Phuket resorts review
A detailed guide to Phuket child-friendly resorts and spas, from Khao Lak and Mai Khao in the north down to Patong and Cape Panwa.
SEE ALSO Phuket guide | Bangkok hotels | Bangkok shopping | Koh Samui resorts | Chiang Mai guide | Krabi resorts | Thai spas | Small meetings in Asia | Golf | Resort weddings | Brunei guide | Vietnam Resorts | Isan, Khao Yai guide | Pattaya guide | Lombok guide | Rajasthan palace hotels | Bali fun guide
JUMP TO North and east Phuket | Mai Khao Beach | Bang Tao Beach and Laguna area | Surin and boutique resorts | Kamala, Kalim, Nakalay Beach | Patong | Relax Bay, Karon Beach | Kata, Nai Harn, Rawai, and south | Phuket Town, Panwa, southeast | Khao Lak resorts
IF YOUR idea of an exotic Asian holiday is having yourself photographed with baby elephants, screeching jungle birds, and iridescent lizards that will perch comfortably on your shoulder cocking bulbous eyes enquiringly at the camera, call David Attenborough. But if you want the whole ensemble, this time with a transvestite thrown in, draped in little more than a pink feather boa and perhaps a snazzy, if fake, Dior clutch bag, head to Phuket, Thailand.
Patong, the neon-emblazoned nightlife strip and budget paradise, is alive with feral promise, chatty t-shirt vendors, burnished bodies, and that ultimate barometer of commercial health, fake DVDs. Take your pick of cut-price knock-offs, from Harry Potter to the intriguing Shaving Private Ryan. It’s all here. Without further ado, our Phuket resorts review, from luxury hotels to villa hideaways, from coral bays to the best white sand beaches.
We include a Khao Lak hotel guide with several good spa hideaways and family-friendly options. And in north Phuket, beyond the airport, a new crop of luxury resorts have arrived, creating a welcome counter-magnet to the overcrowded development in central and southern Phuket.
Naka Island pool/ photo: Vijay Verghese
This Phuket resort review runs in a straight line north to south, tracing the western coastline from Mai Khao Beach in the north beyond the airport to Promthep Cape in the south where romantics huddle to watch the sunset beneath lazily spinning wind turbines. At the end of our report is our Khao Lak resorts review, where the damage from the Boxing Day tsunami is now indiscernible. Khao Lak is about a 75-minute drive north from Phuket Airport.
North and east Phuket, Naka Island, Yamu
To get to The Naka Island Phuket (November 2011), a Luxury Collection offering from Starwood, you'll need to get some sea spray in your hair. The resort is sited on the small Naka Yai island off the northeast tip of Phuket just far enough from the madding crowd to be romantically endearing and close enough to be a 25-minute hop from the airport by car and speedboat. Seclusion and privilege is generously ladled out at 67 private villas with a pleasingly rustic but polished finish with smooth, pale apricot skin-tone walls, private pools, and outdoor showers. No jagged edges. Everything follows sensual curves.
Set amidst the stunning Phang Nga Bay and its limestone karst formations, this hideaway is a spoiling escape with far-from-rustic air-conditioning (there are ceiling fans for the heroically inclined), iPod docks, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and WiFi. At the iPod docks, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, DVD players, and WiFi. At the top-of-the-line 1,600sq m Royal Horizon Pool Villa Suite, a vision of blue stretches to infinity from the large timber sun deck and its mirror-still pool. There are two separate split-level thatch-roof villas with a sunken living area littered with deep blue cushions, elevated bedroom with canopied gauze-draped bed draped in 300-thread-count linen, 52-inch flat-screen TVs, Bose surround sound, iPod docks, lounging divans, work desk, and vast bathrooms – one constructed around its own glass-wall greenhouse, with well spaced out twin vanities, toiletries from Remede Spa, and a private steam room. Wireless connectivity is free throughout public areas but, alas, charged in villas.
Naka spa enclave/ photo: Vijay Verghese
Guests can stay connected on foot, tracing sandy pathways, pootle around on bicycles, or careen about on electric buggies. The gentle, grassy hillocks are no impediment to discovery. Ubiquitous and quaint, but potentially treacherous after a couple of Singha beers, however, are the overly elevated stepping stones that accompany most paths. A minor niggle. But step wisely. Wellness therapies are set apart in a vast and perfectly manicured, Hobbit-like enclave, with individual treatment villas, meandering ponds, wooden bridges, steam rooms, and a "Watsu massage pool". Attempt a milk bath or a honey mango body polish. Never try this at home. Leave it to the professionals at Spa Naka.
White sand, good books, burnished bods, and water sports are the main distractions. The grill and cafe front a two-tier azure pool with walk-in sun loungers facing calm seas and a swimmable beach. The second pool is ideal for children. Also find a well featured gym. All in, this is an address that sets a new benchmark for exclusivity. Service is friendly and trundles along at island pace and there is much to explore and discover.
North of Phuket in the direction of Khao Lak, about a 20-minute drive from the airport, is the Aleenta Phuket on the enticing stretch of Natai Beach. Accommodation marries conical-thatch-roof villas with modern cubist design. Pick from an array of Pool Villas, Pool Suites or Pool Residences in differing decor, some with bedrooms overlooking the sea. The resort is stylish with rooms offering an iPod dock, large LCD TV, soft cotton linen, spoiling toiletries and plunge pool. Expect clean lines and grand views mixed in with spa treatments, yoga and cooking classes.
Driving down to Phuket across the bridge you'll spot the Royal Phuket Marina (www.royalphuketmarina.com), a luxury lifestyle development that positions itself as a venue for meetings, conferences and weddings with a 2,500sq m Exhibition and Conference Centre. Large wedding in Phuket? No problem.
Aleenta Ocean View Loft/ photo: hotel
Overlooking Po Bay on the northeast coast of Phuket Island is the Supalai Resort & Spa Phuket (formerly Best Western Supalai Resort & Spa) with 144 sea-view rooms, 38 poolside villas, a spa, a humungous 1,000sq m pool with a Jacuzzi at one end and a 450sq m ballroom for conferences and meetings. In this area too is the Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa where it’ll set visitors back Bt4,500 to play a full 18 holes (Bt2,700 for guests). There’s a pro shop and a driving range if the pool and spa are not sufficient distraction. Accommodation ranges from well featured Deluxe Rooms to Executive Suites.
Along the secluded non-touristy east coast shoreline of the island a country road snakes out towards Cape Yamu, a quiet hamlet with a gravely beach, a few private villas, a laid-back rustic air, breezy sea views, and the chic cubist lines of the Baan Yamu Residences, a smart Surin hideaway that continues to set the pace. The "Club Yamu" concept includes a small group of villas with private pools, executive villas, and condominiums. Pick up a home away from home starting at around US$500,000 and going up to US$2.5m. Notwithstanding the lack of a swimmable beach, this is a great spot for a family holiday and there is a two-floor kids' club.
The U-shaped development follows a strict grid and encloses within its “arms” a stretch of lawn and a long infinity pool that runs almost the length of the estate, its blue contrasting with the pastel grey and creams of the units. Expect straight clean lines, rows of palm trees, giant earthen urns, painstaking symmetry, and a minimalist Zen approach at this low-rise and starkly modern development. For a long stay away from neon and buzz, with excellent service an added bonus, consider this Phuket child-friendly resort.
A COMO Resort will makes its presence felt by late 2012 in this area with a COMO Shambhala Retreat, yoga, wellness treatments, a 100m pool, and a private beach area.
Baan Yamu Residence/ photo: Vijay Verghese
Perched along the as yet undeveloped northeast of the island, is the spread out and attractive Chandara Resort & Spa. Expect a two-deck swimming pool, water sports galore, cycling, cooking classes and thatch-roof Pool Villas and Jacuzzi Studios set in manicured gardens overlooking a broad stretch of beach on Po Bay. And of course, the Chandara Spa for a wellness workout. There's ample stretch space. A Studio Pool villa starts at 140sq m while a Family Villa goes up to 225sq m. Swing an elephant by the tail. The group offers the less lavish Absolute Sea Pearl Beach Resort in Patong as well.
Mai Khao Beach and northwest
Crossing the Sarasin Bridge heading down into the island of Phuket, the first resort, still well north of the airport along a secluded stretch of Mai Khao Beach, is the sprawling JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa. Relatively unmarred by the frenzied development that has turned vast swathes of Phuket into higgledy-piggledy concrete, the area is a quietish enclave though small malls and eateries have arrived.
The Marriott is huge, not so much high as vast. Its three-floor structure (with 252 rooms) radiates out in two wings amidst lush gardens and engaging water features. There are three swimming pools and with room enough to swing several elephants by the tail, recreation options are practically unlimited from horse-riding and mountain biking to diving, snorkelling, sailing, tennis and jogging. Rent a bicycle and work off excess calories. The hotel will equip you with a helmet, a map, a bottle of water, and a mobile phone which, alas, you'll have to return.
JW Marriott Phuket/ photo: hotel
A Teen Centre offers the young and restless an arsenal of distractions while younger kids are catered for with activities like face painting, learning the circus trapeze, and Thai dancing. Babysitters are at hand with short notice. Escape to the health club, then dine Italian, Japanese or Thai. A wellness sala offers meditation, yoga and pilates lessons if you need a good stretch. The bright and attractive rooms at the JW Marriott Resort and Spa have nice residential touches including a steam iron and ironing board (perfect for soggy cottons or flabby bellies), a somewhat compact flat-screen TV, a DVD player and a reading alcove that easily doubles as a kid's “bedroom".
All rooms offer plug-in high-speed internet while public areas and meetings rooms are wireless enabled (charged at US$9.95 per day). The dedicated Mandara Spa serves up bliss and "Javanese lulur" at a price, with aromatic private rooms for couples, plunge pools and lap pool. Try assorted wraps, a coffee scrub or get waxed. With 10 meeting rooms and over 15,000sq ft of conference space this is a useful address for small corporate meetings in Phuket.
Located within the Sirinath Marine National Park, the JW Marriott Phuket has earned kudos for its conservation work with marine turtles. No, there's no turtle soup on the menu. Still, at Ginja Cook, the cooking school at JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, you may bone up on traditional Thai cooking, or opt for Indian or even Japanese.
Also set on Mai Khao beach (at the end of the road leading on from the JW Marriott) is the very chic, cubist SALA Phuket Resort and Spa. The resort offers 79 smart villas and suites with contemporary design blending black-tile water pools, clean lines and gardens with beige-white exteriors in an unobtrusive lowrise setting. The overall appearance is quietly welcoming without any of that mad Disneyland clangour of megaresorts. Garden spaces and trees blend in with discreet buildings. The design works because perhaps it does not try too hard and, while sophisticated, it is user-friendly.
Sala Two Bedroom Pool Suite/ photo: hotel
Sixty-three villas and rooms have private lap pools, and rooms feature outdoor bathrooms with freestanding bathtubs, chandeliers, in-room WiFi, and daybeds. For families and larger groups there are 13 one and two-bedroom suites. There are three beachfront pools, one for kids, and the SALA Spa offers a range of treatments with five indoor treatment rooms and three massage venues by the beach. The pool fronts the gardens with their shady casuarina trees, which in turn lead on to the sand. If you're shopping for a Phuket resort beach wedding, SALA is one for the diary. The place scores high on our Phuket resorts review and it is sited on a secluded strip of sand in an undisturbed patch. We certainly like the vibes here.
