THAILAND: OK! didn't have a knot left after a Thai massage at the Anantara Resort and Spa
NICK BOULOS follows in the sandy footsteps of the stars for a slice of Thailand paradise...
The teardrop-shaped island of Phuket, lying just off the west coast of southern Thailand, is often rated as one of the top long-haul destinations for us Brits – and it’s not hard to see why. There are luxury resort hideaways on the unspoiled north and south coasts, while the sandy west-coast party hotspots of Patong (famous for its hostess bars, Thai kick-boxing and lady-boy cabaret shows), Karon and Kata attract more hedonistic visitors. There’s certainly more to Phuket than the sandy beaches and azure-blue waters of the Andaman Sea – try kite surfing in Surin, zip-lining, 4x4 Jeep safaris and elephant treks in the jungle-clad interior or take a boat trip out to explore the limestone outcrops made famous by James Bond.WHERE CAN I EAT AND DRINK?
WHERE SHOULD I STAY?
Located on Mai Khao, a 10km stretch of white, sandy beach on the island’s sleepy north coast, the Anantara Resort & Spa is a tranquil haven far removed from the west-coast crowds. Situated next to the Sirinat National Park (watch out for nesting turtles) and set amid tropical gardens, swaying palm trees and a meandering lagoon, the property features 83 villas. OK! loved lying in our bed, gazing through the floor-to-ceiling windows to our private pool and outdoor bathtub for two. We also relished the little touches such as the iPod docks and our dedicated butler. The décor is Thai-inspired so there’s lots of dark wood, Oriental artifacts, silk cushions and scented candles. All very soothing for a weary urbanite! We also whiled away the hours sunbathing on our wooden deck and hung out by the main infinity pool, with its integrated hot tubs and sunloungers placed in the shallow waters.
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In the name of research, OK! checked out the hotel’s three restaurants – our favourite was the beachside Sea Fire Salt, where we loved the spiced sea bass cooked on Himalayan salt bricks and the barbecue dishes. Keen to learn the secrets of Thai cuisine, we signed up for one of the hotel’s cookery lessons with resident chef Taat, who taught us how to make a delicious chicken, chilli and coconut Thai soup.
HOW CAN I RELAX?
The Anantara features a sublime spa, with the treatment rooms encircling a lotus pond. Spa-goers can pick from an array of indulgent and holistic Ayurvedic treatments and OK! enjoyed an aromatic massage using acupuncture techniques and deep strokes – a definite jetlag beater! Those who like a firm hand should opt for a traditional Thai massage in an outdoor sala. Therapists use an ancient combination of pressure points, stretching techniques and yoga-like positions. We didn’t have a tension knot left after this treatment!
WHERE CAN I SHOP?
Close to the Anantara is Turtle Village, home to some charming handicraft stores, while you’ll find chic boutiques Cocoon (fashion) and Lola (homewear) in the Surin Plaza. In Patong, there’s the Jungceylon mall with 200 stores including Apple and Adidas, as well as the Robinson department store selling Armani and Paul Smith. For those in search of cheaper jewellery, clothes and designer fakes, try the night market stalls that line the beaches at Patong, Karon and Kata. In Phuket Town you’ll find many stores, such as a Jim Thompson silk emporium in the Central Festival Mall, where you’ll also see a Guess, Esprit, Boots and Starbucks.
Enjoy sundown at the White Box, a cool beach-front bar a stone’s throw from Patong. Look for the sugar cube structure perched on rocks – it’s impossible to miss. OK! sipped a Tom Yum Martini before going down the road to Baan Rim Pa for a sumptuous Thai dinner. Located on a rocky headland overlooking the beach, we feasted on a refreshing papaya salad and stir-fried chicken with garlic, coriander and chilli, before browsing the raucous bars on Bangla Road.
For a relaxed night at the Anantara, head up to the Tree House bar to listen to chill-out tunes and nibble on Thai fusion tapas. OK! enjoyed a delicious 888 cocktail – a sweet blend of rum, cassis, fresh mint and cranberry juice – and borrowed games and an iPad from the bar.Want incredible deals to Phuket? Click here now...
WHICH CELEBS MIGHT I SEE?
Charlotte Church, Cheryl Cole Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh are all fans of Phuket. Katie Price and Alex Reid honeymooned in Thailand, while Russell Brand whisked Katy Perry here early in their relationship. Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and their other halves spent last New Year’s Eve partying at the Royal Phuket Marina. Kate rested her head at the Anantara Phuket.WHAT SHOULD I DO?
OK! spent an unforgettable morning riding an elephant through the jungle at the Siam Safari centre (www.siamsafari.com
) in the Chalong highlands. After our peaceful journey through the quiet forest, we were allowed to feed these gentle giants with bananas and pieces of watermelon.
Just north-west of Chalong, and visible from almost half the island, is Phuket’s newest attraction. The Big Buddha, a huge gleaming 45 metre statue, sits majestically on a hilltop and offers visitors panoramic island views.
Of course, no trip would be complete without visiting some of the surrounding islands such as the Similan Marine National Park, loved by divers and snorkellers. Most head straight to Koh Phi Phi, where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach, but OK! chose to sail around Phang Nga Bay with Andaman Speedboat (www.andamanspeedboat.com
). After travelling in style on board a speedboat and visiting James Bond Island – a lonely limestone outcrop used as a location in the 007 classic The Man With The Golden Gun – OK! downsized to a small dingy to explore secret bays accessible only through eerily dark bat caves.HOW DO I GET THERE?
EVA Air (020 7380 8300; www.evaair.com
) flies non-stop daily from London Heathrow to Bangkok and code-share flights with Bangkok Airways to Phuket, Koh Samui and Chiang Mai. They offer business, premium economy and economy classes.
Room rates at the five-star Anantara Resort & Spa Phuket, staying in a pool villa, start at £275 per night. If you want a stopover in Bangkok, nightly rates at the Anantara Baan Rajprasong Serviced Apartments in Bangkok start from £80. For more details, visit www.anantara.com