First impressions count, and at Krabi hotel Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, on the spectacular Andaman Sea, initial expectations are well and truly met. From the stunning, aubergine-walled courtyard to the grand villas – light, airy temples to indulgence, with huge four-metre wide beds, outdoor bathing areas, plunge pools and Lanna art – the details here are exquisite.
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A bottle of house wine and a romantic sunset cocktail for two at Chomtawan Bar
Noon; check-in, 3pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £309.32 (THB12,713), including tax at 18.7 per cent.
Rates include buffet breakfast, non-alcoholic minibar drinks, shuttle boat service to Hong Island and dedicated butler service.
You’ll not want to miss the first destination spa in Thailand managed by ESPA. The treatments blend ancient and modern techniques, and you can continue the calm in the steam rooms, vitality pools and relaxation rooms.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, 24-hour personalised butler service, library, DVD library, free WiFi throughout, valet parking. In rooms: TV and DVD player, CD player, iPod dock, Wii gaming console, Panpuri toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
For an unobstructed view of the islands and an infinity-style plunge pool there’s no topping room 30, the Royal Andaman Sea Villa. Equally impressive is its sensational outdoor bath, set within its own pond. Talk about water, water everywhere… But that is the top of the range. The Ocean Pavilions aren’t quite as grand, but they do have private rooftop sundecks with views of the ocean.
Set back from the ocean, the sizable infinity pool has two levels, the higher one trickling into the one below. Take up your position on a timber sunlounger or covered day-bed. Throughout the day, staff move around discreetly, topping up iced water, offering refreshing fruit kebabs and polishing guests’ sunglasses. If you want something stronger than water, there’s even a swim-up bar.
Bring your yoga pants – the wellness centre boasts an impressive range of meditation, Pilates and yoga classes. Otherwise, sarongs and swimwear should suffice.
Famed local architect Lek Bunnag was in charge of the design of Phulay Bay, the first property in Ritz-Carlton’s Reserve collection. All rooms are non-smoking, although it is permitted outside.
The whole family is welcome. Free baby cots can be popped into rooms; extra beds are charged at THB 5804 for over 11s. There’s a full Phulay Baby programme to keep junior Smiths amused.
The kitchens at Phulay Bay use produce sourced from local markets, with some even grown on the property. Recycling of waste and waste water takes place.
Who can choose between starlight dining on Lae Lay’s private rooftop or a picnic on the beach at Hong Island, just a few minutes’ away on a longboat?
There’s a relaxed elegance to proceedings at Phulay Bay. Perhaps now is the time to don the silk outfit you’ve had tailored while in Thailand.
Make sure you stay long enough to try all the tempting dining options. Immerse yourself in the action at the chef’s table at Mediterranean-inspired Jampoon; the heaving breakfast buffet is also laid out here each morning. Traditional Thai dishes are served in intimate surrounds at Sri Trang. Locally caught seafood is the specialty of Lae Lay, the romantic venue set on the water. For a relaxed, outdoor lunch or snack at any time of the day, bag a table at poolside Plai Fah. If you feel the need for a super-healthy alternative – post yoga session, perhaps – Raw Bar is a zen-like space in the spa, serving mostly raw fruit and vegetables grown at the hotel. It even has a hydroponic bar, where the property’s wheatgrass and lettuce is grown.
Spread yourself out on plush day-beds and soak in those Andaman sunsets while supping on tropical cocktails at Chomtawan Bar. During the day, have drinks by the pool at Plai Fah.
10pm in the main restaurants, although Plai Fah only opens until 5pm.
If you fancy tom kha kai at 3am that’s no problem at all. The full menu is available 24 hours a day.
Phulay Bay is located on the west coast of southern Thailand, about a half-hour’s drive from Krabi.
Krabi Aiport (www.krabiairportonline.com), 40 kilometres from Phulay Bay, is the closest arrival point, but is mainly serviced by local flights and some from regional destinations such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Thailand’s second largest airport, Phuket (www.phuketairportonline.com), is further afield – it’s 170 kilometres from the resort – but handles far more international airlines, including Jetstar (www.jetstar.com), which has direct flights from Sydney.
Thailand has an extensive railway system (www.railway.co.th) that includes the Southern Line. It doesn’t, however, run direct to either Krabi or Phuket. Instead you travel by train to Surat Thani and connect via coach.
If you’ve sorted yourself out with a hire car at the airport, you can certainly drive to the hotel. There are detailed directions on the website (http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Reserve/PhulayBay/Information/GettingHere.htm) and there is on-site valet parking available.
Helicopter transfers take 20 minutes from Phuket Airport and can be arranged on request.
Worth getting out of bed for
Agreed, it is rather difficult to drag yourself from that ginormous bed – especially since, if you draw back the curtains, you can soak in the view from a prostrate position – but you’ll be missing out on so much if you don’t. First, let’s go over the resort facilities. The exceedingly serene ESPA treatment rooms offer all sorts of pampering therapies, alongside yoga and fitness classes in the wellness centre. There are also longboat transfers to beautiful Hong Island, where you can wander the pristine beaches or unpack a picnic. Further afield, your butler can help organise a range of exciting activities – you can kayak or cruise among the limestone outcrops of the Andaman Sea, go snorkelling or scuba diving, trek through the jungle, tee off at a local golf course, visit the tiger cave, go rock climbing or have a ride on an elephant. Got a special request? Don’t be afraid to ask, because at Phulay Bay, your wish is their command.