Close by is the younger minimalist Zen Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa that helps breaks the musty nondescript mould of the group (following on the heels of the club lounge-style Renaissance Bangkok). Walk past the wood-screen porte cochere into an airy lobby with a design focusing on light and symmetry. Grey stone and pale wood contrasts with the bright cushions, and water features dominate the central area leading to the beach. The resort runs in two low-rise three-storey arms enfolding the gardens and villas and pointing towards the sea. These house the rooms and suites. There are 180 rooms in all including four one-bedroom ocean front villas, 21 one-bedroom pool villas and one three-bedroom ocean front villa.
Be prepared for a pleasant surprise. The courtyard style villas are enclosed within walls with green spaces and a plunge pool set alongside a natural-timber-floor patio. The high curved pale-wood ceiling is very Japanese in effect, if not in intent, the bedroom bright, with natural light streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and colourful green-blue furnishings.
Renaissance Phuket villa/ photo: Verghese
Expect flat-screen TV, DVD player, large terrazzo-chip bathtub, twin vanities, digital clock, Internet access and WiFi at Bt642 per day (complimentary if you’re paying the full rate in a villa), a data port, a narrow work desk behind the bed, a notebook safe, and an iron and ironing board. From the outside, the curved shingle roofs are reminiscent of a conquistador’s helmet.
Deluxe Rooms are similarly bright with 44sq m of stretch space, a see-through glass partition for the bathroom, a separate tub and shower, orange wall lamp, plump bed with lime green runner, flat-screen TV, small round multi-purpose table, data port and two multi-pin sockets. The end result is funky, clean, inviting and contemporary.
This resort features a Quan Spa, a fitness centre, a kids’ club, bikes for rent, non-motorised water sports and even a karaoke room to exercise vocal chords. The attractive black-tile pool is set along the beachfront, again minimalist and simple, but effective. Staff, much of it imported from Bangkok, is friendly and responsive. A definite thumbs up for this Renaisance Phuket review.
Cheek-by-jowl with the JW Marriott, is the somewhat eclectic Anantara Phuket Resort & Spa with 83 one-bedroom pool villas featuring large bathrooms and an outdoor soaking tub for couples. In-room expect iPod and docking station, flatscreen TV with DVD player, daybed, outdoor sala, and WiFi. Timbered floors add gleam and class contrasting with the plump, starched white linen beds, gauzy drapes, and bright silk cushions and throws. Step out of bed and wade right into your own private pool and then step right back into the bath for a wash and lazy tub soak.
Holiday Inn Mai Khao/ photo: Verghese
Fittings and finish are tasteful and well executed as you might expect of a Thai luxury villa resort. Despite its high-end appeal, Anantara remains a family-friendly hotel with a well-equipped Turtle Club to cater for the younger set. The resort is a 15-minute drive up from Phuket Airport and close to the green mangrove lungs of Sirinath National Park. This hideaway features the group's signature ochre brick entrance, luxury villas with quality Thai flourishes and lotus ponds accessed by a tiny driveway that can be a squeeze. Service is good and accommodation is more than comfortable. Fidgety? Cycle, play tennis, try yoga, aerobics, or opt for a raft of watersports.
Also say hello to the smart and modular clean-line 246-room Holiday Inn Resort Phuket Mai Khao Beach that opened September 2011. The full name is a mail-train mouthful but this family-friendly Phuket resort is a fine four-star offering. More a friendly condominium than a stiff hotel, the design is functional, neat and unpretentious and the place brims with smiles. The resort runs to the beach with the three-storey room wings on either side, and a central grass lawn leading to a fine pool and excellent beach. Find a tailor-made Kid’s Suite for keeping the holiday smiles on. The cosy children’s area serves up a bunk bed and a play corner with a flat-screen television, bean bag, and a game console. The kids’ room is connected to the master bedroom through the shared bathroom with its big rain shower, generous mirrors, and pastel wood sliding doors. There is a pale-wood work desk along the wall with two electric sockets and data port. WiFi is free throughout the resort. The room is attractive for its simplicity and light.
A Pool Access room offers the convenience of water lapping at your verandah. Or pick a larger Family Suite. In-room expect a decent flat-screen TV, DVD player and iPod dock. During the day parents can leave typhoon tykes at the Kid’s Club with its slides and bouncing pit or at the Teen Zone. Take your pick. Elsewhere, resort iPads will keep you connected. Now that’s fun for the entire family including harassed parents. This eco-friendly hotel offers a fitness centre, a long stretch of beach, and the Tea Tree Spa to work off calories and soothe city muscles.
Maikhao Dream Phuket villa/ photo: hotel
If work has got you in a hole, pack your bags and head to the Mother of Holes, the Canyon Course Hole No. 17, described as one of the “Top 500” in the world”. A splendid sight for sore eyes is seamless green of the Canyon Course (Bt5,600 for 18 holes) and the Lakes Course (Bt4,000 for 18 holes) at the 720-acre Blue Canyon Country Club just minutes from the airport on Highway 402. This refreshing, verdant escape offers rooms blending into the hillside, residential condominiums for longer stays, and a breezy clubhouse that commands unimpeded views of the greens, which have hosted some Johnnie Walker Classics and more.
Plunge into a Jacuzzi, enjoy a muscle-working massage, or sip a tall cool drink. There's even a professionally-run school to help you improve your swing. During those quieter evenings when you’re done chasing balls, retire to The Spa at Blue Canyon for soothing Ayurvedic, Thai and Swedish treatments. Therapists are on hand to suggest the most appropriate balm. The invigorating environs and fresh air make Blue Canyon Country Club an extremely popular choice for golfers, families and resident expatriates.
Just up the road is the Maikhao Dream Villa Resort & Spa Phuket. Pick from beachfront two or three-bedroom pool villas for a lot of stretch space - at a price of course. The two-bedroom villa starts at a generous 5,000sq ft with 46-inch flat-screen TV, jet pool set in a timbered sun deck, living and dining areas, a kitchen, electronic safe and free WiFi. A butler will help get your holiday sorted. Enjoy beach activities or retire to the spa. Sister property Maikhao Dream Resort & Spa Natai, Phang Nga, is within driving range and offers 56 rooms.,
The Centara Grande West Sands Resort & Villas Phuket is another mouthful of syllables and, fortunately, largely white sand. The resort sprawls over 47 acres with a long stretch of beach. Also find a water park with slides and a Lazy River. The 287-room property has a broad range of accommodation from Deluxe to Pool Villas. A Deluxe Room with flat-screen TV, DVD and broadband, starts at 65sq m, and that will give you some idea of the scale at this place.
Just south of Phuket Airport on Nai Yang Beach is the Indigo Pearl. Step into the crystal and metal-works lobby with its surreal blue lights and glass, and embark on a pleasant hallucinogenic trip. The imaginatively designed resort offers double-size rooms featuring huge trendy bathrooms, stone walls, timber-slat headboards and a chic tin-mine feel. There are three swimming pools (with bars), acres of manicured garden and a lagoon. Deluxe rooms come with balconies overlooking the gardens while private villas offer courtyards and alfresco showers. At the upper end of the scale are pool suites and high-ceilinged luxury suites with their own private plunge pools.
Indigo Pearl theme room/ photo: Verghese
Indigo Pearl has stretch room galore – both an attraction as well as a drawback for some who prefer not to walk – with lush gardens. Nai Yang beach rates well. In season, the water is exceptionally clear, to rival the best. Wacky flourishes engage the eye, making it clear this is no run-of-the-mill beach resort.
Despite its eccentric outpourings, it exhibits definite personality and style. Versatile conference facilities and the Indigo Spa complete the mix. Get a mud, green tea or oatmeal wrap and finish up with a skin-firming massage. With its tall rubber trees and lazy roads winding through hills and paddy fields, this district is one of Phuket's prettiest and well worth a drive to explore.
On Nai Yang Beach, a few kilometres out on the curve of the bay, is the Imperial Adamas Beach Resort. It is a spread out low-rise getaway with a vast central pool offering open sea views and cooling breezes. Gravelled walks lead from the main hotel building to the pool and on to the beach lined by sun umbrellas and wooden deck chairs. There is a spa at hand for those in search of pampering. Otherwise, laze, catch some rays, and open that book.
A relaxed, simple, and unfussy place with a few service quirks. Not for the top-end discerning traveller but fine for an non-taxing family getaway or honeymoon escape without overly stretching the wallet.
The gorgeous and unpopulated Nai Thon Beach is worth a look-see at any time. The Naithonburi Beach Resort is across the road from here, a short stroll from the sea. This is a simple but clean hotel-style compound with a swimming pool and 79 rooms in contemporary Thai decor and ceramic tile floors.
The Hotel Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach (open early 2013) covers a low hill to the north of the beach with sea access on the other side and open sunset views from the lobby-level adult-only pool, spa and restaurant. Not to worry, there are two more pools at this family-friendly resort and lots of action for kids. The resort is in grey olive tones with three-storey structures.
Andaman White Beach/ photo: hotel
A 45sq m Deluxe is in beige pastel with free WiFi. Upgrade to an Oceanview room to enjoy Nespresso and grand panoramas. Or opt for a 170sq m Pool Villa. The resort aims for small to medium size corporate meetings with a ballroom that accommodates 250 comfortably, or 450 theatre style.
But it’s down the road that you'll stumble across a real gem – the Andaman White Beach Resort. This Phuket beach resort's villas, connected by wooden walkways, spill down a lush hillside through coconut groves to meet one of the island’s most perfect white sand beaches with gauze-draped sun loungers, tables for diners, and hammocks. The combination of rustic dark-wood, cream stone and white-sand beach is visually arresting, and the curving picture-postcard bay is wonderfully private.
The minimalist villas (with parquet flooring), toilets (with a sunken tile bathtub that may alarm some and delight others) and general décor are Thai-chic, if unfussy even bordering on rustic in parts. The rooms have been steadily upgraded. A small gym and the Dala Spa (with Thai and Swedish massages and salt and tamarind scrubs) complete the ensemble.
The top-line Beach Front Pool Villas offer gleaming parquet wood flooring, full-length glass windows and a private plunge pool. The seaside pool offers wireless connectivity and Wi-Fi has been extended into all public areas and the beach. Dine Italian with a view, or grab a hot pizza right on the beach. This is an idyllic spot for a Thai-style Phuket beach wedding.
Anantara Layan/ photo: hotel
Andaman White Beach is a charming getaway with a several quirky edges – in design and service – admittedly, but it manages to remain reassuringly homey in a non-cookie-cutter way. The indefatigable Italian general manager is a cheerful and chatty presence with a can-do attitude. He spends his time getting staff to march in step with him – not always a successful endeavour.
Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa (that replaced Bundarika Villas and Suites in late 2013 with a complete rebuild) is a swish addition to the area with 30 Rooms and Suites and 47 Villas, some with private pools. Villas are unfussy and comfortable with wood parquet floors, wraparound full length windows for master bedrooms, and a pool set in a timbered patio. The Beachfront Layan Pool Villa serves up 280sq m of stretch room, with a small inviting pool, patch of green, outdoor shower, spacious bathroom with twin vanities, Bose sound, iPod dock, Nespresso machine, Apple TV and free WiFi.
The 485sq m Anantara Pool Villa is for top dogs with an indoor soaking tub facing the pool through a glass partition, a small garden and ocean views. With rugs under the beds and ceramic bowl washbasins the feel is approachable and homey rather than coldly modern. Expect a fine Anantara Spa open 10am to 10pm so night owls can indulge too. Try the Chinese herbal back massage. There is a Wedding Chapel up the hill and a fine stretch of fairly private beach - perhaps the resort's greatest asset.
Lux-end Trisara pool villa/ photo: hotel
Next up, clinging to the curves of a scenic headland, are the large pool villas of the Trisara. There are open undisturbed views of the rippling Andaman Sea in all directions. This 40-acre Phuket luxury resort is a quirky oriental amalgam when it comes to architecture. It is also lot more spread out than your average cosy hideaway. The villas offer panoramic views with a nice infinity pool. The sumptuous interiors feature silk and timber with amenities like free WiFi, flat-screen plasma TVs, spacious bathrooms and an outdoor rain shower.
There’s free WiFi in public areas, at the pool and in the Library. You will need a buggy to transport you up and down though steps are available for the exercise inclined. The resort spills amiably down to the sea and a long lap pool near ocean-fronting restaurants and a well-stocked library with internet access and DVDs. Music can be downloaded onto iPods, which Trisara will happily lend you free of charge. There is a wine cellar and cigar room as well. The beachfront area has been livened up with outdoor dining and sun umbrellas, much for the better. The 1,500sq m Trisara Spa comprises six private treatment suites, each over 100sq m. The resort also hosts some privately-owned villa residences running from 750sq m to 1,500sq m with generous pools.
Service is excellent. The restaurants and bar are by the same designer who branded the well-known Ku De Ta in Bali's Seminyak. These are great chillout spots for a sundowner or more. The closest villas to the beach, if you don't want to hoof it, are 101 and 102 and, on the other side of the pool, 408 and 409. There is a kids club for tykes (from four to 16 years) called Trisara Kids. A jetty serves the expanding cruise business. Not for the Queen Mary perhaps, but for boats much slimmer and classier. The landing is dismantled during the monsoon season, and water sports are abandoned, perhaps sensibly, May-October.
Bang Tao Beach, Laguna area
Pavilions Phuket, ocean view/ photo: hotel
Just before Bang Tao Bay, perched atop a vertiginous hill is the chic, small and intimate The Pavilions, Phuket (formerly Phuket Pavilions) with a smattering of pool villas. The views are astounding, the setting romantic and the breeze enough to dry your hair in an instant, but it is a steep climb up to get here. You will need to buggy up a vertical road and then down again. This may be problematic for some if you have game knees, but exhilarating for others.
Pavilions is a resort experience rather than a beach romp. In this respect it does not disappoint. The 105sq m one-bedroom pavilions are capacious and comfortable with spoiling infinity pools from where on a clear day you can see forever. The 310sq m Oceanview Pool Villas offer a large living room and kitchenette, rain shower, CD/DVD player, complimentary WiFi, and past-the-horizon sea vistas. The three-bedroom pool villas are 595sq m, far more than an average Hongkonger will enjoy in his entire life, and that’s reason enough to visit. Pampering in-room spa treatments and aromatherapy are also available. Expect friendly and attentive service at this somewhat different Phuket luxury resort. It's more home than hotel.
Once a scarred moonscape of tin mine excavations where Neil Armstrong would have felt quite at home, Laguna Phuket is a marvel of reconstruction and a worthy mini-destination. This green oasis with its lazy lagoons, sheltered drives, blossoming plants, broad recreation facilities and child-friendly attitude is a favourite with families, and golfers.
Staking their claims here are some of the best Phuket luxury resorts and the pantheon includes the sprawling Banyan Tree Phuket, Allamanda Laguna Phuket, Angsana Laguna Phuket (formerly Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket), the Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket and Laguna Beach Resort.
Banyan Tree spa villa/ photo: Verghese
The all-suite Laguna Holiday Club Phuket Resort is for the exclusive use of members and guests of the Laguna Holiday Club. This is a family friendly resort overlooking the golf course with a Kids' Club, swimming pool, wireless in the lobby and internet access in rooms. The suites can mange anywhere from four to six persons depending on the configuration.
Occupying a generous spread at one end of this development but not directly on the beach, is Banyan Tree Phuket, a spread-out villa-style estate redolent of Thailand with rich motifs and design flourishes. There is also the added luxury of a highly regarded spa and golf course. Electric buggies will ensure you are not overly exercised negotiating the distances. Each sumptuous villa is an all-in private hideaway for honeymooners, couples, or holidaymakers needing that little extra. There 135 spoiling villas with a further 24 Double Pool Villas and 14 more spacious villas in Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary.
The Double Pool Villa is a rarefied escape featuring up to 2,700sq m of space, a 15m infinity pool, jet pool, and garden. From the bedroom, tiptoe into the wading pool and plonk down on a submerged chair to enjoy a cool evening cocktail. Guests staying at one of the 24 Double Pool Villas will be whisked from aircraft gate through immigration and customs straight to the resort where a personal host awaits. At the Spa Sanctuary, enjoy a vast private compound with cobalt blue pool, gardens, and a raised pavilion perfect for breakfasts, yoga, or a good book. In-villa expect beds under tented canopies looking out through full-length glass windows on three sides, twin vanities, steam and shower room, outdoor tub, Palazzo Espresso machines, flat-screen TV, DVD player, work desk and free Wi-Fi.
Of course the jewel in the crown here is Banyan Tree Spa that offers a smorgasbord of selection from full-day workouts to customised scrubs, massage, aromatherapy, hydrotherapy and treatments like the Royal Banyan herbal pouch massage.
Best Western Allamanda / photo: Verghese
The Laguna Phuket Golf Club is an 18-hole delight meandering through lagoons and verdant greens. Not quite ready? Try the driving range, putting green and practise bunker. There is professional instruction available should you require it. If you’re still bored, and single, get married. Banyan Tree Phuket will roll out the red carpet for a resort wedding with Buddhist monks, blessings, candles, dance, music and romantic locations by the acre.
Across a lagoon and again some distance from the beach is the neighbouring Best Western Allamanda Laguna Phuket. The 125-room resort is popular with families and it is not hard to see why. The rooms and suites (up to two bedrooms) are spacious with separate living and dining areas as well as a kitchenette. Some look onto golf greens. Rooms are bright and cheerful, the staff welcoming. Enjoy volleyball, yoga, or kayaking. There are two swimming pools to dive into and a Jacuzzi. The kids' club is open again and after a brief swing towards mainstream traffic the place is once again a top Phuket child-friendly resort. A typical 80sq m One Bedroom Suite offers a split level living and dining area with a recessed open-plan kitchenette with microwave, cooking range, fridge and cutlery. Expect a flat-screen TV, tile floors in the drawing room and wooden parquet in the bedroom. The bathroom is compact with a rain shower and hand shower too for those hard-to-reach spots on your back. Enjoy free WiFi, ceiling fans, a laptop-size safe, and a balcony view of green open spaces.
The Angsana Laguna Phuket (formerly Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket) is on a scenic isthmus with its 400-plus rooms and villas rimming the lagoons. After a US$30 million facelift it re-emerged on 1 December, 2011 under the Angsana marque. Think purple. That’s the colour that greets you as you step into the lobby, from uniforms and carpets on to the orchids, cushions, welcome drink, mosaic underfoot, and lighting. And there is something invigorating about it.
Angsana Pool Residence style/ photo: hotel
Launched mid-2013 were the three-bedroom two storey Angsana Pool Residences with kitchenette, private pool and green views. There's 357sq m of rumpus room and a villa host is on hand to make the settling in seamless. A 40sq m Laguna Room serves up a plump white linen bed with purple carpets, cool grey tile floors, black silk bed runners, flat-screen TV, laptop-friendly safe, large lamps to soften the lighting, a work desk with two electrical sockets, a breezy balcony, and full-length dark purple-burgundy drapes.
The bathroom features weighing scales, good lighting for make-up and other thoughtful touches. Kick back and relax in polar air-conditioning or opt for the lazy whir of a ceiling fan. Explore the 357sq m Angsana Pool Residences, all self-contained villas set in a private enclave.
Expect a 40-inch LCD TV, high speed internet, work desk, hairdryer, in-room safe and a pillow menu for troubled necks. Top of the line is the 490sq m Angsana Grand Pool Residence. There are rooms as well with easy access for handicapped travellers.
There are more corporate and bigger meeting facilities at this Phuket conference hotel than you can shake a stick at. The ballroom can seat up to 400 guests theatre style. The Angsana Laguna Phuket has ample restaurants and a snaking 323-metre-long swimming pool providing ample distraction for kids. There's the Tree House Kids Club too replete with toys for boys and the occasional visits by Lucky the elephant who’s a dab hand at posing for cameras. Hire a cycle for Bt650 per day and set off on your own adventure.
This is a toddler-friendly Phuket resort that will let you breathe easy. Angsana fronts a broad stretch of Bang Tao Beach where the Ibiza-style XANA fun club pumps out chill-out music with white loungers scattered through the garden and a raised seafronting pool for a swim-up sundowner or a pretty decent tan. Expect chic rosy-cheeked crowds with shades and a faraway look. And there is always the trusty Angsana Spa for tired limbs the day after.
Dusit Thani new look/ photo: hotel
Next up on the strip is the Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket with a free-form pool, beachfront gardens and a low-rise Thai-style design. There is an Angsana Spa as well. The 226-room and 28-villa resort has undergone considerable redevelopment and upgrade over the years with the Dusit Pool Villas the jewel in the crown. The privately-owned Dusit Thani Laguna Pool Villas arrived in 2008. Most have a lagoon view though some offer a sea view too and enough room to swing an elephant by the tail.
Wireless coverage extends up to the beach (WiFi is free in the lobby) and rooms in general offer plug-in broadband. Rooms and bathrooms (which now feature glassed-in shower cubicles and hairdryers) offer coffee and tea making facilities, mini-bar, and for several categories, a breezy balcony. The smart 35sq m Dusit Club Rooms on the ground floor face the pool area and sea with a small sunning patio with deck chairs to catch some rays. Expect large flat-screen TVs, flashes of rich Thai silk in deep hues, tile floors and a comfy living area.
The Thai and Italian restaurants enjoy open views of the gardens. The Dusit is a Phuket child friendly resort and well set up for families. Its Kids’ Club caters for tots to teens with activities and crafts. Kids enjoy special menus and assorted freebies. This is also a useful address if you're shopping for Phuket conference hotels or have a small corporate meeting in mind. Also enjoy cycling, Thai cooking classes, tennis, and a three-hole putting track.
