Weaving around a lily-padded lagoon beside Phuket's longest beach,Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas embraces its natural environment but doesn’t neglect your need for sophistication. Seek privacy in the walled surrounds of a pool villa, laze by the water or explore the spectacular local coastline and culture.
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A three-course Indian or Thai set dinner for two people (excluding drinks)
Noon, but flexible subject to availability. Check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £707.26 (THB32,049), including tax at 18.7 per cent.
Rates include buffet breakfast, welcome flower garland and juice on arrival, daily tropical fruits and cookies, international newspaper (on request) and turndown service.
The hotel can arrange a multitude of tailored trips, based on land or sea, including jungle exploring, wildlife watching, sailing and sea cruises, rafting, diving, elephant trekking, art tours and even private surfing lessons.
There is a mandatory New Year's Eve Gala Dinner on 31 December; the cost of which is payable at check-in. Adults dine for THB 26,483 each; it's THB 13,242 for children aged 4–12.
At the hotel
Spa, salon, pool, yoga, Muay Thai, restaurants, bars, cooking school, public beach within easy reach, non-motorised watersports, gym, tennis courts, table-tennis, mountain bikes, boutique, concierge, gardens, kids' club, indoor play area, DVD and music library, free WiFi throughout, on-site valet parking. In rooms: free WiFi, flatscreen TV, DVD player with surround sound, iPod dock, air-conditioning, Nespresso machine, wine fridge, minibar, beach bags, Anantara toiletries, outdoor living sala
Our favourite rooms
The gorgeous Sala Pool Villas share the same dark teak and white linen elegance of all the other room categories, but with the addition of their own private outdoor salas standing in the lagoon. This rustic setting, with a backing soundtrack of frogs, geckos and birds, is a world away from urbanity and the perfect spot for yoga, a massage or romantic dinner.
Stretching the length of the beachfront, the main pool covers all options: swim for as long as you like, lounge on a shaded day-bed on the water or paddle up to the Infinity bar for a drink.
Sanctuary Spa has six treatments rooms set around the lagoon, where in-house therapists massage the day away with Anantara's essential oils.
Ear plugs will be handy for urbanites unused to the sound of early-morning birdsong; some mosquito spray, just in case (you're in the tropics after all).
Staff like to play cupid, so don’t be surprised to find a secret note or whispered message offering to help plan a fabulous, romantic treat. Smoking is only allowed outdoors.
Children under two sleep in a cot for free. Children aged three to 11 stay on an extra bed for THB772 a night; over-12s stay for 4,748 a night. Rates include breakfast. There's also a children's club, and babysitting can be arranged for THB350 an hour.
The Turtle Club, open from 8am to 6pm, provides fun, artistic and cultural adventures. The hotel supplies free baby cots for infants up to age three; kids aged four to 12 can sleep on converted sofa-beds for free (breakfast costs extra at THB475 a day plus taxes) and extra rollaway beds are available for kids over 12 for THB3,600 a night, including breakfast). Babysitting can be arranged for THB350 an hour.
Families with young children under 12.
Most rooms have space for extra beds, available for an additional THB4,748. If you want more room to spread out, the Two Bedroom Family Pool Villa sleeps two adults and two kids.
For bigger kids, there are plenty of opportunities to get active and explore the area. Windsurfing, sailing and kayaking are available at the beach, and island excursions include snorkelling, elephant trekking and nature hikes in the forested Sirinath National Park. The Turtle Club holds batik classes, glass-painting and candle-making sessions, or computer games and various sports for 4–12 year olds (younger infants are welcome if accompanied by a parent or babysitter).
There's no dedicated kids' pool, but the main pool has several shallow areas. There are no lifeguards, but the Diversions Team is on standby in the pool area from 8am to 5pm. All rooms come with a small private pool too, so infants will need watching.
Children are welcome at the main restaurants whenever they are open, and kids' menus are available. High chairs are supplied, and staff are happy to warm up milk and food for babies. If you're going on an excursion, ask ahead to have lunches packed that are suitable for young palates.
Give the resort staff two hours' notice and they can organise for someone to mind the children. It costs THB350 an hour, with a minimum of two hours (and one babysitter per child). After 10pm, a 20 per cent surcharge and travel charge of THB500 applies.
No need to pack
Baby cots, high chairs and buggies.
The cool-title-toting Director of Discovery can organise trips to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which aims to stop these wild creatures being used as tourist attractions and return them to their natural environment. Visitors can observe the ones being prepared for release up close. And let's face it, what kid doesn't love a monkey?
Anantara supports the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, which protects sea turtles that lay their eggs on the beach, donating US$1 a room a night.