Ao Nang is a beachside town about 15 minutes’ drive from Phulay Bay. If one of you wants local cuisine and the other is hankering for Italian fare, head to Sala Bua and Lo Spuntino (+66 (0)75 637 110). In the one beachfront locale two chefs create vastly different, but equally tasty, menus. Another good Italian option serving excellent pizza and pasta is Ristorante Azzurra (+66 (0)75 647 866).
Panoramic views are on offer at The Hilltop in Ao Nang, one of the town’s most popular destinations for sunset cocktails. There’s also indoor and outdoor dining, with a menu of classic Thai dishes.
Like the portals to a forgotten empire, two imposing doors open gradually to reveal Phulay Bay’s regal courtyard enclosed by 30-foot walls. Half expecting to be greeted by a burly, sabre-wielding gatekeeper, we’re relieved to be met by beaming smiles and refreshing herb-infused cocktails.
After winding through a palm-fringed corridor, we cross an expansive water feature, padding over limestone stepping-stones. At each foot-fall a gong sounds out our arrival. Mrs Smith loves the theatrics and puts on a suitably majestic air.
The charismatic Song, our personal butler, whisks us away in a golf buggy to check in at our Reserve Pavilion, whizzing past cascading streams and verdant gardens bulging with mangosteen trees. A wooden bridge, over a bubbling waterway, leads to our new home on stilts. Song slides the huge glass door open to show off the four-metre-long bed (the biggest I’ve ever seen!). While we relax in our jasmine-perfumed room, Song offers us a snack of tastebud-tingling miang kum – fresh green betel leaves topped with sweet chutney and roasted peanuts, salty dried shrimp and coconut. Having armed us with her direct dial number, in case we need anything, she sets off to arrange a free long-tail boat trip for us.
Left alone, we regress to overexcited children. Mrs Smith tackles me onto the boxing ring-sized bed before rolling off the edge and disappearing outside to explore the two spacious L-shaped verandas.
Scale and imperial luxury are the defining traits of the villa, designed by in-demand Thai architect Lek Bunnag. Enormous spear-shaped lights create golden hues that bounce off the opulent mirrors. Think Middle Eastern grandeur with nods to Thai style. The outdoor triangular soft furnishings continue the ‘Arabian nights’ feel. Even the central freestanding bath is a head-turner, cast from polished resin imbedded with sparkling grains.
Two flower-shaped basins overlook a glittering outdoor sunken bath, and elsewhere two showers create a ‘rainforest cascade.' Mrs Smith has affected a Queen of Persia pose on the bed, plucking chocolates from a tray. We're in agreement: we love the attention to detail, from the bath crystals that dissolve to release rose petals to the smartly placed Sony TV that allows lazy bedside viewing. We discover an invitation to complimentary cocktails at Chomtawen Bar for the evening. I catch Mrs Smith’s eye – it's a date.
Strolling through the grounds I recall that the delicious betel leaves we tasted earlier grow wild along the path. I grab a familiar looking bunch of greens and start munching. The acrid taste tells me these ones aren’t edible. ‘Come on Bear Grylls!’ snorts Mrs Smith, as I cough and splutter.
We pop into the calm, sanctum of the spa, where Mrs Smith books a bunch of exotic treatments. My meanderings take me past a huge subterranean gym and up to a vast coast-hugging swimming pool wrapped around a pool bar and informal restaurant. The local beach may not be spectacular but it’s a short trip to an adjacent, more impressive strand by free long-tail boat or kayak.
Hovering, having been massaged into a state of bliss, Mrs Smith joins me by the pool. I’m almost frustrated not to have any bad news, as now would be the time to break it to her. When we return to our luxurious abode in the late afternoon, the space has been artfully transformed into an after-dark retreat. Mirrors have been turned to expose panels of Lanna-inspired art and curtains drawn to create a cosy intimacy. We take in the breathtaking pink sky from our balcony and stare at the jaw-dropping karst towers that rise dramatically from the sea.
Invigorated, we head to the beach to soak up the sunset and enjoy a cocktail at the sociable bar. This isn’t a place of whispering couples – it has life to it, without being intrusive. Tonight’s sunset is exceptional, with the limestone karsts splintering it second by second.
Watching the slow-motion explosion from the bar, we discover the cocktails are equally spectacular – lychee, pineapple and coconut dosed with cinnamon rum. I have the coriander mojito; the bartender spent six months getting it right and his patience paid off.
So far Phulay Bay hasn’t put a foot wrong. I’ve been carefully monitoring Mrs Smith’s eyebrows, as they are the barometer – if raised, there is no higher accolade; if frowning, a suggested improvement is never far behind. Until now they’ve been set in a semi-permanent arched state. I ask Song about the resort’s three restaurants; Thai, seafood and international. Each menu is redesigned every 10 days and each location offers a different experience so you never get bored.
As big fans of fish, the seafood restaurant gets our vote on the first night, where we order the cream of artichoke soup poured over a quivering hill-fort of fresh seafood and buttery mango. Mrs Smith’s eyes are closed in pleasure. For the main, we share crispy-skinned seabass on a crunchy bed of veg infused with Thai spices and a plate of sushi and sashimi – both faultless. All three restaurants offer dishes that are thoughtfully presented without being fussy and the super-fresh produce always takes centre stage.
Stuffed with breakfast the next morning, we set off on a long-tail boat to the tiny, local island of Hong. It's truly gorgeous, and consequently attracts lots of tourists, but our helpful skipper points out a secret path to a secluded white-sand beach.
To make a haven as good as Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve requires the constant attention of enough people to run a small country, although if they were responsible for governing somewhere, I reckon it would be the most harmoniously run nation on earth. The hotel is so impactful that in retrospect it selfishly gobbles up the capacity of your memories. We visited many places in Thailand, yet only one made a lasting impression. Phulay Bay.
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