Movenpick Bangtao/ photo: hotel
The Laguna Beach Resort is an attractive, neat, and stylish enclave featuring an inviting swimming pool with elephants carved into the stone enclosing walls. This is very much a beach playground for adults as well as kids. Once a Pacific Islands Club, this frolicsome and busy address offers vibrant colours, style, and the second largest ballroom in the Laguna Phuket area after Angsana Laguna Phuket. There is 1,500sq m of meeting space.
Business meetings, conferences, and weddings are, unsurprisingly, well catered for. In-room expect friendly ceramic tiles underfoot, lots of dark rattan furniture and bright splashes of Thai silk. Kids will be kept entertained with a 50m water slide and a Kids Club (for those between four and 12 years) while divers-in-waiting can avail of a Scuba pool. Or hop into the Jacuzzi. Or try sailing, or kayaking...
The ubiquitous Angsana Spa is on hand in a quiet beachfront corner to offer Thai herbal wraps and coconut scrubs. Laguna Beach Resort also offers a versatile Thai Wedding Package stuffed with goodies should you be shopping for Phuket resort weddings venues, an anniversary bash or blessing.
Farther up the coast lies Movenpick Resort Bangtao Beach Phuket, a breezy property that's home to 40 contemporary Thai residences. The rooms are large, starting at 33sq m and running up to 360sq m, with fully equipped kitchens, balconies, complimentary WiFi, flatscreen TVs, coffee and tea-making facilities, and direct beach access. Expect woody surrounds with neutral-toned décor and burnt orange pops of colour. In the larger, more secluded residences, you'll find private pools, floor-to-ceiling windows, entertainment systems, Jacuzzis and panoramic sea views. This is a quiet choice on one of Phuket's most pristine beaches.
Outrigger 2 Bedroom Suite/ photo: hotel
For those who prefer their resorts with a feel of home, the Outrigger Laguna Phuket Resort and Villas might be just the ticket. Along with the usual one and two-bedroom suites, it offers two, three and four-bedroom villas that include free Wifi, a full kitchen and laundry area. A one-bedroom villa for three starts at 936sq ft with flat-screen TV, MP3 player, iron and ironing board, in-room safe, and a balcony to catch the breeze.
While not on the beach and just outside the main Laguna enclave, Outrigger offers a balmy tropical setting around a lagoon close to the seashore with easy shuttle access to broad swathes of sand. Expect plenty of leisure choices with shopping, spas, restaurants, and an 18-hole golf course heading the list. Babysitters are available and a kid’s club is on hand.
For those in search of Phuket shopping discounts and dining bargains, the Laguna Phuket Plus Card is available to guests in the Laguna Phuket (www.lagunaphuket.com) development offering steep discounts on restaurants, green fees at the golf club and substantial price reductions at the Canal Village shopping area (open from 10am to 8pm).
If you are headed for nuptials, explore arrangements at the dreamy, lagoon-setting wedding chapel. The chapel seats up to 50 and Thai as well as Western ceremonies are available. Phuket is a popular choice for Asian resort weddings. Laguna Phuket is a resourceful and imaginative group that handles activities as diverse as corporate training and team building to sweaty triathlons.
On Highway 4030, between the Laguna turn-off and Surin Beach, is a desolate stretch of scorched red earth with a sign for the Amora Beach Resort Phuket. Despite the rather unpromising entry, the road leads to the surprisingly pleasant Amora (formerly Rydges) offering 255 simple but comfortable rooms, some with balconies overlooking the Andaman Sea, in a lowrise complex.
Angsana: purple is in/ photo: Verghese
Facilities are available for both children as well as businessmen and incentives groups so, if you're a fraying wife, here's an ideal opportunity to dump everyone and relax. This is affordable luxury in a nice location at the bottom end of Bang Tao Beach.
Also fronting Bang Tao Bay but closer to Surin is the large lowrise hotel complex of the Best Western Premier Bangtao Beach Resort & Spa. The resort features two restaurants, two pools, one kids’ pool, and a generous spread of beachfront with garden area. The hotel-style rooms are neat, with ceramic tiles underfoot.
Surin Beach, boutique resorts and hip hotels
At Surin Beach turn off right to a private headland to find the excrutiatingly elegant Amanpuri Phuket (Amanresorts' first) whose signature Thai-style pavilions spill unobtrusively down through a mature and scenic coconut grove to a lovely white-sand beach. As with other Amans, it has the ambience of a gracious home without the fuss of excessively intrusive service. The central midnight-blue pool is set high above the bay with steps leading down to the sea.
There is the tempting Aman Spa, set on a private headland, where you can peruse a diverse menu of treatment from Kinesiology and Bowen Therapy to Reiki and sound healing. Opt for a private Villa or a Pavilion set up the hillside and accessed by a stilted stepway or van. There is no sense of being in a hotel. This is a home and no one will hassle you to sign and add your room number on the restaurant bill. Each Pavilion is a standalone living space with a shingle roof and sculpted cherrywood features. Expect a small private patio with resting sala and sun loungers.
Amanpuri/ photo: Vijay Verghese
In-room find an open-plan bedroom that spills into the bathing and changing area with its twin vanities, Japanese potty, rainshower (with a quick and strong flow of hot water unlike at many other resorts) and bathtub. The toiletries are made inhouse at the spa. The floor is rich burnished wood and this is the central Thai theme throughout. There's lots of luggage space, roomy drawers for clothes and impedimenta and sliding doors to let in the light and keep out mosquitoes. Wood panelling runs throughout with some mirror work to create a greater sense of space. The large hairdryer can knock a grown man at 20 paces but take care not to plug it into the 110v shaver socket. And for workaholics, there's a generous work table with fast and free WiFi. Expect LOTS of complimentary drinking water, a flat laptop-friendly safe, a yoga mat, and multi-plug electric adapters.
Amanpuri also runs an extensive fleet of cruise boats and luxury yachts that cater for everything from romantic picnic outings to blue-water cruises, in style. At the far end of the resort is an exclusive enclave of privately-owned villas (managed and sublet by Amanpuri) that offer an ever greater degree of privacy should you require it. You’ll need to bring along your own shades and paparazzi, of course. This is the original Aman that set the luxury villa resort benchmark in 1988. It is still being cloned by competitors. To find out why, drop in. It will cost you, but, what the heck. It is after all one of the best Asian luxury resorts around and sets a benchmark internationally. Staff is friendly and attentive with none of the snobbery associated all too often with high-end escapes.
Just before the Amanpuri and sharing the picture-postcard Pansea Beach is The Surin Phuket (formerly The Chedi). This is a charming property with 108 cottages set along the headland connected by stilted walkways. The Surin Phuket fronts the beach and the Beach Deluxe and Beach Studio suites are right on the sand. There’s a lot of walking up and down that may tax senior ankles. It can be invigorating or killing depending on your point of view. I quite like the breezy open plan, the privacy and the mesmerising sunsets. The rooms have been revamped, the thatch roofs replaced by crisp wood shingles, the dark wood overtaken by pale greys and powder beige. The overall effect is lighter and airier than before.
In-room expect, a modest flat-screen TV, a work desk, a bay window divan for lounging, pipe reading lights, silk cushions, tap key card access, and free Wi-Fi (also in public areas). The wood floors have been replaced by tile and whatever may have been lost in terms of “elegance” is gained in terms of “friendliness” and lack of fuss. Space has gone up in some quarters from 28sq m to 32sq m. Every bit counts. The bathing area features twin vanities, hairdryer, and two multi-pin electric sockets near the washbasin.
Surin Phuket pool/ photo: Verghese
There are also two sockets at the luggage rack. The box safe is somewhat inconveniently placed under the bedside table but this niggle aside the living space is welcoming and bright. Expect spa facilities and a 120sq m meeting room for a corporate get-together. The Surin Phuket targets honeymooners and those heading for nuptials. Mark it down as a good Phuket resort weddings choice.
As many as five golf courses, some of them international level, are within a half-hour drive of the resort. Swinging out is pretty easy. But perhaps the biggest selling point for this property is the powder-soft sand, among the best on the island and one of the truly great beaches of Asia. The striking polygon black-tile pool faces the surf and big sunsets.
The stylish Twinpalms Phuket is located a short stroll from the beach and offers contemporary chic in a secluded but extensive compound. Distinctive Thai-style architecture combines with lots of flowing water and clean modern lines for an atmosphere of elegant simplicity. The resort has grown over the years but has a splendid boutique feel to it. Everything here is bravely different, well executed, and simplified to facilitate, not flummox, travellers.
Oriental Spoon restaurant displays interesting art and fills up every Sunday for its throbbing brunch buffet, while the swank but laid-back Martini Bar has your evening covered. Picturesque Surin Beach is just across the road and down a short garden path. Enjoy a twilight, beachfront drink at Catch Beach Club, before lazily strolling back to the hotel, your way lit by huge tree lanterns.
Catch Beach Club enjoys 50m of soft sand beach with landscaping, frangipani trees, refreshments and an open kitchen. Outsiders are welcome at a small fee for two sunning chairs, umbrella, fruit, towels and newspapers. Chill out and enjoy the cool lounge tunes. Of an evening this is a chic chill-out spot with fires blazing in pits set around the timbered deck, gauzy drapes fluttering from four-poster sun beds, and comfy sofas to underline some spectacular sunsets. A ten minute drive out just before the Laguna Phuket entrance are two more friendly and informal outlets: the bar-stool open-air setting Flame for kebabs, wraps and grills; and the air-conditioned Bake for scrumptious cakes, cookies, breads and coffee.
Twinpalms pool/ photo: Vijay Verghese
The 76 rooms and suites are large, minimalist and open plan with the bedroom seamlessly merging into the bathing area with sliding shuttered walls. In-room features include an oversized bathroom with rain showers, large beds for a comfortable late-night sprawl or more (but keep the noise down), DVD player, and butler service. The rooms are arrayed around an attractive central pool and winding leafy walkway. There is free Internet access with in-room Broadband as well as WiFi in the pool area and at the restaurants.
Top of the range are the new Twinpalms Residence Suites – 21 units in a one and two-bedroom configuration with over 150sq m of honeymooning space. Expect private plunge pools, roof gardens, wine cellars and home theatres with surround sound. Within each high-ceiling hideaway find a 46-inch flatscreen SONY TV, iPod and dock, a DVD player and an extensive work desk with as many as seven three-pin (square) electric sockets to keep ALL your appliances charged. There is WiFi throughout and Broadband is free.
A well stocked complimentary mini-bar is replenished daily. The highlight of the bath is the moulded Korean granite tub that resembles a futuristic half-egg. Ask for Room 102 to squeeze in a little sea view and sunset. For those in need of a rubdown and more, the Palm Spa has treatment rooms.
Or try the Hair Spa and go Michael Jackson. Need waves? Take a trip out on the Catch One power cruiser. One of the most endearing features of this stylish and intimate Phuket luxury resort is the effervescent can-do attitude. Have a problem? They’ll solve it. Have a funky request? Give it a go. Funkiest of the lot is the kiss car. Watch out for this little perky set of wheel doing the rounds in Phuket, lavishly smeared with blown-up lipstick kisses, supplied by the equally lovely female members of staff. This is by far one of the best Phuket hip hotels around. Check it out.
