PRAY In North America, we’re used to seeing Buddha statues the size of garden gnomes, which is why Phuket’s Big Buddha is so impressive. Standing at the base of the 45-metre white marble statue is humbling. It was built with donations from around the world. It’s located at the top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata Beach, and the view is spectacular. Temple etiquette: Tom Billinge travels the world visiting and writing about temples and holy places. Here are his six top tips:
1. In Thailand, unlike Hong Kong, you must remove your shoes before entering a temple. 2. If you’re sitting in the hall, your feet should never face Buddha. 3. Don’t point at anything with your finger; use an upturned open palm instead. 4. You don’t have to bow, but if you wish to wai to Buddha, place your palms together on your brow and bow. 5. Dress modestly, with your shoulders covered. If you are wearing a skirt, the hem must fall below the knee. (Carry a shawl or sarong just in case you need to cover up.) 6. Unless there is a sign telling you otherwise, you can take photos inside the temple, including ones of Buddha. (In Hong Kong, this isn’t permitted.) There are two possible exceptions: the Phra Buddha Chinnarat in Phitsanulok and the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.
SIP Laem Phromthep, which is near Nai Harn beach, is a fave, albeit crowded, sunset-watching destination. The upside? It’s free. The Baba Nest rooftop bar at Sri Panwa resort is stunning. It boasts that it has the “sexiest sunset sessions,” and that’s not an exaggeration. The deck, which is surrounded by an infinity pool, has 360-degree views of the island-dotted Andaman Sea. Seating is limited, so book (months) ahead. (#notkidding)
STAY The Nai Harn resort, which is located in the southern end of Phuket, reminds me of a crisp white Jil Sander shirt: The lines are pure, and the design has the same elegant ease and timelessness. The 130-room resort, which opened in the ’80s and underwent major renos in 2016, is described as one of Phuket’s first luxury hotels. The rooms, including my Ocean View Suite, are built on the hillside overlooking Nai Harn beach. (It landed on Trip Advisor’s top 10 beaches in Asia in 2017, and you can see it behind Shaughnessy in the photo above.) From the four-poster cabana bed on my deck, I can look out onto the white sandy beach and calm bay, which is dotted with catamarans and sailboats. There’s the option to have a private barbeque on your terrace, and the poshest rooms have a button that summons a butler to bring champagne. I did manage to leave this heavenly retreat and head up to Reflections, the Nai Harn’s rooftop terrace/bar, to catch the sunset. For eats, there’s Cosmo or the resort’s beachfront Rock Salt. The resort offers beachside butler service, or there’s the pool if you prefer to lounge in a private setting surrounded by bougainvillea while sipping a rum-based Lady Nai Harn.
SHOP If you are beached out—or have a hankering to see colourful SinoPortuguese architecture—head to Old Phuket Town. You can easily spend a few hours popping in and out of eclectic shophouses, Thai temples, Chinese shrines, old mansions and quirky cafés along Thalang, Dibuk and Krabi roads. Your first stop should be Aroon Restaurant for cha chuk tea and roti. Like Hong Kong tea, this strong brew is made with condensed milk and sugar, but it’s frothy from having been poured repeatedly between two decanters. At the front of the family-run shop, they serve up roti filled with meat or a sweeter version filled with butter and sugar and dipped in condensed milk. One of the most Instagrammable streets is Soi Rommanee. It is lit with Chinese lanterns at night, and its traditional shophouses are painted romantic shades of pink, orange, yellow and blue. Its past is equally colourful: It was once a red-light and opium-parlour district frequented by Chinese tin miners.
Pearls of wisdom “When an irritant gets into an oyster, the oyster secretes nacre, or mother-of-pearl, around the irritant, which [eventually] becomes a pearl,” explains Worawan Chawalitanantakit, the managing director at Rangyai Pearl, which has a shop in the town of Phuket. “Cultured pearls are created by seeding an oyster with an irritant, and it can take one to five years depending on the oyster used to produce the pearls. You can tell that pearls are fake if you rub them together and there’s no resistance. If they’re real, it feels like they’re scratching each other if you rub them together.”
SPA TIME They had me at “Easy Breezy”—the name of the massage I am having at the Nai Harn resort’s spa. Lek, my therapist, arrives, and she’s radiant. “If I don’t look good, nobody trusts me,” she laughs when I compliment her. When her hands land on the rocks in my left shoulder, she decides to try some Thai massage moves. I had a Thai massage in Dubai once, and the therapist gave up. Lek, however, manages to elicit a few satisfying cracks. Afterwards, I head straight to my terrace for a delicious afternoon nap.