‘I got the stuff that you need, I got the things that you need, I got more than enough to make you drop to your knees…’ hollered the Whitney impersonator to ‘Queen of the Night’ in Phuket’s finest restaurant/ladyboy bar. I was mesmerised. And if it weren’t for the giveaway growl when said ladyboy started singing along a little too loudly, then I would have been none the wiser. Unfortunately for me, my undivided attention made me a target for Ms Houston’s next part of the act – audience participation. I’m still trying to block out the memory of being asked to dance in front of an entire Phuket restaurant and actually getting up and doing it. But I’m a gentleman; and what decent Mr Smith could refuse a lady?
The Ka Jok See restaurant had come highly recommended by the young owners of Sri Panwa, Phuket’s most fashionable all-villa island rainforest resort just a 20-minute drive from Phuket town. Clinging to the slopes of lush green tropical rainforest on the southeastern tip of Phuket, Sri Panwa is an impressive property made up of private apartments and 30 villas. Our villa was pure James Bond villain’s lair. There were so many great things about it that it’s hard to know which to shout about first...
Sri Panwa’s cool, contemporary design and clean minimalist lines just demand pure indulgence. Let’s start with the outside bath and shower where you can lie back in a flurry of suds beneath the starry night sky. Our room was like a floating glass pavilion, with killer panoramic views of the Andaman Sea dotted with tiny islands and – get this for fun – we could even roll into the pool from the floor of our bedroom if we wanted. (And we did.) Even more impressive is the whopper 48-square-metre infinity pool wrapped around the luxury villas at Sri Panwa. Thailand is a long way and the time difference (GMT+6 hours) means that on your first couple of nights, thanks to the jetlag, you might find it hard to crash before 3am. That was fine with us; we were happy going for midnight swims splashing around like two playful otters in our private pool.
Rather handily, the hottest new restaurant on the island was slap bang at our boutique resort. The sleek interior of Baba mixes teak and bronze and the clever lighting creates a slinky sexy nightclub vibe. It’s a bit like walking into hip London eaterie, Hakkasan, except here the outdoor balcony up in the tree canopy is a distinct reminder that you are in a tropical Thailand. And if that doesn’t transport you entirely, the food certainly will. Fresh local ingredients at their finest. We devoured the authentic Thai favourites (Pad Thai, Tom Yum soup, tiger prawns with a passion fruit sake sauce and duck breast with lychee soy sauce) at low tables out on the balcony on big squidgy beanbags. Illuminated by flickering candles and a glowing full moon, it couldn’t have been more romantic.
Having crashed by our private Sri Panwa pool on the first day, we decided to venture a little further on our second. After a fruity breakfast on our balcony with only brightly coloured butterflies for company, we sped off by speedboat to one of the nearby islands. Our guide, Jared, had brought a perfect packed lunch of chicken wings and sandwiches – all we had to do was flop about on the beach and clamber around the deserted hotel building. A little spooky, it brought out our Famous Five fantasies. After a spot of snorkelling in the bath-warm turquoise sea and childish Enid Blyton-inspired treasure hunting, we jumped back onto our speedboat and headed back. Well, we did have a private barbecue pool party to get to – don’t suppose Julian, Dick, Anne and George ever had that problem.
Our Sri Panwa soirée was lovingly catered for by the head chef of Baba and ferried down by the smiley and eager-to-please staff. Mmm, freshly caught fish wrapped in palm laves with zingy Thai spices. All we had to do was bung the prawns on the heat. Not much of a challenge you’d probably wager, yet still we managed to bungle the scallops. We resisted the urge to call reception for assistance – by this stage we had sunk into such deep relaxation mode that every decision became a Herculean task. After a Bailey’s on ice (or two) we turned in for the night, our brains buzzing with eerie island adventures.
On our last day, Cape Panwa was whipped by a storm so we decided to hole up in our Phuket paradise and book an in-villa Sai Spa treatment. Strictly for professional research purposes, you understand. The poor lady arrived soaked and given that my Thai and her English were of about the same standard I had to resort to comedy panto-style gesticulations and facial expressions to try and indicate how sorry I was that’s she’d had to come to us and got so wet and – ‘Oh God… just shut up and lie down on the massage table’, everyone was probably thinking. You can take the boy out of Britain but not the Brit out of the boy, given my annoying habit to constantly apologise for everything, regardless of fault.
After a 30-minute head, neck and shoulder massage and an hour-long foot reflexology massage I was a lot more chilled again. In fact, so much so that I fell asleep and missed saying thank you for the treatment. Heaven forbid! Obviously I went running after the Sai Spa therapist to try and apologise. I think she thought I was mad. Then my Thai fisherman’s trousers came undone from all the running and suddenly I was the lead role in ‘Carry On at Sri Panwa’. Not quite the high-brow references I was hoping for when relaying my time at this sophisticated Phuket resort.
For all its beauty and stunning design, Sri Panwa’s greatest asset has to be the staff. Maybe it’s the Buddhist influence, but I’ve never come across such disarmingly lovely and genuinely kind people. It just shows you can go to all the hospitality schools in the world, but the innate gentleness and giving nature of the kind souls at these fabulous luxury resorts is what really sets Thailand apart. That and the ladyboys.
Anonymously reviewed by Richard Bence (Style informant)
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