Luminescent turquoise water and a powdery-white beach on a tiny island south of Phuket create a classic postcard backdrop for boutique hotel The Racha. Pared down and eco-chic, this modern oasis has been built in low-rise harmony with its environment, with serene whitewashed villas for clutter-free cool.
85 villas, including 21 suites and the Lighthouse.
11.30am; check-in, from 2pm.
Double rooms from £237.85 (THB9,496), including tax at 18.7 per cent.
Standard rates include buffet breakfast.
The Racha smells divine with fresh lemongrass fragrance permeating throughout. Choose from lemongrass, jasmine or lavender scents for your room.
Please note that the New Year’s Eve rate is inclusive of the gala dinner for two; additional guests will be charged THB 8,000 each (50 per cent discount for children aged 3–12).
At the hotel
Library with WiFi, tennis and basketball courts, spa, yoga studio, gym, five-star Racha dive centre, beach club, mountain bikes, gift shop. In rooms: broadband internet, flatscreen TV, CD/DVD player, preloaded iPod, minibar.
Our favourite rooms
All villas are serene and clutter-free, with whitewashed walls, dark shutters and streamlined teak furniture. Suites 101 or 102 are more secluded and have the most spectacular sea views, along with their own plunge pools. Splashing out? The Lighthouse is a five-storey, two-bedroom ‘villa’ with 360-degree island views.
Swim to the beat of underwater music in the sublime infinity pool by the beach or the secluded garden pool.
The Racha is pretty remote, so bring plenty of books and magazines as you won’t be able to buy any once there. Pack your Blackberry if you need to stay in touch as stormy weather can make broadband connections erratic.
Welcome, but the Racha is more of a grown-up playground. Baby cots are free and extra beds for older kids cost THB600 a night. Babysitting is available with staff for THB300 an hour with a day's notice.
The Racha works with the Reef Ball Foundation to restore and preserve the sea's natural environment.
Private dinners are encouraged – opt for a candlelit dinner on the Star Deck.
Hippie chic – designer dip-dye vests and maxi-dresses.
The Racha has restaurants to suit all food moods. The relaxed, contemporary Earth Café serves breakfast and dinner indoors and alfresco. Opening onto the pool deck, the romantic Fire Grill plates up pizzas, pastas and salads during the day and gourmet offerings at night. Casual Sunset Beach Restaurant lets you sink your toes into the sand as you graze on Thai food and burgers at lunch and barbecued seafood and steak in the evening. On the eastern side of the island, chic daytime café Gerardo’s Beach Club offers Thai-Western fusion dishes and killer cocktails.
Nurse a mojito as you watch the sun set over the sea at the smart Lobby Bar. Ice Bar is a late-night perch for drinks, live music and karaoke. The Club del Mar Beach Club is the go-to spot for nocturnal quaffing, with a DJ spinning tunes (it also boasts a pool, spa and dishes up a mean buffet lunch).
All the restaurants take orders until 10.30pm, then hit the Ice Bar which stays open until 1am.
Available 7am–midnight, or book a private chef for a barbecue on your terrace.
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
On just-remote-enough Racha Yai island, 12 miles south of larger island jumping-off point Phuket, the Racha overlooks Batok Beach and bay.
Fly into Phuket International Airport at the north end of the island; once you've landed, it's a 60-minute drive from the airport down to Chalong Bay where you'll catch a boat to Racha Island. The hotel can organise a limo to take you from the airport to the bay for THB1,650 each way, for up to three guests. Minivans (for up to four guests) can be organised for THB 2,000 each way.
From Chalong Bay, it's a 30- to 40-minute boat ride to Racha Island; there are six scheduled transfers between Chalong Bay and Racha Island a day (three in either direction). You’ll need to arrive at the Chalong Lounge at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time; confirm your airport arrival time with the hotel at least three days before check-in to ensure a smooth journey. Speedboat transfers are THB1,980 (plus tax) a person (50 per cent discount for children under 12, and no charge for tots under three). Private speedboat transfers can be arranged from THB12,000 each way. Guests staying five nights or more get free round-trip speedboat transfers and 50 per cent off round-trip airport transfers. Both round-trip speedboat transfers and round-trip airport transfers are half price for guests staying five or six nights and free for guests staying seven nights or more.
Worth getting out of bed for
Explore the island on foot, by bike or ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) – either led by a guide or alone. Batok Bay, in front of the resort, offers fantastic snorkelling and is a popular spot for day trippers from Phuket. If you want more isolation, Siam Beach is a five- to 10-minute walk over a small hill. There are also first-rate dive sites close by, and the Racha has its own five-star Racha dive centre (with instruction pool) where you can arrange diving courses and individual trips. The resort's Anumba Spa has nine treatment rooms, including four designed for couples. Each has its own plunge tub, steam/shower room and outdoor rain shower. Four open-air massage pavilions are scattered among the lush gardens. A wide range of treatments – from massage to body wraps and pedicures – is available, and private yoga classes can be booked.
If you fancy more action mountain bikes are available for guests; on the beach try your hand at kayaking or volleyball; boats can be chartered for fishing or island adventures; have a game of tennis or basketball on the flood-lit courts; or make like a local with a Thai cooking class. You can also take the scheduled boat to Phuket and explore the mainland.
