Phuket's new groove
Obscene red-light districts and badly behaved foreigners. Overcrowded beaches littered with umbrellas and daybeds. Jet-ski scams and a taxi mafia that runs amok of the law. Phuket’s reputation might have soured in the past due to activity around Patong Beach on the island’s west coast, but there’s another side to Thailand’s wealthiest province.
Tucked into coves and nestled on hillsides with 180-degree views of the Andaman Sea, this balmy, paradisiacal island has a centuries-long history as one of Asia’s most prosperous trading posts. It’s also home to some of Asia’s most ostentatious and luxurious resorts. From a space-age hotel modelled on superyachts and a romantic hideaway that specialises in haute Thai cuisine, to the flagship property of one of the best resort brands in the world, three unspoilt cantons will readjust your Phuket perceptions.
Dining and dayclubs
“Welcome to paradise,” reads a handwritten note, placed upon a dark wooden chest in front of a four-poster bed draped in Egyptian cotton sheets. With vaulted palm-thatch ceilings and colonial-style shutters, the Deluxe Pool Villa at Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa is fitted with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that lead to a polished wooden deck. Outside, a slate-bottomed plunge pool is bookended by canopied daybeds and an outdoor shower with a birdcage-style showerhead.
The abode is one of 47 pool villas, 30 suites and nine sprawling hillside residences, all spread out across 20 acres of tropical gardens brimming with birdlife and orchids. The resort looks out onto a private cove on the northern fringe of Layan Beach – a veritable slice of heaven with seemingly airbrushed white sands and blue water.
“Our location is unique for Phuket because we’re secluded enough from the rest of the island to offer a romantic and relaxing stay, but close enough to the nightlife and bars if you want a bit of action,” says resort manager Carla Puverel. She’s referring to Nikki Beach Club (+66 7668 1161; www.nikkibeach.com) the Phuket chapter of the Miami-based dayclub concept, which is a mere five-minute drive from the resort. With fine dining, DJs, live performances and tropical cocktails, the fun takes place in an all-white poolside setting surrounded by teepees, daybeds and private cabanas crammed with rich and beautiful folk.
After burning off calories on the dance floor at Nikki Beach Club, guests can pile them back on at one of Anantara’s two signature restaurants. The open-kitchen-style Dee Plee with Continental, Asian, Indian and Mediterranean buffet stations lays out one of the most decadent hotel breakfasts ever conceived; nooks and crannies are lined with what seems to be hundreds of mason jars filled with bread-and-butter pudding, caramelised black grapes, muesli with flaxseed, banana compote and other bite-sized treats that make a satisfying breakfast on their own.
Dinner is served with aplomb at Sala Layan, an al fresco cliff-side restaurant with panoramic ocean views – critics consistently rate it as one of the best restaurants in Thailand. Think red snapper fillet served in banana leaves, crispy soft-shell crab curry and DIY betel-leaf tapas filled with deep-fried sea bass, lime, ginger, chilli, peanuts and shaved coconut. If you can’t imagine going without meals this vibrant when you return home, Anantara’s own chefs conduct “Spice Spoons” cooking classes, teaching guests how to recreate their fastidious take on Thai cuisine in a nurturing, interactive environment.
Since 1987, yachting enthusiasts around the world have set sail for Phuket to attend the King’s Cup Regatta (+66 7660 4323; www.kingscup.com), the largest yacht race in Asia, held in early December – and now they have a suitable place to stay. Set on a dramatic cliff top overlooking Kata Beach, Kata Rocks is a futuristic six-star resort and residence inspired by the flamboyant world of superyachts. “We have a jetty that gives superyacht owners and users direct access to the property,” says general manager Scot Toon. “They come in and use the spa and the restaurant, because people who use luxury yachts also like nice places to dine and sleep.”
Diners and spa-goers will find those two boxes are ticked with gusto at Kata Rocks. The resort’s al fresco restaurant and bar is an oasis of minimalist, retro style. In whitewashed cream, crimson and blue hues, it overlooks a wrap-around infinity pool anchored by signature retractable helicopter parasols. Beyond that lies the panorama of the turquoise Andaman Sea with views of an island, gleaming yachts and the odd fishing boat. This is where Phuket’s jet setters come to watch the sun set while grazing on Mediterranean tapas and sipping New World wines.