Head for the outdoor decks at La Sala and Sea.Fire.Salt, or the Tree House's veranda come sunset. You can also book a private dining experience in your room, at your sala, by the beach or beside the pool.
Relaxed but chic is what you need: work that white linen.
One of four eateries, La Sala evokes the feeling of a casual colonial-style club, with rattan chairs and potted palms. It's the go-to spot for tasty buffet breakfasts, followed by Italian and Thai all-day dining with local Phuket specialities. The blue glass light installation and modern interior at poolside Sea.Fire.Salt turns heads, but sit outside to enjoy the sea breeze. Open-fire barbecue cooking with seafood and salt is the speciality here (there’s even a salt sommelier). For grazing on tapas in lofty surrounds make for the Tree House, accessed via a winding staircase wrapped around an aged banyan tree. Anantara is proud of its wine collection: discover why with an individually designed menu matched to tipples at the Tasting Room.
Perched above the resort, the Tree House bar is a magical hideaway. Choose a cleansing juice, coffee or sorbet tea by day or a retoxing mojito by night. Infinity is the swim-up pool bar offering juices, shakes and cocktails, as well as light bites such as wraps, salads and charcoal sticks.
Breakfast at La Sala is from 7am to 10.30am; lunch is at noon; afternoon tea, 2pm; and dinner is from 6pm to 10pm. Sea.Fire.Salt offers day-long dining from 11am to 11pm, as does the Tree House. Infinity bar serves drinks from 8am to midnight.
An extensive selection of dishes, drawn from the restaurants’ menus, is available 24 hours, from breakfast through to TV snacks and late-night fixes. Picnic lunch hampers and bespoke requests are also yours to command.
Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas perches on Mai Khao Beach on Phuket's north-west coast, near the forests of Sirinath National Park.
There are regular direct flights to Phuket International Airport (www.phuketairportonline.com) from Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Delhi, China, Japan and Australia. If you’re flying from Europe or the US, you’ll probably fly via Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai or Abu Dhabi, depending on your carrier. Domestic flights also wing their way in from popular spots such as Koh Samui and Chiang Mai.
Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas is a 15-minute drive north-west from the airport. It's a 45-minute drive if you're coming from Phuket town. Organise your transfer at least 48 hours in advance. You could also try your chances in a public taxi from the airport. If you’ve got your own wheels, there’s free parking and a valet-parking service at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you’re looking for adventure, Anantara has a multitude of tailored trips that can be organised on land or sea. The hotel’s brilliantly titled Director of Discovery can arrange jungle exploring, wildlife watching, sailing and sea cruises, rafting, diving, elephant trekking, art and architecture tours and even private surfing lessons. More unusual options include watching baby turtles hatch on the beach in season or meeting sea gypsies to learn about their lifestyle. You don’t have to venture out of the grounds though, with cooking classes, meditation and yoga lessons, tennis courts and guest bikes all available on the premises, as well as the Anantara Spa. The seven luxe treatment rooms include a spa suite with a pool, perfect for indulging in Thai massage, scrubs, body wraps or Ayurvedic therapies. Then again, you could just chill out on Mai Khao Beach, just five minutes' stroll from the resort, where 17 kilometres of golden sand promise seductive lounging, with snorkelling, sea kayaking and windsurfing for more active types.
The tropical sophistication and jazzy soundtrack at Siam Supper Club (+66 (0)76 270 936) attracts the island’s more discerning expats. It serves an easy-going menu of pizzas, grilled fish and meat, and cocktails. Lotus (+66 (0)81 797 3110) is a casual beach restaurant with a modern-rustic vibe and jaw-dropping views at sunset. Book ahead as it’s extremely popular. Smart restaurant Silk (The Plaza Surin, 5/50 Moo 3, Cherngtalay; +66 (0)76 271 702) serves contemporary Thai food to a stylish crowd.
If you fancy getting out of the hotel for breakfast or a snack, head to Paula’s Retro Café (106/41 Moo 3, Cherngtalay; +66 (0)76 270 283), a local favourite. For lunch, quiche, home-made bagels, fresh sandwiches and salads are on the menu.
Ramp up the glamour factor by spending an evening perched on the cushioned white loungers overlooking the ocean and pool at Sala Phuket (333 Moo 3, Mai Khao Beach; +66 (0) 76 338 888; www.salaresorts.com/phuket).
The entrance is so discreet you wonder if a Special Ops team would be able to locate it (though why one would want to is quite another matter). Imagine the pain, then, of our taxi driver. He manoeuvres the vehicle down a narrow laneway flanked by high stone walls before pulling up at a modest gap in the bricks. The only sign that this is indeed a doorway to a friendlier world is the appearance of a smiling bellboy. As Mr Smith and I breach the fortress-like walls, the Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas' interior reveals itself like a grand cinematic experience. My eyes pan across a large waterlily-covered pond, inhabited by schools of fish, paddling ducks and hovering dragonflies, all edged with lush flora.
