Phuket, you have blown my mind. I arrived fearing badly behaved bogans and trashy nightclubs, but all I experienced in my (admittedly short) five days on your shores was luxury beyond my wildest imagination, lush wildlife and hidden bays, rich culture and food so good my tastebuds are still vibrating.
It may have helped that I stayed at possibly one of the poshest hotels in the country, Sri Panwa. This slice of heaven sits perched on a little spit of land called Cape Panwa on the southeastern tip of Phuket, a rainforest-clad mountainous Thai island in the Andaman Sea.
Sri Panwa’s 52 luxury pool villas, scattered throughout 40 acres of tropical jungle, each have their own bougainvillea-lined infinity pool. The pool wraps around the glass-walled bedroom, which means you can wake up and quite literally roll from your bed into the salty water, enveloped all the while by the deafening chanting of cicadas. The rooms also have their own steam rooms, their own spa baths, their own butlers. There are customised playlists on the iPods compiled by Wan Issara (the thirty-something bundle of energy and fun who runs the SP show), seriously sexy lighting and interior design, and panoramic views of the surrounding islands and the Andaman Sea so good that at one point I started wondering if those mushrooms in my Tom Yam Ghoong might have been magic.
So yes, our time at Sri Panwa was incredibly posh. But is was also fun, which is unfortunately a pretty rare mix.
Day one started with a Thai cooking class at Sri Panwa’s Baba Cooking School, where we learnt how to make pad thai, tom yam goong and other deliciousness at an alfresco kitchen overlooking the Andaman Sea. An afternoon of poolside lazing (skinny-style of course, I mean how often do you have a private villa all to yourself?) was followed by massages at their Cool Spa. I picked a green tea body scrub and an orgasmic treatment called the Thai Herbal Healer, where hot bundles of Thai herbs including ginger, cumin and lemongrass were rubbed into my body to open my pores and get rid of toxins, followed by a body-melting deep tissue massage.
And then? Well, sunset cocktails at their dreamy rooftop Baba Nest bar, followed by dinner at Baba Soul Food Indonesian restaurant. The southern, home-cooked Thai food served there was delicious, created with love and imagination. My favourite dishes included stir-fried Andaman crab meat served with lime sauce, stir-friend morning glory with chilli and soy-sauce, spicy green mango salad with a zesty citrus dressing… And they just kept coming until there was no more room left on the table.
(A quick side note: while the food at Sri Panwa is absolutely delectable – their Baba Iki Japanese restaurant is also fantastic – if you’re after something more rustic and local, food vendors manning little carts and lantern-lit local restaurants line the promenade just outside Sri Panwa.)
By 11am on our second day – after I watched the sun rise from Sri Panwa’s private beach – we were sipping cocktails on board the Lady Kathryn, the private 80-foot yacht Sri Panwa charters. We floated around between jungle-clad karst formations jutting out of the twinkling ocean like giant’s teeth, stopping off for swimming and kayaking at Hong, Koh Yao Yai and Naka Yai Islands. There was a fresh seafood lunch, there was sun baking, there was sexy music and leaping into aqua waters. The definition of good times.
Rooftop yoga brought in day three, which was spent mostly exploring Old Phuket Town. It was much more charming than I’d expected, the narrow streets filled with a mix of quaint European and Thai architecture. It was Phuket’s commercial centre over 100 years ago when tin was in great demand and Chinese labourers flooded in to fill the labour shortage on the island, and the architecture reflects that.
We shopped for Thai silk and Hmong tribe bags (the bizarrely-named but lovely Job and Things on Phang Nga Road was great for these), and dined on prawns in garlic and tamarind sauce and a mean crab-packed sour yellow curry with noodles at Raya Thai Cuisine. Housed in a beautiful 120 year-old Sino-Portuguese building decorated with vintage Shanghai-style posters, Raya is said to have the best seafood on the island.
All this, and not a lady boy, ping pong show or Aussie bogan in sight.
DISCOVER THE BEST OF SRI LANKA HERE
THREE OTHER THINGS TO DO
1 SHOP FOR ANTIQUE TEXTILES
Visit Ban Boran Antiques in Old Phuket Town for an exquisite selection of antique textiles, bags, jewellery and more from hill tribes throughout Southeast Asia. When you’re done, head to China Inn on Thalang Road (a five minute walk away) for home-style Thai food in a beautifully restored Sino-Portuguese building that’s also filled with spectacular antiques.
2 DISCOVER A LOCAL BEACH
Avoid the tourist trap beaches and take a five-minute tuk tuk ride Aoyon Beach, where you’ll find locals paddling in the azure shallows. When you’re done swimming and sun baking, head to the understated bamboo beach bar, Ship Inn Bar & Restaurant (the only one on the beach), for a prawn and glass noodle salad and cheeky Chang beer.
3 VISIT OLD PHUKET MARKET
There’s a great night market on Sunday evenings in Old Phuket Town; traffic is cordoned off and the streets get filled with food vendors, stalls selling handmade goodies, street performers and more. Don’t miss the $1 fishcakes, the fashion student selling indigo-dyed backpacks with soft leather trims, or the street musician creating a symphony with water-filled glasses.