The resort’s 34 aptly named Sky Villas are strategically positioned on the boulder-strewn cliffs from which the resort takes its name. Ranging in size from one to four bedrooms with full-size kitchens and double-vaulted ceilings, the villas – high-tech, soft-to-the-touch, marble-finished abodes – are packed with smart appliances: Siemens intelligent-sensor refrigerators, Vintec wine cellars, Nespresso machines and flat-screen televisions slotted into seamless alcoves in the ceilings.
Another set of buttons controls the electric blinds and shutters covering the six-metre high sliding doors, along with the eight-person Jacuzzi sunk into the deck. It’s easy to see why these villas walked away with International Property Awards’ “Best Apartment in the World” honour when Kata Rocks was still under construction.
It would be rare to find a resort in Thailand that didn’t offer some form of pampering, but the resort’s Infinite Luxury Spa takes the tech specs to another level with a litany of high-tech paraphernalia to pamper the body and rejuvenate the skin. There’s a waterbed room equipped with an Italian-made Iso-Benessere water massage bed, a chromotherapy room for coloured light therapy, a sleeping pod room with a Metronap rest pod and a tropical post-treatment relaxation patio.
The gym is another one-of-a-kind facility developed by a professional triathlete. Set inside a purpose-built fishbowl-style suite next door to the spa, guests can work out on cross trainers, treadmills, Pilates equipment and Power Plate resistance exercise stations guided by a custom-made app on their smartphones. It’s the closest you can get to astronaut training in Phuket.
A Thai sanctuary
They’re called “Aman junkies” – a super-exclusive club of executives, dignitaries and celebrities who won’t stay anywhere else. And who can blame them? There are 29 incredible Aman Resorts around the world to choose from, but none more captivating the original. Amanpuri is a collection of graceful Thai-style pavilions, reflection pools and fine restaurants set on the grounds of a coconut plantation on Phuket’s Leam Son Headland.
There are 40 suites, each featuring a king-size bed, teak furnishings, an oversized bathroom drenched in marble, along with an outdoor dining terrace. There are also 43 two- to six-bedroom villa residences, decorated with hand-picked art, textiles and antiques, and fitted with a rooftop lounge area and private pool. There’s even a private kitchen where a live-in chef spends the days creating lavish Thai banquets or, if called for, a cheeseburger and fries.
Elevated walkways connect the suites and villas to Amanpuri’s breathtaking midnight-blue-tiled swimming pool, where moulded brass tables and rattan-backed chairs are set out along a terrace for pre-dinner cocktails at dusk accompanied by the soothing sounds of traditional Thai xylophones. There are three restaurants at Amanpuri: One serving Thai, another Italian and the third specialising in kaiseki – a fusion of French cookery and the culinary theatre of Japan.
From the pool, a stone stairway interrupted with coconut palms leads to Amanpuri’s crescent-shaped private beach where guests can enjoy torch-lit seafood barbecues held on a deck fronting a 20-m lap pool in the evenings. Bobbing up and down on the gin-clear water is a collection of 20 watercraft – the largest of any resort in South East Asia – offering sailing, deep-sea fishing, diving and overnight charters to Krabi, Phang Nga bay, Koh Phi Phi and the Similan Islands.
Back on ground level, Amanpuri’s spa is a sanctuary within a sanctuary featuring six light-filled pavilions where Thai masseuses use organic ointments and creams to knead guests’ bodies into heightened states of relaxation. There are also six floodlit tennis courts, a boutique flowing with Thai silk, a Pilates studio and a glass-encased gym replete with Power Plate machines, free weights and a battery of personal trainers. Yoga and meditation sessions are offered at daybreak with soul-recharging views of the Andaman Sea.
Above and beyond the princely amenities is Amanpuri’s overzealous customer service. For every guest there is a minimum of six staff – a ratio unheard of in the hotel industry. Guests’ needs and desires are delivered with the faultless precision of a philharmonic orchestra and often anticipated before they’re even aware of them.
Of course, staying here doesn’t come cheap. But then again, why should it? “There are two ways of making money in any business,” Aman Resort’s founder Adrian Zecha told the Robb Report. “Make something in vast quantities and charge very little for it, or make something in small quantities and charge a lot for it.”