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By Elite Traveler | November 28 2018
By Lee Cobaj
This story originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
The Pearl of the Andaman Sea has lured the glitterati with its wondrous landscape, diamond-white beaches and luxurious accommodations for decades. Located on Thailand’s rugged Andaman coast, surrounded by some of the world’s best diving, Phuket is an island filled with extraordinary yet accessible experiences which range from visiting elephant sanctuaries to unwinding at spa retreats, beach clubbing and hanging out on beautiful far-flung islands. The time to visit is over the December to March high season, when those mesmerizing emerald waters turn mirror calm, skies are blue — clouds mere decoration — and bright white yachts bob on the horizon.
If you’re looking for somewhere with sublime ocean views, a lapping sea soundtrack, friendly service and fabulous food, look no further than Rock Salt at The Nai Harn hotel. Despite the glamorous tropical surroundings — smoky woods, split-level decks, clean lines and flashes of purple — the atmosphere is breezy and relaxed. Open all day, Rock Salt’s menu covers a variety of summery east and west favorite — sea bass ceviche, green papaya salad, tandoori chicken,wood-fired pizzas and aromatic, highly addictive Thai curries.
Michelin is due to extend its little red book to Phuket at the end of 2018, and Tim Butler’s Esenzi is one of the only serious contenders to snag a star. Situated in the
grounds of Iniala Beach House, the interiors border on surreal, with wavy ceilings, moody blue lighting and elemental artworks. Menus are seasonal and organic, with a focus on Asia’s most exquisite seafood, and the meals can reach up to 14 courses. Ask sommelier Fabien Etienne to pair your courses with smooth sakes, crisp orange wines and featured labels.
Suay, housed in a whitewashed mansion on the leafy backstreets of Phuket Old Town, has been a go-to for well-heeled locals and in-the-know visitors since it opened in 2012. Diners have the choice of delicious classic Thai dishes and bold new flavors, all of which can be expected to arrive beautifully composed from Chef Tammasak “Noi” Chootong and his team. Struggling to get a table? Chef Noi opened
a second location in Cherngtalay earlier this year; both restaurants provide private tables, and can also cater parties and yachts.
Sprawling across a secluded headland on Phuket’s swanky northwest coast, Trisara’s most vaunted villa is a classy seven-bedroom aerie, with tropical hardwood floors, pretty flower-draped terraces, winged pavilions and a private infinity pool spilling out across Andaman Sea views. The glass-encased living and dining room is a beautiful sight, finished with antiques and plumes of purple orchids. A dedicated chef ensures every meal is memorable.
The Collector’s Villa at Iniala isn’t one the largest suites in Phuket, but it is one of the most unforgettable, due to the innumerable beautiful things that decorate it. A shimmering central courtyard is clad in broken Thai celadon ceramics, the sea-inspired living room has a blue starfish-shaped sofa and twisting anemone-like chair, and an ethereal spa chamber is sheathed inside mother-of-pearl walls. Three artful bedrooms, swimming pool and enchanting cinema complete the villa.
When Jay-Z and Beyoncé visited Phuket, Amanpuri was the only resort that could deliver the kind of security and privacy required for the superstars. Their likely abode? Amanpuri’s striking teak and stone nine-bedroom ocean villa, with its sweeping views of the Andaman Sea, gym, massage suite, steam room, peaked-roof salas and black-tiled swimming pool. Naturally, it comes with a team of housekeepers, butlers, therapists and chefs to attend to your every whim.
The master bedroom at Sri Panwa’s Five-bedroom Residence affords swoony 360-degree views over the cresting limestone mountains of Phang Nga Bay. Set over two stories, there are four more en-suite bedrooms, decked out in warm woods with blasts of burnt orange; a vast infinity pool and numerous indoor and outdoor salas, decks and living areas. Book a private outdoor spa treatment at sunset and relax as the gorgeous landscape blushes cherry red.
There’s no shortage of wonderful spas on Phuket, but if you’re looking for something truly special, venture across Phang Nga Bay to Six Senses Yao Noi. This island retreat is cloaked in a thick flower-filled rain forest, with a Lanna village-style spa at its heart. Experiences include everything from health screenings to yogic therapies and five-day de-stress programs, all administered by some of the top therapists and traveling practitioners in the game.
The pioneering Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is the only ethically run elephant sanctuary in Phuket, and one of only two in the south of Thailand. It is a place
of joy where visitors can view elephants in their natural habitat. (Celebrity visitors include Leonardo DiCaprio and Britney Spears.) Tours include feeding the elephants pineapples and pumpkins before setting off together on a gentle jungle trek. Book well in advance.
The waters surrounding Phuket are some of the most enchanting you will find anywhere in the world. The translucent jade seas are spiked with lumbering limestone islands and teeming with tropical fish. Hire a yacht and tack north up the Andaman coast towards the Similan Islands for sensational diving, west into the prehistoric karsts and sea caves of Phang Nga Bay, or south to showy delights of Phi Phi and James Bond Island.
Picture a stretch of palm-lined golden sands spanning more than six miles, with barely another human in sight. Now, throw in some seaside style — a stripy swimming pool, shocking pink cabanas, live DJ sets—and you’ve got Baba Beach Club, Phuket’s hippest new hangout. Things heat up during special events. Check the website for party listings.
One of the oldest evergreen rain forests in the world lies three hours north of Phuket by car. The majestic Khao Sok National Park predates even the Amazon, and is bursting with biodiversity. Glamp at the Elephant Hills Rainforest Camp on the enormous Cheow Lan Lake and spend your days kayaking its glassy waters, river rafting and hiking to hidden cave temples. Look out for rare creatures along the way,
which could include wild elephants, sun bears and banana-beak hornbills.