There’s a Thai restaurant at the opposite end of the beach to the Racha, and a local place called Raya Father close by. Neither has an official address, so ask resort staff for directions. If your flight arrives in Phuket after 3.30pm in the afternoon, you will have to overnight in either Phuket town or Chalong. In the former, Siam Indigo (8 Phang Nga Road; +66 (0)76 256 697) serves Thai fusion in a charming historic building; in Chalong, Kan [email protected](44/1 Viset Road; +66 (0)76 381 212) whips up seafood and Thai fare overlooking the bay.
Racha Yai is no party island, although there is a reggae bar at the opposite end of the beach to the resort. The Racha’s own beach bar, Club Del Mar, has a DJ playing cool grooves into the night.
Mermaids have always fascinated me, I once confessed to Mr Smith. Sometimes I wonder if, with my intense love of the ocean, I might actually be one (or at least a related species). Perhaps that’s why, for our first holiday in many years, he’s chosen to take me to the Racha, located on its very own secluded island just off Phuket in Thailand.
The island sun is beating down on our white BMW 520d as we head south to Chalong Pier in Phuket. This is the location of the Racha’s office and the place where we are to leave the mainland and catch a speedboat to the resort. I’ve been warned that, since it’s December, the journey across may be quite, well, rough. My one previous experience on a dive boat was absolutely horrendous – by the end of it, I couldn’t have been less like a mermaid, curled up on the deck feeling sick and sorry for myself (although if mermaids are green, at least I had that part right).
I am contemplating this memory in the moments before stepping aboard. Thankfully our host has a pill for me that should help with any feelings of seasickness during the 35-minute transfer. Its effects are soon felt and the whole world seems to be floating around me. I’m then asked to choose a fragrance for our villa. In my enlightened state, it seems like an odd request, but then scent is so subjective – what works for one person might make another turn up their nose, quite literally. Given a choice of lemongrass, jasmine and lavender, I go for the latter.
Perhaps it is the medication, the tamarind lollies provided on board the boat, or my excitement at getting so close to our destination, but the ride isn’t too bad. In fact, I even nod off for a while and am only woken by the change in the engine sound of the speedboat as it slows down. As I open my eyes, the first thing I see is Mr Smith, my prince, on a boat, just like in The Little Mermaid. I smile to myself before taking a peek outside to check on the colour of the water and the quality of the sea. What can I say? I’m a picky mermaid. It is perfect – icy blue and so clear I can see the sand five metres below the surface.
When we jump onto the white sandy beach, someone is already waiting to lead us to our beachside palace. We pass the gym, spa, a couple of restaurants, a cosy library with a few computers (although why would anyone want to know what was going on in the real world?), three swimming pools and a tennis court. Our Grand Deluxe Villa is spacious with a stylish, minimal white-on-white fit-out. It even has a spirit-lifting view of the sparkling blue Andaman Sea.
For me, the bathroom in any room I stay at is very important and the Racha doesn’t disappoint. There’s a deep tub and separate shower, as well as a rain shower out in the courtyard. Is there anything better than bathing au naturel in the tropics? What impressed music-obsessed Mr Smith, however, was the Bose iPod dock sitting right near the bed. He can DJ while I bathe.
If adventure is your middle name, then the Racha should definitely be on your dream destinations list. The resort offers all-terrain vehicle tours around the island, cycling, hiking, windsurfing and sailing. To satisfy my inner mermaid, however, I decide to go snorkelling. While Mr Smith basks on the sand, Long Island iced tea in hand, I head to a reef on the other side of the island with one of the guides. The water is deep – between five and eight metres – and the current quite strong, but there is a huge array of corals and fish to be seen. When I’m back on shore, I’ve still got the urge, so I drag Mr Smith to the front beach. Here, the sea is calmer but still a living aquarium. I spot rainbow-hued parrot fish, and a moray eel comes out from its rocky hiding spot to say hello.
All that underwater activity has caused my stomach to groan. There are a few dining options to choose from at the Racha, but the Sunset Beach Restaurant, a casual affair that serves a barbecue buffet each night, sounds like the best way to counter all my cravings. I’m not disappointed – there’s a choice of grilled seafood, Thai dishes and Western options. Mr Smith and I are highly amused by the resort’s choice of entertainment at the restaurant. Anyone who’s been to Thailand will know of the country’s great affection for a cheesy cover band, and there’s one rocking out for the punters tonight. They crank out hit after hit, from Elvis to Beyoncé and Michael Jackson, and as we tuck into our meals, we play a spirited game of ‘guess the next song’. It’s not quite the romantic meal by moonlight we’d anticipated but it was definitely memorable – and fun.
With the night still young, we head to Ice Bar for a cocktail. It’s a really chic spot and here the music is more what we’d anticipated – a Café del Mar-style soundtrack playing in the background. We choose an overstuffed sofa to lounge by candlelight and the bartender makes me a very moreish Cosmopolitan. Really, what more do you need to unwind?
Even after just a couple of days, this little mermaid feels like she’s had the holiday she’s been longing for – relaxing, peaceful and fun. But, unlike at the end of the movie, I actually get to go home with my prince.
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