The Barai’s one-directional journey, closeted initially between chromatic maroon walls, begins at the Arrival Court where a series of stepping stones lead to the tunnel-like Arrival Gallery and on to the Wall of Stars. Here, sunlight pours through star-shaped cut-outs on the western wall, displaying constellation-like shapes on the solid wall across. Deliberately designed to slow down guests — physically and mentally -a hushed tranquility descends and transports you into another world.
You walk past admiringly and come to the spectacular ‘salarai’ water court or ‘baray’, the spa’s central core. ‘ Barai ‘ comes from the Khmer word ‘baray’ — a square, open-to-sky, man-made reservoir, traditionally located in front of the village temple. It channels irrigated water for the Khmer people’s use in their daily lives, and is believed to be a source of serenity, healing, spirituality and peace. The barai experience offers the same holistic approach infused in each of its nuances.
One of the openings from the four-sided ‘salarai’ leads to the reception room where consultants help you select oils and custom-designed massages. Personal spa butlers and therapists escort guests to their treatment rooms — encountering more visual delicacies en route. A tall, conical, temple-like ceiling with shelves on the side makes you look sky-wards, while at eye level, sculptures depicting an Apsara’s torso, skirt, hair, etc, keep you guessing till you are told what they are. Further on, cobalt blue walls along courtyards and stenciled, sandy patches are reminders of your proximity to the sea.
Kudos goes to the Thai architect, Mathar ‘Lek’ Bunnag, reputed for the incorporation of cultural and historical identities in his work. For instance the entrances to passages, doors, windows and niches in the walls are inspired by the shape of hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards in prayer or greeting as ‘wai’ in Thailand, or ‘namaste’ in India.
The 18 treatment with rooms swooping drapes and curtains, are embellished either by handcrafted glass mirror mosaic found in Thai temples, or brightly colored glass pieces in walls and ceiling forming a kaleidoscopic pattern. Sliding windows open onto air wells with shallow ponds to cool the rooms naturally.
Opened in 2007, The Barai pioneered spa concepts, raising the benchmark regionally. Set over two hectares, all paths of the mazelike structure eventually lead to the Tranquility Court, a serene, sandy, walled-in courtyard dotted with 100-year-old tamarind trees, mountain rocks and a linear 30-metre infinity pool. It’s not a perfect rectangle because Bunnag took care to avoid destroying any existing trees. This space is ideal for meditation, yoga, a swim or simply to get away from it all, while at the far end a narrow split in the wall offers a glimpse of the sea beyond.
Hua Hin’s first and only residential spa is self-contained with eight beachfront suites having their own private entrances surrounded by mature tropical trees. The four on the ground floor open onto a courtyard with an infinity plunge pool, while those on the upper level lead onto a balcony. Other features include oversized soaking tubs, massive 3 meters x 2 meters beds, Thai day beds, spacious His & Her vanity rooms and walk-in closets, cozy dining niches, 40-inch plasma TVs and complimentary broadband internet connectivity.
From the entrance door one views the depth of the entire suite. Minimalist in décor, and furnished in white and earth tones, an eye to detail is apparent with wavelike contours on the ceiling, door handles shaped like delicate ears with elongated lobes, and bathroom sinks molded like flowers seen on Apsara sculptures at Angkor Wat.
Meals are available at the adjacent, elegantly restored McFarland House, offering 180 degree views of the Gulf of Thailand. The 19th-century, two-storey bungalow, while retaining much of its original structure, is transformed into a casual restaurant and bar. Lounge-style seating, western and Thai flavors on the menu and relaxing music complete the ambience.
In totality, the Barai succeeds in assuaging the five senses with its philosophy of providing inner tranquility — a journey designed for peace, serenity and personal exploration in exotic surroundings — before you are released to greet the world a new.