A few days ago, my five year old stated something over her spaghetti supper. “Mummy, remember the lady who looked after me in Phuket? She was called Sugar. I miss her.” Back then, aged three, my daughter could barely remember her best friend’s name or what she did at school each day, but here we are, 18 months on, and she’s still able to conjure up Sugar’s name when her memory demands it. Why am I telling you this? Well, because I think it goes some way in illustrating the impact of this one particular Thailand trip - not just the place we stayed, but of the people we met, too.
There’s a neighbouring island that is walkable to when the tide is low - with just scuttling crabs for company, it’s a true Robinson Crusoe moment
The property in question is Layan Residences by Anantara, the super-luxurious residential arm of Anantara Layan with 15 villas playing peek-a-boo across the tiered hillside with views tumbling out over the lush waters of Layan Bay and the Andaman coast.
The first branded residence by Thai hotel group Anantara, the villas are available for both rental and sale, with Anantara’s owner Bill Heinecke bagging the best, naturally. The other 14 are individually designed by renowned interior guru Jaya Ibrahim - each impeccable in their design approach and in keeping with Anantara’s blended luxury style-meets-five-star service. All high-vaulted ceilings, dark woods, crisp white linens, lengthy infinity pools, rooftop terraces, kitchens, massage rooms, salas, myriad mod-cons, an on-call butler, frangipani scenting the air and a gong to announce your arrival. What more could you wish for?
The villas have between two and six bedrooms, sleeping 21 adults in the latter. We stay in the three-bed Villa Karon, half-way up the hill. But don’t be fooled by the bedroom quota... The 1,695 square metres spread over two floors are more than ample for myself, my husband and daughter, and provide the perfect setting for a game of Hide & Seek.
Upstairs, the Master Bedroom sits at one end of a 21-metre infinity pool - with its two glass skylights and waterfall feature - with an open-sided sala at the other. Breakfast served here by the wonderful Sugar is a feast with fresh dragon fruit, mango, papaya and views of Layan Beach. There’s a neighbouring tree-strewn island in the distance that we discover is walkable too when the tide is low - a true Robinson Crusoe moment with a thousand scuttling crabs as company.
The Master Bedroom sits at one end of a 21-metre infinity pool - with its glass skylights and waterfall feature - with an open-sided sala at the other
Also upstairs is the living room, decorated with statues, books, wreaths and woodwork; a dining room with eight-seater table; decked-out pantry; and accommodation for your live-in private butler. The floor-to-ceiling windows ensure the dark wood rooms stay light and airy, with the French windows drawn back at every opportunity to let the sea breeze work its magic.
Take a stroll downstairs to locate the other bedrooms, as well as a study (featuring photographs of Jim Thompson, an American businessman who helped revitalise the Thai silk industry in the 1950s), massage room with his ’n’ hers tables for stay-at-home treatments, and a huge kitchen for your private culinary team.
We try to make the most of our space, eating breakfast by the pool, a light lunch in the dining room, and sundowners at the end of the day on the roof terrace. Kitted out with bean bags, the sunset views soaked up with a glass of champagne are the cherry on a well-iced cake.
The beauty of staying in Layan Residences, is you have complete privacy and exclusivity yet with the amenity benefits of the neighbouring Anantara Layan hotel. Borrow a buggy or get your steps in strolling down the hill to the resort - it’ll be worth the exertion. The hotel has five restaurants, including a seasonal pop-up by Zuma. Dee Plee immerses us one night in Thai fine dining, sipping cocktails inspired by Thailand’s vast provincial heritage, whilst sampling Tom Yum Goong soup, Geang Ped chicken curry and stir-fried morning glory.
Another memorable evening is spent at steam punk-inspired Age - a grill for all seasons, as it calls itself. Hand-picked meats, seafood and garden-grown vegetables are all thrown on the grill with just the right smattering of seasoning, eaten al fresco listening to the rain drip off over-hanging palm fronds as the skies open. Oenophiles can admire the wine cellar filled with 350 different vintages, as well as the Rube Goldberg-esque ‘Screw It’ corkscrew machine that dominates a corner of the dining room. A personal request by Mr Heinecke and built by acclaimed designer John Underwood (using parts of an old ice cream-making machine), it cranks into gear using a series of meticulous cog movements to open each bottle. An eye-popping sideshow to your steak.
You can, of course, ask your butler to dream up something a little more intimate. We spend our last night dining on a sandbank, with linguine and lobster lit by nothing bar candles and stars.
When we’re not all playing lounge lizard by the pool, we employ the truly amazing babysitting skills of Sugar so we can slope off to the spa. There is a small kids club at the hotel, but nothing can beat the one-on-one attention of you-know-who. Wrapped around a palm-fringed pool, the Anantara Spa is, as you’d imagine, a sea of calm that draws inspiration from its natural surrounds. Using everything from Institut Esthederm and Intraceuticals to all-natural Sansi products, the treatments follow the mantra ‘Life’s greatest journeys are felt, not told’, with Thai, Chinese and Indian treatments complemented by Western therapies. Whether you indulge in a Sea Shell & Herbal Therapy here or an Anantara Signature Massage in your own private spa suite at the villa, rest assured you’ll emerge rested.
Another afternoon we take Sugar’s advice and book an afternoon at sea exploring some of Phuket’s picturesque islands and the intricate rock formations of Phang Nga Bay. We picnic, we swim, we snooze. It’s perfect the day.
While my bank balance won’t stretch to ownership of a Layan Residence villa quite yet, a few days living in the lap of luxury is almost as good. The villas have a vibe all their own that makes you feel so at home: private, intimate, exclusive, playful, comfy... And while this trip may have been over 18 months ago, the experience has remained at the forefront of my memory since. A visit that was short, but oh-so-sweet.
WHAT: Layan Residences by Anantara
WHERE: Phuket, Thailand