The diverse Thai Island of Phuket is always a favourite with Australians. Travel editor Winsor Dobbin takes a look at two contrasting luxury resorts.
Fly into Phuket International Airport and you are faced with one immediate choice: turn left or turn right.
Turn left and you are heading north towards Koh Phang Nga with its quieter, more family-oriented beach resorts. Turn right and you are en route for Patong, big and brash, loud and lively, and other popular beach resorts like Kata, Karon and Kamala.
In Patong, particularly, you’ll find bars in their hundreds, transvestite cabarets, touts encouraging you to enter drinking establishments of dubious repute and tuk-tuk drivers all too willing to rip you off.
It’s boisterous and a lot of fun – as are bustling Phuket Town and the Fantasea theme park at Kamala.
But let’s suppose, to start with, that you want to switch off, do as little as possible and re-charge the batteries.
Aleenta Resort and Spa Phuket-Phang Nga is just such a spot – remote and unspoiled but just a 25-minute drive from Phuket International Airport.
This is an all-suite eco-friendly property offering a range of suites and villas all facing Natai Beach on the Andaman Sea, which has been awarded five stars for cleanliness and water quality.
The suites, all of which have direct access to a pool, as well as the villas, which have their own private pools and butlers, are in private settings. At this time of the year (wet season) the beach is all but deserted.
On-site facilities include Spa IV, a holistic health and well-being centre where the massages leave you floating, the award-winning Level 3 restaurant offering European cuisine, casual all-day dining with Thai specialties at 33Mu5, or The Edge lounge right on the beach offering drinks and snacks throughout the day. There is also a fully equipped gym and complimentary wi-fi internet access throughout the resort.
There is also an excellent cooking school – and you can visit the local markets to pick up fresh produce.
I stayed in Grand Villa Satis, a luxurious four-bedroom villa with all modern amenities and full western kitchen facilities, with a couple of other visiting journalists.
The open-plan villa overlooks a pool and outdoor lounge area with a huge deck with sun loungers and umbrellas and has a grassed area for playing games as well as a barbecue area where guests can enjoy cocktails served by their own barman. There’s a butler should you feel too shattered to unpack or book your own visit to the nearby Blue Canyon Golf Club.
Think Egyptian cotton sheets, a pillow menu and the chance to release a turtle back into the wild at the nearby Koh Kloi Turtle Sanctuary, which is supported by Aleenta’s Pure Blue Foundation. A chef can come in to cook for you if you don’t want to schlep to the main resort. It’s hot and cold running luxury 24 hours a day.
The rates for the villa start at around $1200 per night. Have four couples or a family group who enjoy sharing and you have yourself a real bargain. Suites start at around $220 per night including breakfasts for two depending on the time of year.
You might want to go out and explore on the resort’s complimentary mountain bikes, or hire one of the resort’s flashy BMWs (with driver) to take you out exploring, take a cooking class (my fish cakes turned out rather well) or maybe do tai chi and yoga, both available on site.
The Phang Nga Bay national park, one of southern Thailand’s most scenic areas, Similan Island National Park and Khao Sok National Park are right on the doorstep and the resort can arrange for the rental of a variety of sail boats, with or without crew.
As is so often the case, however, it is the smiling, efficient staff that make the family-owned Aleenta stand out from the crowd. It’s as if nothing is too much trouble for them.
Now if you turn right – and drive past Patong into the hills – five minutes and a million miles away, the new 150-room Avista Hideaway Resort and Spa is perfect for those who want to combine some party action with a luxury getaway.
From the moment you are met by your own butler and driver in a luxury vehicle at Phuket International Airport, Avista offers a five-star experience for those willing to pay for it. This high-end escape has 150 suites with spectacular vistas of the Andaman Sea, access to three separate beaches, butler service and three spectacular swimming pools.
Perched high above the nightlife Avista Hideaway Resort and Spa features brilliant panoramas overlooking Tri Trang and Patong beaches.
The room designs have been inspired by the heritage and legends of southern Thailand’s fishing villages, spice traders and mountain dwellers – with a touch of Indian chic thrown in for good measure.
Avista, the flagship of a new Indian hospitality group, approaches hospitality from a slightly different angle – hiring people with the right attitude and then teaching them about the hotel business. The staff throughout the resort are exceptional.
All the elements are in place; a private beach club, those swimming pools, three dining options with a variety of cuisines produced by a team headed by American chef Tim Westaway, 24-hour butlers and villas that feature their own day beds, private plunge pools and free wi-fi.
Other than at breakfast, the resort often feels deserted thanks to some clever planning. There are zen gardens on rooftops and walls – and the mattresses and pillows are outstandingly comfortable.
Activities include yoga classes, a fully equipped gym, a library with computer access, kid’s club and games room and an authentic Ayurvedic Spa with an on-site resort doctor and nutritionist, Dr Alvin James, who is available to provide health advice and personalised menus. Traditional Thai treatments are also available.
The top accommodation is in duplex jacuzzi suites and pool suites (love those outdoor showers), while all rooms feature satellite TV, iPod docks, fridge, mini bar and tea/coffee making facilities.
The resort website currently has a number of special offers featuring discounts of up to 50% on rack rates. Entry-level Buena Vista rooms start from around $215 a night with ultra-luxe pool villas (below) from about $500.
Be warned, however, that the resort is built in a terraced style with quite a few steps to be negotiated. Although you can always call for a golf buggy to move you around, I’d suggest older and infirm travellers look elsewhere.
Aleenta Resort and Spa Phuket Phang Nga, 33 Moo 5, Tambon Kok-Kloy, Amphur Takua-Tung, Phang Nga 82140. www.aleenta.com/phuket or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avista Hideaway, 50/9 Muen Ngern Road, Patong, Amphur Kathu, Phuket 83150. +66 76 681 681. www.avistahideaway.com.
Thai Airways International, Asia’s largest full-service carrier, flies 40 times a week from Australia to Thailand with easy connections to a network within Thailand, including Phuket, and to over 70 destinations worldwide. Visit www.thaiairways.com.au/ for the latest special deals and promotions or ask your travel agent.