Years may have gone by since I watched Fantasy Island as a kid but I never forgot the tropical location that exemplified luxury, where all your dreams could come true. Now when I think of the ultimate getaway I imagine infinity pools, private villas, evening yoga at sunset, pool parties featuring international DJs and a friendly yet mysterious owner hoping to make all my desires a reality.
When my plane landed on the island of Phuket in Thailand, there may not have been an enthusiastic Tattoo-like character there to greet me but I was greeted in style and whisked away in air-conditioned luxury to the exclusive and beautiful Sri Panwa resort at the southern tip of the island.
Why it’s hot!
This resort consists of exclusive villas dotted amongst lush tropical gardens all with their own infinity pool, view across the water and personal villa assistant. It provides luxurious seclusion without being stuffy and is perfect for that romantic getaway of a lifetime.
On arrival at the resort I was driven through jungle covered peninsula and apart from the residential properties on site, (one said to be owned by the Thai Royal family!) I couldn’t see any of the villas – they were hidden amongst the flora. Guards saluted as we wound our way to the reception villa, making me feel like royalty myself. But this is where the formality ended and the luxury had only just begun.
Being both luxurious yet relaxed and fashionable is testament to the vision of Managing Director Vorasit “Wan” Issara, oldest son of owner Songkran Issara. Wan is a graduate of the DCT International School of Hotel & Business Management in Switzerland and worked in many top international hotels to hone his service and hospitality skills.
“On my travels I was always interested in hotels with cool, hip designs,” says Wan. “I already knew what I liked in terms of contemporary design, but I wanted to learn true five-star service because that it what really makes a luxury hotel.”
And this foresight has helped him to achieve his imaginings in his first hotel resort.
I may have been tired when I was taken to my villa amongst the jasmine and bougainvillea but I know I wasn’t dreaming! As my villa assistant opened the double carved wooden doors, I was treated to a spectacular view. A courtyard with two sunloungers and steps into my own personal infinity pool that wrapped around my bedroom villa with views over the Andaman sea. On my right was my living room villa – kitchen, bathroom, spare walk-in robe, dining and a fabulous day bed, it had an alfresco eating area that also had the same spectacular views that I was welcomed with. On the left was my bedroom villa – yes that’s right, a whole separate villa!
The bedroom villa was bigger than my whole London flat! The king sized bed took in all of the view across the lounge area, pool and over the bay. Flatscreen TVs, DVD player and Bose sound systems with pre-programmed iPod were of course all ready to create the perfect mood. A large tub was central to the bathroom, ensuring that even when you were taking a romantic bath for two, you weren’t missing out on the spectacular scenery and while the shower was also a steam room, it was the outdoor shower that made me truly feel that I had found my ideal tropical getaway. With this level of luxury who needs to leave the villa!
Bored With Your Villa?
It is hard to imagine that you get fed up of uninterrupted tropical views and your own personal wrap-around infinity pool but perhaps you want to do some people watching by checking out some of the other pool and sun areas. And there are another three pools to choose from at the Baba Poolclub, Cool Spa and the Beach Pool as well as the sandy shores of their own private beach.
If activities are more your cup of tea you can go for a game of tennis, hit the gym or indulge in water sports from snorkelling and fishing to wakeboarding and waterskiing. But be aware, just like Mr Roarke on Fantasy Island, Wan and his staff can help make any dream a reality – all you have to do is ask (oh and pay of course!).
A short walk, or golf car ride away, is the spectacular Cool Spa. The striking blue terraces are built into the cliff with pools and cascading waterfalls – you can’t help but let go in these surrounds. On Wan’s recommendation I tried a traditional Thai Herbal Healer massage. Over 2,500 years old it uses warm compresses of Thai herbs, which are applied to the back to give added relief to stressed muscles and is followed by a deep tissue massage to rid you of any residual stress from your other life.
If you need to further chill out, follow this Belle’s lead and try yoga at the spa with its cliff top view of the sunset and the giant Buddha of Phuket as you perform your upward facing dog.
Eating & Drinking
Sri Panwa’s restaurant Baba has already garnished a number of accolades with its Thai fusion and guest chefs. That combined with the spectacular western aspect make it worth dragging yourself away from your villa for the perfect view of a sunset over the sea while you indulge in culinary delights. The seafood and meat dishes are spectacular but you still can’t go past Thai-style dishes such as morning-glory, lemongrass chicken wings, passion fruit tiger prawns and lychee-soy duck breast.
The contemporary Baba Poolclub is the place to be seen at Sri Panwa. As well as housing its second restaurant BabaQ, specializing in contemporary cuisine and Japanese fine dining, it also has a funky bar for cooling refreshment and light snacks. What’s more, if you like what you are eating you can learn to cook it as Sri Panwa has its own cooking school.
If you fancy leaving the resort, head for Kan Eang@Pier overlooking Chalong Bay. Enjoy the stunning sunset over the bay while indulging in local seafood barbecued over coconut husks with a fabulous band playing jazz standards in the Sala.
If a night of music and moves takes your fancy, there is no need to head to the bright lights of Patong beach as some of the best nightlife on the island is now available at Sri Panwa’s nightclub Baba88. With international DJ’s and funky design, Baba88 is the epitome of stylish partying.
Out and About
It may be hard to drag yourself away from your villa and the resort that caters for your every whim but there is loads to see and do around Phuket. Go for an elephant trek through the jungle with spectacular views across Chalong Bay and glimpses of Ko Phi Phi island with Siam Safari, the only elephant camp in southern Thailand to attain the Thai Government Standard award for the care of their elephants. You also get to see baby elephants in training, learn how coconut milk and oil is made as well as ride a water buffalo!
If island hopping is more your thing, you can take a boat trip to Ko Phi Phi made famous by the film The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio or Ko Tapu, an islet in Phang Nga Bay better known as James Bond Island as it was used in both Tomorrow Never Dies and The Man With The Golden Gun. Aside from providing spectacular views above water, they also offer gorgeous snorkelling so make sure that your camera is waterproof!
Belle was also lucky enough to be in Phuket during the annual temple festival at Wat Chalong, which generally coincides with Chinese New Year. Wat Chalong is the most important of the Buddhist temples on the island and every year the grounds are transformed with lights, stalls, thai food, entertainment and games for the week long celebrations. Wan offered to show me the festival so with a group of friends and co-workers from Sri Panwa we headed off to the fair. Every sense was bombarded with heaving crowds, the smell of meat cooking on an open flame, music, entertainment, games, gifts and clothes. I tried many of the foods, though steered clear of the BBQ’d crickets which I felt I should be carrying around like an eastern version of cotton candy! We saw the two-headed calves and the bodiless woman and even climbed to the top of a metal tower that resembled a wheat silo to watch motorbikes and cars defy gravity and drive around the walls of the circular building!
I was deeply saddened when it was time to leave as not only was I leaving a villa that I would happily call home if given half a chance but I also felt that I was leaving a group of friends as Wan, Air Vorachun, the business development manager, Food and Beverage Manager Jared O’Brien and the other staff had come to feel to me. I felt I had been welcomed to Sri Panwa like a dear friend and it is with that same warmth that they bid me a fond farewell, making me promise to return. I dearly hope it is a promise that I get to keep.
To book a getaway of a lifetime at Sri Panwa visit www.sripanwa.com.
[picture credits: Sri Panwa; Alex Faundez]