Luxury hotels in Phuket mean white beaches, private pools and spa treatments galore. The Discoveries Of heads to the Anantara Mai Khao for a short break.
“Control your breath, move to downward facing dog and hold”. As my arms started to shake, I wondered, not for the first time, how I’d come to be doing yoga in a dark and sweaty room. Particularly when I could have been lying down on the beach that lay so tantalisingly close to the window.
Still, here I was, forcing my body into unfamiliar contortions and trying to control my inhalations and exhalations. It was all part of my self-imposed relaxation programme at the Anantara Mai Khao, one of the finest luxury hotels in Phuket.
Phuket has long been on the luxury traveller’s radar as a must-visit destination. With its combination of perfect beaches that stretch for miles, skirting the azure-blue Andaman Sea and high-end resorts, it’s become the Thai byword for escaping it all.
There are so many luxury hotels in Phuket that it can be difficult to stand out, but the Anantara Mai Khao excels. The Anantara is an all-villa hotel, each one with its private swimming pool, outdoor bath and sala (terrace area) it brings a fresh experience in this popular destination.
My first glance at a map of the island should have given me a hint of what was to come. Most of the resorts were gathered around Patong and Karon beaches in the south, but it was only when I traced my finger to the other end of the island did I find Mai Khao beach. There’s only one other hotel in the area and the beach is almost untouched, infusing visitors with the same calm that pervades the hotel.
The villas at the Anantara are remarkable. The private terrace and pool areas simply but stylishly done – with outdoor sun loungers, a rain shower and bath completing the look. The raised sala containing the bar area is set in the shade, which provides a cool respite from the area’s notoriously hot sunshine. Sliding doors from the bedroom open out straight onto the pool, making for a refreshing wake-up call each morning.
I forced myself to leave my villa to explore the rest of the resort and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the highlights of the resort is the famous Anantara Spa. I consulted with the in-house Ayurvedic specialists and was given a tailor made programme for the duration of the stay. It starting with a Shiodara treatment (in which oil is poured onto the forehead in rhythmic patterns) and an avocado body scrub to replenish the skin.
The spa itself is impressive. Dark wood and light cream complement the resort’s decor whilst ensuring spa-goers are met with the perfect atmosphere to unwind and de-stress. There are yoga classes twice daily to help guests achieve an all-round wellbeing. That’s how I’d found myself sweating away at 9am while my disturbingly flexible instructor manipulated my body into previously unthought of poses.
The resort offers a wide range of dining options treetop bars and gourmet cellars to name a few, but the signature eatery Sea.Fire.Salt lures guests with impressive views out onto the beach and Andaman sea. It serves delicious seafood and barbecue dishes, complemented with their very own salt sommelier.
If you are looking for something unique to the region, their cooking classes are not to be missed. Thai food has garnered itself a bit of a niche in the hearts of food lovers around the world. There are few places better for learning to whip up a few of their impressive dishes than in La Sala. I sweated, steamed, chopped and (most appealingly) ate my way all afternoon. The five course menu included coconut and chicken soup, deep fried fish with sauce, spicy papaya salad and banana stewed in coconut milk.
Much of the focus at the Anantara is on relaxation and taking advantage of the resort as an escape away from it all. However, an excursion to find the hidden side of Phuket was fascinating. We visited a nearby rubber plantation. The plantation shows how the rubber tree is tapped, turned into sheets and dried for commercial use. These skills once formed the backbone of the area’s economic success but have dwindled over recent years.
We also visited Tong Sai National Park, with its waterfalls and gibbon rehabilitation project. Walking around the park is hard work, and we recovered in the cafe with Thai breakfast snacks made with coconut milk and rice.
Finally, it was time to leave. My verdict? Where many of the luxury hotels in Phuket feel like sullen teenagers, the Anantara reveals a different side to this fascinating area.