Everyone needs an Alice. Throughout my stay at Six Senses Yao Noi she is always there with a cheery greeting and her trusty notebook, ready to do my bidding. Nothing is too difficult for her. When I want to change my spa appointment – for the fourth time – she arranges it with a chuckle. When I realise Mrs Smith has the charger to the camera, Alice lends me her own camera. I almost expect her to be waiting to hand me a towel as I emerge from the bath. She becomes my de facto Mrs Smith (in a completely professional sense, of course), except that Alice performs every request with a smile and no complaints.
I should explain. It’s not like me to travel without Mrs Smith. Unfortunately, however, we’d arrived in Thailand during some bad weather. After five days of monsoonal storms on Koh Samui, the first stop on our dual-destination getaway, plenty of flights out had been cancelled and the airport was log-jammed with frustrated tourists battling to escape. I was assigned a seat on one of the first flights leaving for Phuket, but Mrs Smith was put on standby and promised the next available one. We (or maybe it was me) agreed: the show must go on, and I flew out, telling my beloved I’d be waiting for her when she arrived.
Arrival at the resort – secluded on Yao Noi island to the north-east of Phuket – via a 30-minute speedboat ride across the emerald waters of Phang Nga Bay is spectacular. From the dock, an armada of golf buggies collects guests to escort them to their rooms. My home for the next four days is an Ocean Pool Villa – Number One, in fact. I’d read the villas are based on traditional village dwellings, and I guess if I really squinted I could be in a hand-built wooden house in the thick Asian jungle. The timber floors and walls are raw, the roof thatched, and the furniture made from tree trunks and limbs. A mosquito net is draped over the bed and bamboo has been loosely tied together to make a screen. The feeling is natural and organic, although I’m not sure how many villagers have a luxurious private infinity pool or a fully stocked wine cellar and minibar.
The ultimate extravagance for me, however, is the bath. Now, there are two types of people in this world: those who enjoy wallowing in a tub and those who prefer the efficiency of a shower. Having removed the bath from my own house to make way for a coat closet, I would comfortably categorise myself as one of the latter. But this is different. The entire bathroom is a watery symphony: indoor and outdoor showers, a sunbed with nothing separating it from the outside world other than bamboo shutters (something that I have to be careful about at night to ensure honeymooners walking along the beach don’t get a dreadful fright), and an egg-shaped sunken tub that overlooks the ocean and the limestone pinnacles of Phang Nga Bay. It is more outside than in, capturing the sea breezes and the sounds of birds in the morning, cicadas in the afternoon, and frogs and crickets in the evening.
In a few days, I have more baths than I’ve taken in an entire year. Before breakfast, after breakfast, before dinner, after dinner, sometimes with a book, other times just dreaming and watching longtail boats motor by. Suddenly, there’s no time when I’m not considering a dip in the tub. This becomes my place of contentment.
So what does one do, other than bathe, when waiting for Mrs Smith? Ask her and the answer is clear: mope, think of her and not partake in any activities, so she doesn’t feel left out. I do a few things I think she might not love or that I can easily do again: a swim off the beach, a dip in the plunge pool, a kayak around the island. Then I arrange a longtail boat to explore (and fish) around Phang Nga Bay, walk up to the yoga look-out to watch the sun set, and enjoy an oriental massage at the Six Senses Spa. And even a stranded Mrs Smith wouldn’t expect me to starve, so I eat Italian at the Dining Room, modern Thai at the Living Room and sample the room-service menu, all of which are excellent.
Still there is no Mrs Smith, so I borrow a bicycle for a 30-minute ride into the local village. Yao Noi is a one-street town, with the markets at one end. This is where I stumble upon a shack with a barely readable sign that has the words ‘roti canai’ written across it. Not even the family of seven cats playing on the entry counter, lack of patrons or two sleeping cooks can dampen my resolve to order the ghee-infused bread with curry sauce and rose syrup water. One bite and I am transported back to my childhood searching the back streets of Kuala Lumpur for this favourite dish. Four portions later, and I’m ready for the (slow) ride back to Six Senses.
Tragically, Mrs Smith never does make it (blame multiple flight delays, which make it not worth her coming in the end), but all the members of staff at Six Senses are keen to have a chat and make me feel like I’m surrounded by friends and am the most important guest at the resort. As I prepare for the journey home, I can’t help but think that it’s really great to be number one. Just don’t tell Mrs Smith…
Anonymously reviewed by Ming Gan (Festival founder)