We are tired and famished, having arrived on a hot, breeze-free late afternoon. Not even gulping down the chilled welcome drink in the open-air sala during check-in can stop me from staring at the fluffy white ducks in the pond and imagining them roasted in honey, their glazed crispy skins and plump dark meat gently laid slice by slice on a white plate...
My culinary daydream is interrupted by a softly spoken woman bearing a nametag simply stamped with ‘A’ – she has come to guide us to our private Pool Villa. Hidden from the prying eyes of passers-by, the villa’s tall wooden fence conceals a glassy green pool, a waterside sala and a well-stocked wine fridge, all of which hold promises of drunken skinny-dipping sessions with Mr Smith.
As Miss A leads us to the bedroom, I am intrigued by a strange terrycloth origami arrangement – ‘towel-a-gami’, if you will – placed atop a wooden chest at the foot of the bed. At first glance I think it odd to shape white hand towels into two croissants placed side by side, pointy tips facing outwards and fat mid-sections bound together. But as we explore the villa further and find turtle mascots everywhere – a turtle-shaped shower knob in the bathroom, an iron turtle perched on the pool’s edge – we realise the towel-a-gami is, in fact, a sea turtle.
Because Anantara is located on a protected sea turtle nesting area, the shelled creature is an important motif. We read with interest from the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation pamphlet that the resort is set at a specific distance away from the beach to protect the sand and its lighting is designed to be invisible from the beachfront so as not to disturb the female turtles as they come lumbering out of the water to lay their eggs.
A door slides silently open to reveal our spacious dark-wood walk-in wardrobe complete with floor-to-ceiling mirror. I unpack and hang my colour-coordinated holiday attire neatly so that when I’m done it looks like a display rack straight out of a hip fashion boutique. Mr Smith takes the more avant-garde option of strewing his clothes dramatically both in and around his open suitcase.
The Phuket sunset is famously over in under half an hour. Blink and you’ll miss it. So, after exploring every nook and cranny of our villa, Mr Smith and I literally run to the beach just in time to catch the glowing saffron egg yolk slide down behind the horizon. Vast swirls of strawberry, lemon and blueberry stretch across the sky above ripples of a rapidly darkening sea as night falls. And Anantara at night is simply magical.
Making our way back to the heart of the resort is like a moment in a film when the hero, who has been struggling through dense jungle, parts the leaves with his quivering hands to unveil an idyllic village: secluded villas emanate glowing light; trees and flowers rustle lushly around a lily-padded lagoon; guests recline on plush cushions in pavilions set over calm ponds. The cool night air pulses with
a meditative chorus of baritone bullfrogs. Look up, and the black silhouettes of slender coconut trees frame a clear sky sprinkled with a dusting of stars.
The key element that gives this Shangri-la the wow factor is its fabulous use of lighting. Bright enough to see yet dim enough to tease, it is of the soft, warming variety – it glows from damask lampshades or from iridescent fibre-optic chandeliers that resemble fine jellyfish tentacles dangling from the ceiling. Spotlights add dramatic contrast, highlighting strategic parts of trees and buildings, while rows of flickering fire torches along wooden boardwalks set off faint tribal chants in my head.
However, of all the features at Anantara, the one that captures my imagination (and holds it to ransom) is the Tree House tapas bar. No, let me rephrase that. It is the entrance to the Tree House. A grand, spiralling wooden staircase wraps around an age-worn Banyan tree lit with floating lanterns, as if it had been ripped from the pages of Enid Blyton’s The Enchanted Wood. My dream retirement home is a tree house by the sea. That night, I get a preview of its charms.
The resort has a timetable of activities – yoga lessons, Thai language classes, even specific Rainy Day Activities – designed to entertain guests throughout their stay, but Mr Smith and I decide to create our own special Nighttime Activity and invent a version of the Turkish bath within our villa. In the outdoor tub, right beside the pool, we sit sipping wine and soaking in a hot bubble bath until we are just about cooked, then we swing our legs over and plunge into the chilly pool. A few more repetitions ensures our circulation is pumping rather nicely, thank you very much.
In ancient Sanskrit, the word ‘anantara’ means ‘without end’. With all the relaxation and light-hearted fun Mr Smith and I were experiencing, I was sort of hoping to be absolutely over all the loveliness and luxuries, so that when the time came I wouldn’t mind if it ended. Of course, there’s no such luck.
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