DoubleTree by Hilton/ photo: hotel
The DoubleTree by Hilton (formerly Destination Surin Resort and Spa and earlier the Courtyard Phuket) took over in October 2012 and is a reconstituted affair in an attractive location, close by a good beach, and 20 minutes from the Patong nightlife strip. There are 256 rooms and around 1,800sq ft of meeting space plus a fitness centre. In-room expect iron and ironing board, pull-out sofa bed, cable TV, DVD player, large fridge, a laptop-size safe, and Internet access. Bathrooms have showers, not tubs, with an intermittent flow on the high floors. Broadband costs about Bt642 for 24 hours. Family rooms come with connecting doors and pullout beds.
A one-bedroom suite offers a fair bit of space with a comfy bed and spare divan that can double as an extra bed. The balconies look onto the courtyard pool area and the huge splash slide for kids – the resort encloses the pool and the views are inward. Expect a good hairdryer, decent safe and TV in both the bedroom as well as the living area. There is a generous outdoor freeform pool and a fitness centre. The solitary café serves international fare and does a HUGE breakfast that runs till 11am. WiFi is free only in the public areas.
This is a smart and family-friendly Phuket resort – it has its own Kids World for the young set – and is set a little away from the beach, which is a pleasant two-minute walk across a field. The hotel is recessed and set back from the road making the environs a tad quieter. The good news for motorists is there is ample parking. And the service is very welcoming and friendly. There is now 24 hour room service for those late night munches - this is now a full service hotel - and the Asia Alive cafe serves up a variety of cuisines.
Next door is the interesting The Chava Resort, a wannabe Phuket boutique hotel that in many respects, manages to pull it off. The resort sports a smart cubist exterior with ground floor units offering plunge pools and apartments going from two bedrooms and up. Expect a decent kitchenette, cream or black sofa sets with bright cushions. Block A has the largest pools, with a patio and sun chairs. The Chava has one cafe that serves Thai food. The starting category is a two-bedroom deluxe.
Manathai deluxe/ photo: hotel
Next door is the small but classy Manathai Resort Phuket emulating a Chiang Mai village feel. Its woody Thai-Euro restaurant is right at the entrance and rooms and suites feature wooden floors and ample lashings of rich silk. The design and decor are appealing and homey. There are 55 rooms in all at this compact place that sits about 200m away from Surin Beach. While classical in its design leaning, Manathai is a splendid choice among Phuket boutique resorts and has a lot going for it, not least its location in one of the more genteel happening areas on the island. No drag shows or cabarets here.
A budget hotel alternative is the small and very modest Surin Bay Inn that may start as low as Bt1,100 in the low season.
Ayara Hilltops Boutique Resort & Spa occupies a breezy perch on Surin hill, overlooking Surin Beach and the Andaman Sea. Araya is a villa-style address among the better Phuket boutique resorts with around 50 suites and a sense of scattered luxury. Look forward to some panoramic views and a range of spa programmes and therapies. The Spa Sereniti offers individually tailored spa treatments to suit specific needs. Araya also offers a swimming pool – with a kids' pool – and the Spice Terrace Restaurant for indoor or alfresco dining.
Kamala, Kalim, Nakalay Beach
Driving south past Kamala Bay, take the beach turn-off just before the road climbs up again. On a quiet headland is the small Kamala Beach Estate with a choice of lowrise apartments or villas. All units come with kitchens, separate living and dining areas and balconies. The resort is perched on a rocky headland and there is not much clear beach in the immediate vicinity.
The Andara Phuket on a Kamala Bay hillside offers panoramic sea views from its plush villas and residences. The Andara Pool Villas are expansive with up to six bedrooms, some running to 2,000sq m. Expect a generous private pool, floor-to-ceiling windows, a detailed kitchen manned by a chef, a family room, gleaming wood underfoot, large flat-screen TVs, DVD player, car park, walk-in closets, big bathtubs, twin vanities, large safe and complimentary Wi-Fi. The long pool is set in a garden area with to-die-for sea views.
Andara Pool Villa/ photo: Verghese
The Andara Residence Suites are again screamingly large with Thai touches. There is the de rigueur flat-screen TV, BOSE sound system, the Andara mix of gold and green, one-press mix-and-match lighting combinations, large bathtubs and 200sq m to 400sq m of horse-swinging space. The resort has a 40m pool, spa, gym, and tennis court. Andara is a lavishly appointed high-end Phuket luxury resort, very Aman in much of the execution, but you will find activities for kids too.
The ensemble is engaging but on the beach though the resort operates a beach lounge (restaurant and bar) at the northern end of Kamala Bay with regular shuttles for those overly fortified with Singha beer. Wi-Fi is free throughout the resort and, for high rollers, there is the added attraction of two luxury yachts. Book a half-day cruise for 12 on a 28m boat for a trifling US$4,000. The reception area is smart but compact with lots of burnished wood, large statues and soaring wooden columns. Service is outstanding. You will need to buggy up and down to your room as the hill setting involves climbs.
Bringing the storied Hyatt marquee to the island finally is the 199-room Hyatt Regency Phuket Resort (26 January, 2013). Set discretely along a hillside in south Kamala the resort serves up sweeping views and Cinemascope sunsets (facing west) and the beach is a short hope away. Expect an arsenal of wellness remedies at the Nahm Spa with its eight treatment rooms, around 4,000sq ft of event and meeting space if you must be a corporate spoil sport, and rooms garnished with balcony Jacuzzis (Regency Club) to unwind apres-confab. For the sporting inclined, there are water activities by the bushel including speedboat rides to outlying islands to put salt in your hair if an afternoon's dive does not accomplish it first.
Farther south after the mountainous hump are Nakalay and Kalim beaches. There are sections along here that are totally out of bounds for swimming especially at low tide due to rock and old coral. This is particularly true of Kalim. On Nakalay Beach is the tucked-away Thavorn Beach Village & Spa, almost entirely crafted of dark-wood. The Thai bungalows are set in lush green gardens and around a lovely swimming pool area. A spa is available as well.
Hyatt Regency/ photo: hotel
Just beyond, both the Novotel Phuket Resort and the Diamond Cliff Resort & Spa are set on the hillside away from the beach. Both have fine views but the construction is a touch dense and the walk up is steep. The Novotel Resort features a three-stepped swimming pool, a kid's club, Thai massage and a sauna. In the same area, the simple but homey and clean Patong Lodge Hotel is a friendly, unassuming, and less pinching option.
The youngish Swissotel Resort Phuket (formerly Courtyard Phuket at Kamala Beach) is positioned as a family resort with a selection of two and three-bedroom suites with generous kitchenettes, ideas for long stays, and a Kids World for ages four and up. Expect wood parquet flooring, flat-screen TVs, in-room internet access and Wi-Fi in public areas, working desk, iron, hairdryer, a café, pool, and fitness centre. The resort is good for kids with splash slides and a range of activities. This hotel is not on the beach – being set away on the hillside – and is a short drive from the sand and beachfront restaurants.
Patong hotel choices
The clutter-and-clatter of Patong is not for honeymooners or doddering retirees in search of calm but there are pockets here and there of relative peace. You will be excused for rubbing your eyes when you confront the Quixotic Phuket Graceland Resort & Spa. It’s hard to describe the place, a steroid mix of Euro kitsch and Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous vigorously shaken and plonked down in a Thailand beach resort. The endeavour clearly is luxury with business facilities in a five-star setting. And business facilities are ample. The hotel can handle conferences of up to 1,000 persons, and the smart rooms have internet access. The 460-room Graceland is a busy presence with the added lure of generous lawns and a decent pool. Kids will enjoy it and place can be fun. You need to cross the beach road to get to the sea.
The Millennium Resort Patong Phuket bills itself as an alternative "urban resort". Located in the hip Jungceylon mall-and-lifestyle complex not far from the bustle and neon of Soi Bangla, the hotel offers a Beachside Wing and a Lakeside Wing. Expect two pools, a spa and fitness centre. In-room find a safe, internet, work facilities, iron and ironing board, hair-dryer, and coffee-making facilities. Lakeside Superior rooms offer the added indulgence of a balcony. This low-rise Patong hotel is in a busy and bustling part of town a short walk from the beach, past traffic.
La Flora pool villa/ photo: Vijay Verghese
An unfussy family option is the neighbouring high-rise Club Andaman Beach Resort set in extensive gardens and, as with many properties, separated from the beach by a main road. Club Andaman also has some cottages offered as a "resort within a resort", set away from the main building. Or try the spa. Adjacent is sister-property The Andaman Beach Suites Hotel, a high-rise with big balconies and lower rates.
An oasis in the bedlam and an attractive Patong hideaway is the beachfront Impiana Resort Patong, Phuket. It offers boutique flourishes and decent food. The resort re-emerged post-tsunami with redesigned and vastly upgraded rooms, and a new name (it was formerly the Phuket Cabana). Along with trendy and tasteful décor you get air-conditioning, ceiling fans, in-room safes, hairdryers and a private balcony. The pool is literally by the sea and young kids can splash out in their own wading pool. For rejuvenation, there’s the Swasana Spa. The most compelling feature of this resort is the location, an oasis of calm in the heart of throbbing Patong, and right on the beach. It is among a handful of resorts in this area actually on the beach and not separated by a busy road.
Less than a block from Patong beach, the 277-room Holiday Inn Express Phuket Patong Beach Central is a practical option at an attractive price point. Rooms are basic, but have some nice touches like the cheerful sea foam palette, private balconies, three-head massage showers, 200 thread-count linen, 32in LCD TVs and work desks. Guests also enjoy complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, and a self-service laundry room.
The La Flora Resort Patong offers a contemporary experience with a combination of rooms and some beachfront villas. Expect a spa, two lap pools, fitness centre, business centre, WiFi, and babysitting facilities. The beach area is busy, packed with sunbathers, umbrellas and all manner of water sports. A Deluxe Pool Access room serves up 42sq m of space and you can walk right into a slim and sunny pool. Expect clean lines, cream tile floors, free Wi-Fi, flat0screen TV and DVD, a work desk, and complimentary mini-bar (that includes four beer cans). It is restocked daily.
A sliding wooden partition leads to the bathing area with step-in tub, separate rain shower cubicle and an array of attractive toiletries. The room also has a large laptop-size safe. Go upscale to a split-level 97sq m Pool Villa done in woody tones with a high ceiling and small plunge pool. The general tone of the resort is simple, uncluttered, and friendly. The price is a tad high but the location in north Patong is quieter yet close to seafood and bars.
Nap Patong, minimalist/ photo: hotel
Not far from here, tucked away in a quiet soi a short walk from the beach, is the Nap Patong, a contemporary, cubist and stylish address with 86 rooms and five villas. The white exterior is clean if unprepossessing but the interiors have nice design flourishes bordering on minimalist, with pale wood tones and light pastels.
Expect hairdryers, LCD televisions, DVD players, Apple TVs and iPod docks, and free WiFi. Some rooms have balconies. Enjoy a smart bar, a stylish pool with timber sun deck, and a fitness centre. That’s a sizeable package for value rates at this find.
