Thailand's monsoon season signals the arrival of affordable luxury-hotel packages, writes Leisa Tyler.
It starts with a rumble. The sky darkens to charcoal-grey. A cool breeze ruffles the glossy leaves of tall trees. The temperature drops and the humidity rises. A dog barks, forewarning, then whoosh, a tropical deluge begins and drenches in a flash.
The monsoon is my favourite time of year in Thailand. I love the lack of tourists and not having to book restaurant tables in advance and the sweet fragrance of jasmine and frangipani after the rain.
Downpours never last long; an hour at best. But they wash the air of its sticky mugginess and clear the beaches of crowds.
Best of all, I love the hotel deals that can be found from now until October.
Keen to get heads on beds, hotels slash their rates by up to 50 per cent, with bonuses. But buyers beware: not all deals are equal. One island resort is offering a 1000 baht ($30) resort credit if it rains all day, which happens only once in a blue moon.
Here are some of Thailand's best deals of the monsoon season.
The Grand Hyatt Erawan, a 380-room hotel in the middle of Bangkok's bustling shopping district, Chitlom, has three nights for the price of two with a late checkout, until September 8. The hotel's perks are its facilities. There's an extensive gym, the city's best club lounge, nine dining options and direct access to the elevated SkyWalk connecting seven shopping malls. Request a recently renovated room. Double rooms cost from 7768 baht a night; see bangkok.grand.hyatt.com.
Steps from the rambunctious night life of Pat Pong, the high-design 282-room Le Meridien Bangkok has a 25 per cent discount or breakfast for two plus 4pm late checkout for stays until August 31. Bookings must be made before July 31. Double rooms cost from 3530 baht a night; free internet in the lobby; see starwoodhotels.com.
Escape Bangkok's mayhem at the Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort and Spa, a recently renovated 407-room hotel set on 4.5 hectares of garden overlooking the Chao Praya River on the outskirts of the city. Here, the longer you stay, the better the discount; 10 per cent for two nights; 15 per cent for three nights or 30 per cent for five nights or more, until October 31. Double rooms cost from 3884 baht a night, including breakfast; internet is extra; see bangkok-riverside.anantara.com.
Overlooking one of the finest stretches of sand in Hua Hin, the sprawling 205-room Hyatt Regency has four nights for the price of three with a 2pm checkout until September 8, with double rooms from 6474 baht a night; internet is extra.
Book two or more nights at the Barai, an exclusive eight-suite wing of the Hyatt Regency that mimics the architecture of Cambodia's Angkor Wat, and receive a complimentary round-trip limousine transfer from Bangkok, a three-hour drive. The Barai rooms cost from 21,656 baht a night and include breakfast, internet, some laundry, evening cocktails and one massage a person a day; see huahin.regency.hyatt.com.
A 20-minute drive south of Hua Hin, the Six Senses and Evason Hua Hin are set in lush gardens near the sleepy fishing village of Pranburi. The resort has two wings - the older Evason wing has 185 rooms with views over the ocean and a gigantic pool; the sumptuous Six Senses wing has 55 private pool villas and a spa village modelled on conical huts from northern Thailand.
Stay five nights or more before October 31 for a 20 per cent discount. Double rooms in the Evason wing cost from 3160 baht a night; from 7278 baht for a Six Senses villa including breakfast, internet and the hotel group's mandatory carbon tax. See sixsenses.com.
The Soneva Group's latest Thai resort flanks a private peninsula on the remote island of Koh Kood, a few nautical miles from Cambodia. Soneva Kiri is an eco-friendly resort with 27 rustic pool villas and eight residences built from bamboo and sustainable timbers, an on-site reverse osmosis plant, recycling centre and plastic-free amenities, all without skimping on luxury.
Book now until August 31 to receive a discount of up to 50per cent; villas cost from $US1156 ($1148) a night for two people and include all food and house beverages, internet, laundry and light plane transfers from Bangkok. There is a minimum three-night stay; see sixsenses.com.
Eight-year-old Trisara, an exclusive pool-villa resort in verdant gardens with a private beach in Phuket, still Thailand's most exquisite beach resort. Book two or more nights between now and October 31 for a $US200 a night credit to spend on food, drinks or spa treatments at the resort. Double rooms cost from $US825 a night including breakfast, transfers and internet; see trisara.com.
Set on a remote stretch of sand in northern Phuket, the industrial-chic design of Indigo Pearl conjures the island's tin-mining past. Book three or more nights before October 31 for a 40 per cent discount; spacious premium suites are from 4630 baht a night, including breakfast and internet; see indigo-pearl.com.
Opened last January, 137 Pillars House is a luxury 30-suite hotel based around the former headquarters of the East Borneo Company near Chiang Mai's old city. Until October 31 the hotel has a free night for every two nights paid, with doubles from 8600 baht a night including breakfast and internet; see 137pillarshouse.com.
Stay three nights at the delectable Four Seasons Tented Camp in the Golden Triangle until September 30 for a complimentary two-night stay at any other Four Seasons hotel or resort in Thailand. The 15-tent resort peering over the steamy jungles of Burma and Laos is one of the most extraordinary hotel experiences in the kingdom. Rooms cost from 70,200 baht a night for two people and include all meals and drinks, internet, one spa treatment for each person, a half-day mahout training course and private airport transfers.
The two extra nights can be spent at the lovely Four Seasons Chiang Mai, the centrally located Four Seasons Bangkok or the cliff-top Koh Samui property with stand-alone villas and stunning views over the Gulf of Thailand; see fourseasons.com.
Thai Airways has a fare to Bangkok from Sydney and Melbourne (about 9hr non-stop) for about $875 low-season return, including tax; see www.thaiairways.com.