weakness for stunning architecture (an astrologer friend blames it on my moon in Libra), and, after living in Kinfolk in last week’s blog post, this was more akin to taking a vacation in Architectural Digest.

I was so happy here. The lines and symmetry of the buildings were incredibly soothing to the eye and to the soul; the saltwater pool was the perfect blue and the perfect length, and the minimalism of the buildings just served to enhance the spectacular planting and views. Everywhere you looked there was a new vista or detail to observe – a reflection, a shape, a shadow or a texture. My eyes were drowning in beauty, yet relishing every moment and it felt almost spiritually uplifting. It was an object lesson in how our surroundings can affect our moods and mental well-being for good or for ill, and one that I need to apply to my own untidy bedroom and office.

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Obviously we had to find out who was the lucky owner of such gorgeousness, and after a few judicious moments with Google, Susan worked out that it was the artist Damien Hirst. Which figured, as its cool white lines were not so very different from the cool white lines of his restaurant Pharmacy, which I used to live close to in my Notting Hill days. I don’t think I’ve been so jealous of a person in my life.

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Mr Hirst, if I promise never to call you a charlatan again, will you invite me back to your astonishing house?

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

The beauty of the villa was only enhanced by the tranquil presence of Pom the housekeeper -  one of many people I met in Thailand who are beautiful both inside and out -  and her wonderful staff. I adored the Thai way of decorating with fresh flowers and little flourishes. The Thais take such pleasure in beautifying the everyday, which is another lesson I need to take to heart.

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

The view from my bedroom

The food was faintly astonishing too – with mindboggling depths of overlapping spices, flavours and textures, presented again in the most beautiful way. Believe me, the overly salty and sugary Thai food you can find in the US or UK bears little resemblance to the subtle intricacies of the dishes we were served. In my next life I want to come back as someone who has a live-in Thai chef. Surely that wouldn’t be too much to ask?

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

I loved this place. Loved, loved, loved it and couldn’t bear to leave. One day I will return. That’s a promise.

 

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

The villa was even gorgeous in the rain

Villa Chan Garang, Surin Beach, Thailand. Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Did you notice all the beautiful women in this post? My fellow retreaters were some of the loveliest, kindest, most creative, thoughtful and inspirational people you could wish to meet. It was a privilege to get to know them.

The Villa Chan Grajang is available to rent through Awesome Villas. Please take me with you.

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Soul Food

The most wonderful thing about this food photography world that I find myself being increasingly drawn into, are food photographers themselves. For some reason which has so far eluded me, they are among the kindest, most generous, most creative and most inspiring people you could wish to meet, and none more so than Luisa Brimble and Aran Goyoaga.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Aran was ably assisted by Luisa’s friend Adriana

As you may know Aran has recently moved to Seattle and started hosting workshops in her beautiful downtown studio. When I heard she had invited Sydney-based food and lifestyle photographer Luisa Brimble to host a workshop I jumped at the chance to attend – Luisa has shot for The Simple Things, Frankie and Kinfolk amongst others and has recently founded her own magazine in Australia, Alphabet Family Journal, because that’s what you do when your home magazine market is small and opportunities are limited.

She is also a firecracker in person – bursting with life, wit and enthusiasm – with an infectious energy and a warm, generous smile; and her photography is a dazzling combination of graphic simplicity infused with Aussie sunshine, exuberant colour and vibrant personality.

Luisa is particularly known for her overhead shots of people feasting around loaded tables, and she’d promised to give us a demonstration of how she puts such shots together. All this, plus Aran’s amazing food styling and the incredible beauty of the studio – honestly, people, it’s just like living in Instagram – made for a weekend that I won’t easily forget.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

While we chatted about photography with Luisa, and she told us how she had built her career through hard work, focus and determination (and I’m sure enormous talent and bucketloads of charm did no harm), Aran worked her food styling magic.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Luisa then climbed her ladder and starting directing the photo shoot – as an ex-wedding photographer she is adept at getting the most out of her models. I, by contrast, just wish I could spritz the people I’m photographing with olive oil and manipulate them with tweezers, which is probably not the best approach.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

And this is the beauty that emerges when two huge talents collaborate (just a phone shot from me as there wasn’t room for us all up the ladder).

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Luisa then did one of her trademark ‘person with armful of flowers standing on a chair’ shots. Seeing her work with, and get the best out of, people was one of the most inspiring things about this weekend.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

See what I mean about living in Instagram?

We then got a chance to do our own photography and styling.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

And it was lovely to have tame and now fully-trained hand models available.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Everything – food, props, light – was so darn BEAUTIFUL.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Later that weekend we had the opportunity to watch and shoot Aran as she baked and styled a galette. It’s amazingly soothing watching her bake. She has a quiet serenity and focus about her which is quite mesmerising, particularly considering she was surrounded by loads of cameras when these shots were taken. (NB I am not remotely like this when I am cooking, but I think you probably guessed that already).

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

I learned a ton over the weekend – about photography, food styling, how to build a photography career, build rapport with models and how to bake with methodical calmness. But also, and more importantly, I learned lessons from two very different women about how to live life with enthusiasm, grace, focus and immense and inspiring style. Well worth the price of admission I’d say.

Soul Food - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

And yes, I shall forever feel inadequate that my eggs are not arranged by colour.

Aran is planning to bring more amazing photographers to Seattle in 2015. Check her blog or social media feeds for more workshop details in the New Year.

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