The Holiday Inn Resort Phuket is a brisk, cheerful, child-friendly Phuket hotel. Both the Main Wing and the stylish Thai-style Busakorn Wing – featuring spacious villa and studio rooms girdling an attractive pool – have had fresh licks of paint and design upgrades while the Aspara spa tends to aching muscles.
The luxury Busakorn Wing is unlike any Holiday Inn you may have seen. If you have any misgivings about mid-market American chains, this is the one to visit to dispel any worries. Studio rooms offer 42sq m of stretch space with smart wooden floors, gleaming work desk, flat-screen TVs, DVD player, BOSE sound, and internet.
The Busakorn Villa Pool Access rooms are the apex accommodation here with elegant Thai furnishings in a contemporary mould. In keeping with its family-friendly reputation, the Holiday Inn Phuket also offers Family Suites, KidSuites, its Club 12, and the Kid’s Club with ample distractions like PlayStations, Internet, art and craft, and even karaoke. There is a toddler’s pool and another pool for older kids as well with water slides and more. The hotel is just across the road from Patong Beach.
Holiday Inn Phuket style/ photo: hotel
Projecting a jaunty, carefree appeal is the popular boutique-style Burasari Patong. Burasari is a playful option right next to shopping and nightlife and a quick stroll from the beach. As a hotel it's pretty straightforward but the small design flourishes and use of colour make all the difference. The place certainly breaks the mould. Why on earth should all rooms look the same? Well they don’t. Not here. Pick a Mood Collection room with a name like Blue Breeze or Mocha Spice to delight in a bright confection of silk cushions, vivid paint, casual rugs and mod-cons including free Wi-Fi. Almost like home – with a bit of runaway imagination to liven up things. And the mini-bar, replenished daily, is complimentary. Opt for Elite, Premier or Honeymoon “collections” and scroll through classic Thai or contemporary. The choice is limited only by the number of rooms – 186 at last count.
There’s a decent pool, a gauze-draped lobby and bright splashes of tropical colour and art at every turn. The hotel draws inspiration from its energetic young owner, Lily Udomkunatum, who has positioned Burasari Patong as a desirable and funky four-star escape. Enjoy a spa and two restaurants too. This is a fun Phuket hotel packed with whimsy that will appeal to families and honeymooners alike.
A storied and striking stark white, colonnaded building a block in from the beach is the new dusitD2 Phuket Resort (April 2014) replacing the former Destination Patong Hotel and Spa that in turn took over from Courtyard by Marriott). This is another stylish kid-friendly Phuket hotel with a rooftop pool and spa (boasting nine treatment spaces), gym, and WiFi access. The beach is a short stroll away down a side soi as is shopping. In-room, expect flat-screen TVs and smart decor, gleaming dark wood floors and cabinets. The showpiece at this hip hangout is a Hard Rock Cafe that ensures the place is swinging into the wee hours.
Burasari Mocha Spice/ photo: hotel
The 400-room Patong Merlin Hotel is old-fashioned, large, and well run, with tour groups bussing in and out. It is set away from the beach. The property offers three swimming pools and landscaped gardens along with a spa and an Internet Corner.
Price hunters might venture to the larger 36-acre Duangjitt Resort & Spa with its low-rise rooms and bungalows crisply ordered in military rows. You’ll find three large free-form swimming pools, one with a waterfall and swim-up bar, and extensive grounds packed with flowering shrubs and trees. Duangjitt Resort is a decent, friendly and clean choice for families not too particular about kitsch room décor and location. The resort is set far enough from the soi to offer peace and quiet yet it is walking distance to the beach. Also available here are some toy-size bungalows. Only for the intrepid.
Farther south along the Patong Beach strip is the Avantika, a cosy little resort with modern styling and boutique touches. The resort offers around 30 seaview rooms with wireless and a spa. Not far from here is the beach-fronting Absolute Sea Pearl Beach Resort & Spa with a host of activities.
Continuing up the headland, the road deposits you at the Amari Coral Beach perched on a promontory with fine views over Patong Bay. The resort has been considerable spruced up over time. Rooms offer balconies with delightful views, simple, tasteful contemporary décor in quiet pastels, wooden floors, tea and coffee-making facilities, satellite TV and other mod-cons like DVD player, satellite channels, Wi-Fi, and hairdryers.
The Breeze Spa is a big plus, as are the two swimming pools. The spa features romantic teakwood hillside salas where you can be wrapped, pummelled and exfoliated to the accompaniment of breaking waves. Later, dine alfresco at the Italian La Gritta or over-water at The Jetty, and take in a sunset.
Destination Patong Hotel changes to dusitD2 Phuket Resort/ photo: hotel
Activities here include tennis and snorkelling and there is a Jacuzzi for those who prefer their bubbles closer home. This is a child-friendly Phuket hotel well set-up for families with babysitting services too. Set apart from the main beach, the Amari Phuket maintains a small private stretch of sand.
On the other side of the same headland on the pebbly Tri-Trang Beach are the spread-out 414-room Merlin Beach Resort with three pools, spa, and a children's club; and the graceful Baan Yin Dee Boutique Resort up on the hill. Baan Yin Dee is a stylish and small boutique resort with a dark-blue four-tier pool, Jacuzzi, children’s pool, traditional Thai massage, and several unabashedly Aman wannabe touches. It has utilised the space well and its three-storey accommodations with grey-slate Thai-sala roofs have a good interior finish with lots of burnished wood. It affords fine views of Patong Bay. Despite the lack of beach, it is easily one of the more interesting Phuket boutique resorts and scores reasonably well on dining. The restaurant is set too close to the main road however with vans whizzing by, as is the pool, but the views and food more than compensate.
Relax Bay, Karon Beach
The proud Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort wearing its signature green "hats" offers two large pools that dominate the seafront at aptly-named Relax Bay. It is a very good beach indeed. And private. The resort is old-style and was ageing none-too-gracefully in parts but some snappy renovations and no stinting on teakwood and rich Thai fabrics have brightened the rooms and suites as well as the overall ambience. There is WiFi access in public areas and in-room broadband. Expect an iron and ironing board, coffee and tea-making facilities, safe, and open-view balconies.
Baan Yin Dee: Aman tones/ photo: hotel
The Royal Suites run to 266sq m with huge 126m balconies. This is a Phuket family resort with more activities than you can shake a stick at from table tennis and volleyball to wind surfing and beach sports. Yes, there is babysitting available and a spa for the older set. The 40-acre Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort was among the original 5-star resort pioneers in Phuket. The airbrushed lobby and beachfront do it much more justice now and show why this place is such a huge favourite with European travellers.
High above Karon Noi, a very tight hairpin leads to the tucked-away Centara Villas Phuket and its 72 Thai-style villas, two swimming pools and SPA Cenvaree. This is a hideaway set in 22 hectares of forest, with a breezy, treetop-lookout feel to it and fine wooded views. The sea-facing villas come with decent balconies to catch the rays and the scenery. The Centara Karon Resort Phuket is a four-star Phuket hotel with three swimming pools, children’s pool, a SPA Cenvaree, two floodlit tennis courts, a kids' club, snooker, darts, and facilities for the disabled. This is a child-friendly Phuket hotel with babysitting and other services. Accommodation is in four zones catering for couples, families, and high-end travellers.
The 262-room Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket (arrived late 2010) is tucked away in a secluded hilly fold with access to the beach. The hairpin turn-off is somewhat tricky and larger tour buses disgorge passengers on the highway with transfers into the resort in smaller vans. This spread-out resort runs along the hillside with terrific bay views. The somewhat lurid pink will hit the eye on a sunny day and the assault is relentless but, as a family resort with more distractions for typhoon tykes than you could shake a stick at, and a fun, convivial atmosphere bordering on theme park or Disneyland, this bright confection works. Think Marbella and you have a rough idea. Sino-Portuguese and Moorish overtones – replete with columns and arches – are the leitmotif here.
Centara Grand Beach/ photo: Verghese
This mini-destination offers a smorgasbord of four swimming pools, an elaborate Lazy River water ride for kids, waterfalls, and even water slides. There is a spoiling SPA Cenvaree for the older set and two well-stocked Kids Clubs (Camp Safari and E-Zone). Sports options include tennis, fitness, and water sports. There is no end to the list of activities here but despite the buzz, people – and hubbub – are well spread out leaving vast undisturbed pockets of quiet too for a good book.
Rooms, some with plunge pools or Jacuzzis, start at a spacious 52sq m. Bring BIG bags. No need for carry-on squeeze. Expect pale wood floors, plenty of light, grand views from windows and balconies, flatscreen TVs, granite-top work desks, and sliding doors revealing the bathtub. There is a separate rain shower. The hairdryer can be used with gusto in front of a satisfyingly large mirror and a ceiling fan whirs overhead if aircon is not to your liking. The ballroom can hold up to 780 people.
The reasonably enticing The Front Village is attractively lit up at night but the beach is a good 200-400 metres or more away. And no, there is no Back Village though there is the ochre-hued hobbit house, spa, Broadband, and Jacuzzi.
The Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach Phuket (formerly, and briefly, the Crowne Plaza) is a resort hotel that features hi-tech meetings facilities for small groups and large conferences. It offers 175 rooms, in the main building and 30 sea-facing residential style apartments. Guests can unwind at the spa while kids scamper about assisted by their very own club – the excellent Play Zone – which serves up arts and craft, a DVD lounge, PlayStation, table tennis and more.
Movenpick pastel & wood/ photo: hotel
The airy hotel lobby is decorated with artefacts and design oddities and the dining area wends its way down steps, and large private “birdcages” for those intimate candle-lit moments. The Mövenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach Phuket is the reincarnated Karon Royal Villas (pre Crowne Plaza). This villa holdover sports some bright mustard and blue three-storey arrangements that didn’t quite gel, but are being gradually tamed and smartened. Villa interiors are pleasant and the hotel rooms are attractive with dark wood floors and pale silk fabrics. The main hotel itself is, well, a hotel. And the whole ensemble is set away from the beach with a road in between.
Longtime neighbour is the meetings-and-conventions Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa. The Hilton Phuket is a set of condo-style, low, circular towers set in 75 expansive acres of landscaped grounds with lagoon, five swimming pools and flowering trees. This is a hotel-style development but the contrast with its neighbour is striking. There is space, less clutter, colours are well thought out and, for all its age, the Hilton exudes an elegant contemporary feel.
The 1,500sq m spa with its treatment villas is set apart from the main hotel by a small bridge over the lagoon. Peacocks used to wander the resort grounds, dodging water sprinklers and posing for guests. But no more. The hotel offers in-room Wi-Fi and broadband as well as a business centre. The rooms are smart, somewhat traditional, with cool tile underfoot, flat-screen TVs, and plenty of stretch space. The garden setting is a huge plus with ample room for walks, jogging, and energetic kids. Play tennis or squash, swim, cycle, or try out the putting green. The list is endless. This is a popular choice for those shopping around for good Phuket conference hotels.
