Home may be where the heart is for some, but for Vatcharin Bhumichitr, it’s where the art is. Originally trained as a fine artist at Bangkok College of Fine Art, he left Thailand over three decades ago, relocating to the UK to study graphic design and book design, after which he turned his focus to another form of creative expression: culinary art. After opening a string of successful Thai and SE Asian restaurants in London, Miami and Koh Samui and publishing 10 cookery books, Vatch returned to Thailand four years ago – and to his artistic roots – to open the north’s first artist homestay, La Bhu Salah.
Set on a cluster of jungle covered hills just 10 minutes from Sankampaeng hot springs, this is the spot for anyone wanting to combine an idyllic getaway with creative pursuits. “It was my dream to set up a retreat where I could enjoy the process of art making with my artist friends or fellow art lovers,” says Vatch of his guesthouse. His years in Europe were pivotal in providing inspiration for La Bhu Salah, he explains. The seed for La Bhu Salah was planted when, visiting the Continent he was struck by how the Spanish and Italian cultures embraced creative hobbies like cooking and landscape painting. “Sitting on an island years later, staring at the sea, I thought how great it would be if I could paint it at that moment, and that’s when it occurred to me to open an artist’s homestay.”
Visitors to La Bhu Salah have the choice of participating in various art workshops – painting and drawing, ceramics, jewellery making, print making, batik and fabric painting – all taught by CMU art graduates in jungle-fringed, sala-style studios. Some classes are one-off sessions, others are taught as part of a series. The spa offers courses in Thai massage and those who want to hone their gastronomic skills can learn with the master himself, in his home kitchen, after a trip to the local market to buy essential ingredients. There’s also a two-tiered meditation pavilion with a Buddha statue on the upper floor and a spacious downstairs area which can be used for yoga classes, though these need to be requested in advance.
Vatch has fused Lanna and Thai Lue architectural styles with contemporary accents and design elements: “I like to mix the traditional with the modern to create something new and different,” he explains. Surrounded by a tropical garden filled with bamboo and fruit trees interspersed with brightly coloured exotic flowers, La Bhu Salah will appeal to anyone with a love of nature as well as those with a passion for art and elegance. Vatch’s creative talent can be seen in every detail of the hotel’s design, with the hotel rooms, long-stay apartments, exhibition room, spa and art studios set on the resort’s undulating slopes and linked by a geometric web of wooden staircases, open air pathways and ponds filled with small flashing fish. The stepped layout creates a terraced effect and beautiful views from the upper levels, while dark-stained teak pillars and floors contrast with skimmed and varnished concrete floors and vivid pieces of abstract art – many of them made by Vatch himself.
Art and elegance isn’t all you’re in for at La Bhu Salah. The open-air restaurant offers an excellent selection of classic Thai dishes, as well as some of Vatch’s luscious original recipes. For a taste sensation you won’t forget, try the gaeng keow wan tod – triangular spring roll parcels stuffed with finely chopped vegetables fried in green curry paste, or the La Bhusalah plaa – deep fried fish with a chunky dressing of pineapple, ginger and chilli, washed down with lime juice sweetened with lashings of honey. With all this guesthouse has to offer, you might want to put aside some extra time to play with – the days could slide into weeks all too quickly…