Hilton Phuket Arcadia/ photo: hotel
With sweeping views of Karon Bay, the Marina Phuket Resort (formerly Marina Cottages) estate is manicured and tasteful. While lumbering left-brain dinosaurs roam the adjacent mini-golf Dino Park terrorising toddlers, everything at Marina Cottage is right-brain, detailed and attentive from the grounds and pathways to the rooms. Wooden walkways connect the bungalows, leading down to the seaside remodelled On The Rock restaurant looking out over the bay. Facing the sea is a clutch of gleaming Thai style villas with Ocean View rooms. Expect parquet flooring, chic black marble toilets with bathtub and generous balconies right above the ocean. A sliding screen reveals a plasma flat-screen TV. Jungle View rooms set on a grassy knoll are nice too with standalone terrazzo tubs and gleaming wood floors. Or splash out at the 100sq m Grand Villa if you are in the mood.
Kata, Nai Harn, Rawai, and south
Around Kata you’ll find the Kata Beach Resort & Spa, the large 479-room and tad more pricey Kata Thani Phuket Beach Resort, and some cheaper fewer-frills options like the three-star sea-view Tropical Garden Resort, and sister hotel, Serene Resort. Also look at the affordable Sugar Palm Grand Hillside with its clean, grey, white and black tones and modular layout. Expect complimentary DVD rentals, babysitting, pool, and a few meeting facilities.
The much-loved 37-room Boathouse Resort on the Beach (formerly Mom Tri's Boathouse) has been a signature presence here for years serving up fine cuisine in a relaxed setting, positioned among the favoured Phuket boutique hotels. Boathouse has tasteful rooms (with sea views, and some with direct beach access) as well as 89sq m suites. The resort was relaunched after extensive renovations and a five-month shutdown, mid October 2011 and now features the Re Ka Ta Beach Club, a spa, and spacious Family Suites. Sign up for cooking classes and pick up a Boathouse Cookbook. Boathouse is now owned by Montara Hospitality, which also runs Trisara. The aforementioned Mom Tri's sister property on Kata Noi, Mom Tri’s Villa Royale, is another gracious escape.
Marina Phuket view/ photo: hotel
The Club Med Phuket is stretched along 1.5 kilometres of beach (across a road unfortunately), with a redesigned Club Med Spa and extensive facilities for children. In fact everyone over four months old is welcome at this family-friendly hotel. Enjoy yoga, cooking classes and a nine-hole pitch and putt golf green. Catering for children of various ages are a Baby Club Med, a Petite Club Med and a Mini Club Med (four to under-elevens). With the usual adrenalin-pumping arsenal of activities and testosterone by the pound, this is a resort for ripped biceps to get to work – tennis, squash, archery, mini soccer and volleyball.
On to sunset country, Promthep Cape. But just before we get there, pull a right onto Nai Harn Beach at the end of which is the very regal The Royal Phuket Yacht Club (in a former incarnation the Le Royal Meridien and now managed by Puravarna Hotels & Resorts). This was one of the first trendsetters on the island and is still a stately presence though the approach has got a bit crowded with Yacht Club wannabes, imitations and shops that nevertheless still manage to lend the place a festive atmosphere.
Once inside the resort, the difference is like catapulting into first, from economy class. Rooms offer roomy balconies with arresting views of the Andaman Sea. Ocean Front Deluxe rooms are a staggering 70sq m all in with marble surrounds and a tile-floor balcony with lounging chairs. If it's indulgence you crave, unwind at the Royal Spa overlooking Nai Harn Bay. Play tennis, work out at the fitness centre or head off on foot to explore the area. This is an older player with an aged demeanour but a stately stride. One of the better offerings riding on the Yacht Club’s tails is The Sands, a pleasant three-storey resort-style condominium with 150sq m apartments with kitchens.
Mangosteen/ photo: Verghese
A short drive from here, sited on a breezy hill, is the Lord of the Rings hobbit-style Golden Tulip Mangosteen Resort & Ayurveda Spa. This is an interesting getaway that distracts you sufficiently to forget that the nearest beach is a few kilometres away. The round elfin dwellings have interesting touches. There are 41 villas. Think bathing areas – some with Jacuzzis – open showers (covered by a thatch roof), smooth-pebble floors, blue-green tiles, and rattan reclining chairs. Now that's a toilet. Take your time. Rooms have a sense of space and offer plenty of light and air. WiFi is free throughout. Park on a large bed under gauzy drapes. The wooden floor underfoot is rimmed by orange ceramic tiles. It is all an eclectic throw-together homey mix.
Expect a hairdryer, a boxy safe that may accommodate a tiny notebook, flat-screen TV, DVD/CD player, and a modern sound system. Deluxe Jacuzzi rooms start at 74 sq m. The resort offers fine views of hills and seascapes and a spa is available for that extra pampering. Bit of a hike up the hill, but enjoy the resort.
In this south Phuket area looking out towards Chalong Bay are the 45 villas of the contemporary Morrocan-influenced Villa Zolitude. No beach, but green surrounds and open, breezy views. Pick from 170sq m Deluxe Pool Villas set low on the hill – each with spacious living areas, flat-screen TVs and king-sized beds – looking out at, but not over, the forest canopy; or go uphill in height and price to the Grand Pool Villas with views across the bay and more stretch space. Traditional massage and exotic treatments await at the Zense Spa.
Rounding Promthep Cape, after Rawai, Highway 4233 leads to the former Evason Phuket & Bon Island, which was relinquished by Six Senses on 24 May, 2012.
On Rawai's Friendship Beach is the all-villa The Vijitt Resort Phuket spread over 20 acres of land. Built on a hillside, most of the 92 villas, 20 with pools, have views of the sea – and each other – over woodchip-tile rooftops. It’s convivial if not entirely private. The standard deluxe villa has an attractive horseshoe layout with floor-to-ceiling windows, outdoor rain shower, local amenities and a large bathtub with shuttered windows. There is complimentary broadband in-room but, given the spread out nature of the resort, WiFi can be problematic.
Vijitt Resort/ photo: Vijay Verghese
The most private residences are along the seafront. Check on breezy villas one to four and five to nine, set on the grassy verge looking out at the blue. Expect personal space ranging from a minimum of 20sq m up to 200sq m. The beach is clean and uncluttered but narrow and the tide reaches the sea wall twice a month. This means few, if any, hawkers are on hand to pester guests.
The water remains shallow for a good 200 metres – good for splash-happy kids. Tots can also avail of the play area with slides and a wading pool. A glinting infinity pool almost blends into the ocean. The V Spa, with open as well as air-conditioned salas, will massage away your troubles. The treatments retain a very Thai flavour – except perhaps the “wood stone” detox.
Phuket Town, Panwa, southeast
At Siray Bay, a young mood hotel from Starwood, The Westin Siray Bay Resort & Spa is arrayed on the hillside, its smart grey-shingle-roof villas overlooking the bay and the sands. The Westin is young, hip and relaxed, focused on rejuvenation and recharge. Opened late 2010, this hillside bolt-hole-with-a-beach, a short drive from Phuket Town, offers 261 rooms with balconies and open vistas. Expect three pools, a Westin Kids Club ®, workout facilities and, best of all, a Heavenly Spa®. There is also 643sq m of function space if you must don your best beach duds and work while tanned lovelies sashay by.
Rooms are modern and sleek with lots of tactile textures. Muted pastel colours and cream tile floors are playfully tousled by bright turquoise cushions that dot the rooms and balconies. Expect 37-inch flat-screen TVs, DVD players, fast internet access (charged alas), an in-room safe, and a choice of satellite TV channels. Flop on a rattan chair in your private balcony and enjoy Cinemascope views. Later pootle down to the beach to stroll, snorkel, or try your hand with kayaks and wind-surfers. The beach gets sanded once in a while to keep it pristine.
Westin Siray Bay/ photo: hotel
In Phuket Town, check out old workhorses Phuket Merlin Hotel and the Pearl Hotel, both adequate city stops.
The Radisson Blu Plaza Resort Phuket Panwa Beach offers a beachfront family-friendly getaway in the far south towards Cape Panwa with three tiered free-form pools, a wellbeing spa, and a dedicated Kid's Club. This is a resort that holds appeal for couples as well as those with typhoon tykes in tow. Expect a useful mix of 211 rooms, suites and pool villas done up in modern Thai decor, a fitness centre and a choice of four restaurants.
The Radisson – pitching to be a more than useful Phuket conference hotel – also offers extensive meetings facilities with the usual arsenal of hi-tech equipment and a ballroom that can handle up to 150 persons. The resort is a contemporary low-rise development in brown tones. There are a lot of funky and mod features, chiefly the private poolside loungers that look onto open blue sea. The pool area is inviting if compact, set below the restaurants and a lobby that tries a bit too hard. Grand views but alas the beach is pebbly and not really swimmable.
Cape Panwa Hotel, a much older property at the far end of hard-to-find Highway 4129, is at the other end of the south. It's the sort of old-fashioned place you'd expect to find in an American '60s TV romance. Lots of activities and the occasional celebrity. There’s WiFi too. And the look is turning contemporary.
A tramcar ferries guests to the beach and the charming Sino-Portuguese wooden all-white Panwa House serving Thai. Much of the shoreline has coral and stone underlay so watch for it at low tide. Sample a Thai massage on the beach, hop onto a Cape Panwa cruise boat, or work out at tennis, badminton, canoeing, sailing, or learn batik or Thai cooking.
Sri panwa pool club/ photo: Vijay Verghese
Around the hill is the Kantary Bay Hotel, a clean, basic, salmon-beige affordable studio or one-to-two-bedroom option. In an earlier incarnation it was managed by Cape Panwa Hotel. Expect free Wi-Fi in the lobby. The hotel is bright and breezy and fronts the ocean promenade.
Tucked around the corner and up a steep hill, the Sri panwa is a high-end escape. The estate features villas with contemporary decor and Thai furnishings. Expect a stylish fusion of warm rust-red tropical tones and ocean-inspired motifs in the resort’s 52 bright and spacious villas. There are also four two-bedroom Family Villas. Expect spacious split-level bedrooms with living/dining areas, flat-screen TVs, WiFi, iPods (for guest use) work desks, a fridge that is replenished daily at no charge and chic wood tones. How about a bathroom with outdoor shower? No problem. The living area looks onto the pool deck and beyond across the bay. Interiors are thoughtfully stylish though the earth-tone exteriors are a tad drab and boxy.
One-Bedroom Luxury Pool Villas offer darker grey tones with grey-tile floors and a spacious Jacuzzi. As with the other villas, the fridge gets restocked daily, but this time there’s champagne too. Enjoy your very own steam room and summon a “villa assistant” (butler) if you can’t figure it out. The views are stupendous, the more so the higher you climb up the vertiginous hill. Small vans, not buggies, are needed to power guests up and down. Atop the hill is Baba Nest, a stunning 360-degree view rooftop bar and chill-out spot. Flop on a large cushion on the timber and gaze up at the stars. And, lower down, at the Baba Pool Club enjoy more stylish water features with clean lines and intriguing sunken sofas – with a view. Below is a small private beach for those who wish to leave their footprints here. This part of Phuket is more for tanning than swimming. In any event the views will keep you entertained.
Opened early 2012 is the 224-room Crowne Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach Resort. The resort, catering for both corporate meetings as well as the usual leisure trippers is on Makham Bay and is done up in a Sino-Portuguese style with two seafront pools and a third more private dipping area for those booked at the Loft Pool Suites. WiFi is free throughout the resort
Idyllic island escape, Ratcha/ photo: hotel
Just off the southern tip of Phuket (35 minutes by speedboat) is the idyllic island hideaway, The Racha, on Koh Racha Yai, with 85 villas. Good sand, breezy, open layout and facilities including a spa. Opt for a Grand Deluxe Pool Villa.
Khao Lak resorts review
Khao Lak is in full swing, albeit in its laid back, rustic style, with a campy drag show or two, and new resorts, shops and vendors are busily in evidence. With international resorts providing a much-needed nucleus and greenback-waving tourists, commerce, like water, has found its own level. If anything, Khao Lak is now better developed, planned and organised than before with newer resorts keeping a keen eye on their green eco-friendly credentials. It also has its very own elephant camp and monkey show so it has certainly come of age in the Thai scheme of things. Still, ubiquitous signs caution: "Entering Tsunami Hazard Zone" with a stylised image of a monstrous wave. The area is an hour's drive from Phuket, about a 100km run. Remember to fill up on petrol. There are several petrol pumps around Kokloi a small town en route.
The manicured and sprawling 298-room JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa lies far to the north along a secluded and pristine stretch of beach formerly occupied by the ill-starred Sofitel. The post-tsunami transformation could not be more dramatic and vividly underscores the progress the area has made. This manicured, verdant estate incorporates four low-rise hotel wings set around a 16,000sq m lagoon pool that offers the possibility of a three kilometre swim if you're up to it.
JW Marriott Khao Lak villa/ photo: Verghese
On to our JW Marriott Khao Lak review. The buildings are laundered white Mediterranean with timbered balconies and gleaming shingle Thai-style roofs that glint in the bright sun. As many as 148 ground floor rooms have direct access to the swimming pool. Wade right in. Rooms offer 40-inch LCD TV screens with a useful WiFi keyboard that you can use to surf the web. Wondrously, WiFi will not cost you a cent and coverage extends right to the beach.
In-room expect a DVD player, multi-pin plug sockets, iron and ironing board, a touch-screen phone that calls up the weather, and a see-through glass partition separating the bathroom with its rain shower, weighing scales and tub. Rooms start at 55sq m with a breezy balcony. The safe is somewhat anorexic but can manage a notebook. When not watching big sunsets and soaking in the beachfront Jacuzzi, guests can indulge at the spa with its 15 treatment rooms each with a private sauna or steam room.
This verdant, manicured retreat and spa hideaway gets high marks. Ankle-biters and typhoon tykes are not neglected either. There are a series of playrooms catering for different age groups offering everything from a pool table to video games and diapers. Excess adrenaline can always be burned off on the squash or tennis courts unless cycling or water sports appeal more. This is a fun Khao Lak child-friendly hotel.
The Thai-style Takolaburi presents itself as a "cultural, spa & sport resort" that pretty much covers all bases. This is on the turnoff leading to the Apsaras resort and sits just off a small road running along the beach. There is not much traffic on this deadend street so kids should be okay crossing to the sand.
Le Meridien Khao Lak pool/ photo: hotel
The wooden villas feature Thai murals on the walls and tasteful wannabe decor. Expect satellite TV, DVD player on request, mini-bar, and Broadband Internet. There are several swimming pools including one for kids, and a spa. Takolaburi is a neat, laid back option for families looking for style without wallet-pounding rates. The villas are set amidst water pools and rustic, rambling gardens. At the end of the road is the Apsaras Beach Resort & Spa (with direct access to the beach) and along the same strip is the lowrise and simple, but neat, South Sea Grand Phang Nga resort with a large pool, children's pool, Jacuzzi, babysitting services, and a wellness spa. As with Takolaburi, South Sea Grand is across the street from the beach. South Sea is a reasonable, hassle-free Khao Lak kid-friendly resort with contemporary decor and an unfussy feel.
Two Khao Lak resorts that warrant careful consideration are the boutique-style Sarojin and the larger 243-room Le Meridien. Farthest up the azure coast, the Le Meridien Khao Lak Beach & Spa Resort offers rooms featuring 42-inch plasma flat-screen televisions and an array of goodies including wireless broadband, beefed up conference facilities, yoga for New Agers, the Penguin Club for kids, the rejuvenating Le Spa (with spacious spa treatment villas) and, of course, a splendid beach.
In addition to rooms, the hotel offers a selection of plush Thai-style villas, some with private pools. The 80sq m Ocean Front Pool Villas perched at the edge of the sand have their own 170sq m garden and a 25sq m pool. Villas have wooden parquet floors, plump beds with silk runners, flat-screen TVs with DVD player, and larger ones come with outdoor showers with an indoor tub and twin vanities so there's no argle-bargle between Him and Her.
Sarojin sun decks/ photo: hotel
Never a dull moment at the Le Meridien Khao Lak – choose from kayaking, snorkelling, trekking, fishing, mountain biking and elephant safaris. This is a breezy open complex with plenty of garden. It is a toddler friendly Khao Lak resort with a separate lagoon-style pool for kids complete with sand and a range of activities. The free-form swimming pool is large and fronts the ocean. The hotel fronts an excellent beach with long views around the arcing bay. Spread out over several acres the resort offers ample stretch space for walkers and joggers.
The 56-room boutique property The Sarojin Khao Lak, also offers the Pathways spa within its 10 landscaped acres, a pristine beach, lotus ponds, tranquil walks and bicycle paths for those who prefer pedal power. Pathways is an interesting Thai spas option with double and single treatment rooms with outdoor "tree showers".
Designed in a contemporary Asian style with modern looking "residences", this hideaway Khao Lak resort is arrayed around a large garden area that leads on to the sea. There is a lot of space and the central lawns can be a sizzling hot expanse in summer. Sarojin has complimentary WiFi and broadband internet if you absolutely must stay in touch, but the emphasis is clearly on relaxation. The Sarojin residences feature private gardens, spoiling baths, sundeck, rain-showers, DVD/CD player, in-room safe and TV.
The resort is aimed at an older set and honeymooners who might enjoy a round of croquet when not looking deep into each other's eyes. Grown-ups only. Children under 12 years are not permitted at the Sarojin. A Khao Lak beach wedding is very much up the Sarojin's alley.
Khao Lak Resort villa/ photo: hotel
La Flora Resort & Spa, is neat, compact, bright and welcoming, if a tad predictable and busy. It has neat lines, trim lawns and fronts the beach. Not too much walking here. The pool is right on the beach and is a good spot for sunsets and tans. Dive into the two lap pools. Or unwind in the Jacuzzi while the kids wade in the children's pool. Deluxe rooms and Sea View Villas feature modern Thai design interpretations and for long, lazy afternoons there's the Spa La Flora with herbal steam baths, yoga and meditation. This is one of the safer – and sane – choices on our Khao Lak resorts review. It is a family-friendly option.
The Ramada Resort Khao Lak is surprisingly pleasant – more so than the Ramada name might suggest – with its clean lines and lowrise layout. Several rooms have good ocean views. Find a large swimming pool, a spa, 84 rooms, extensive gardens, and meeting facilities. The resort is keen on Thai wedding ceremonies to so if you have the money and the moxie...
The modern Khao Lak Laguna Resort, Phang Nga, is just off the main drag in town close by shops, supermarkets and restaurants. It occupies several acres of landscaped grounds and fronts a broad swathe of beach. The hotel is clean looking to the eye and sports a laundered white-washed appearance with red-tile roof. Expect a large beachfront pool, the Chiva Spa, and games to keep all ages occupied. Opt for an independent Oriental Villa or a regular hotel room called a Siam Chalet in a low-rise block. This is among the hotels closest to Phuket airport, with the secluded Le Meridien, the farthest.
Ramada Khao Lak green/ photo: Verghese
The pleasant Khao Lak Resort slopes down a hillside to a 400m stretch of beach with a choice of bungalows and villas, several with private pools, some with Jacuzzis, and 46 hotel-style rooms, all with balconies from where guests can take in the sunsets. The hotel rooms are set higher up the hill closer to meetings and fitness facilities. This is an elegant, understated, Thai-style establishment.
Closer towards Phuket, the Khaolak Merlin Resort is a quietly unassuming hotel-style low-rise occupying a hillside leading to a 190m stretch of sand. The property covers 15 sloping acres with 200 rooms and villas (with their own private pool). Pool Access Rooms are smart and spacious with plenty of light. Families and larger groups will enjoy the four swimming pools, a children’s pool, kids’ corner, tennis court, tailor shop and health club. All rooms have satellite TV, a mini-bar and coffee and tea-making facilities. When the Boxing Day tsunami waves swept through the area in 2004, the Merlin was pretty much the last man standing.
There is also the Baan Krating Khao Lak Resort (with a sister property, Baan Krating Phuket, near Rawai beach in the south of the island). And that wraps up our Khao Lak resorts review.
Find your spot, turn off that mobile phone and, hey, what’s that pink feather boa doing in my soup?
FAST FACTS / Hotel Contact List
DoubleTree Phuket orange/ photo: Verghese
Service charge and government tax on rooms amount to an additional 17 percent. Best deals are found during Phuket's low season (the monsoons) May till end October. Peak season rates rise steeply. Group discounts are possible. Book through your travel agent or contact the hotel directly for a web offer. Rates quoted below offer a rough guide only to the best available rate (BAR) online. Rates fluctuate on a daily basis.
The exchange rate is roughly US$1=Bt31.9. Use moneychangers or banks in tourist areas for the best rates. Hotel exchange rates are rarely favourable.
North and east Phuket, Naka Island, Yamu
Absolute Sea Pearl Beach Resort & Spa. Tel: [66-76] 341-901, fax: 341-122, (www.absoluteresorts.com).
Mai Khao Beach and northwest, Naithon
Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa. Tel: [66-76] 317-200, fax: 317-299, (e-mail: email@example.com or phuket-layan.anantara.com).
Bang Tao Beach, Laguna area
Amora Beach Resort Phuket. Tel: [66-76] 314-236/2, fax: 314-239, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or phuket.amorahotels.com).
Surin, Phuket boutique resorts
Amanpuri. Tel: [66-76] 324-333, fax: 324-100, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.amanresorts.com/amanpuri/).
Kamala, Kalim, Nakalay Beach
Andara Resort & Villas. Tel: [66-76] 338-777, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.andaraphuket.com).
Patong hotel choices
Absolute Sea Pearl Beach Resort & Spa. Tel: [66-76] 341-901, fax: 341-122, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.absoluteseapearl.com).
Relax Bay, Karon Beach
Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket. Tel: [66-76] 201-234, fax: 201-235, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.centarahotelsresorts.com).
Kata, Nai Harn, Rawai, and south
Boathouse Resort on the Beach. Tel: [66-76] 330-015, fax: 330-561, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.boathousephuket.com).
Phuket Town, Panwa, southeast
Cape Panwa Hotel and Spa. Tel: [66-76] 391-123, fax: 391-177, (e-mail: email@example.com or www.capepanwa.com).
Khao Lak resorts review
Apsaras Beach Resort & Spa. Tel: [66-76] 584-444, fax: 584-445, (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.apsarasresort.com).
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