Tourism Tattler foreign correspondent, visited Phuket a rainforested, mountainous island in the Andaman Sea and reports on Thailand’s most popular beaches, high-end seaside resorts, spas and restaurants.
− − On an island buzzing with tourists reminding one of everything but the destination I felt a need to stay at hotels that are in sympathy with their surroundings and express a feeling for Thailand rather than the many others that are simply smart but bland. I wanted the exotic experience with all my senses awakened by water and smells, birds and animals.
Phuket is an island that is certainly built up with traffic. Some have faith in their fate with side cars moving bumper-to-bumper carrying families intent on drying their washing at the same time. Mopeds have three year olds standing up between the legs of their parents with the rest of the family up behind them. Amongst the many roadside stalls and shops are bride shops placed randomly next to mechanic's garages (giving a whole new notion to the garage calendar!).
Thais believe that if they dress in a certain colour each day it will bring them good luck. The code is: Monday: yellow (lueang), Tuesday: pink (chom poo), Wednesday: green (kiaw), Thursday: orange (som), Friday: blue (nam ngem), Saturday: purple (muang), Sunday: red (daeng). Black (dam) is unlucky for conservative people and is reserved for funerals; unless, of course, you are young in which case it's seen as edgy and sophisticated. Even haircuts on different days of the week have their own
Adam Jacot de Boinod
significance. On Sunday: long life; Monday happiness and health; Tuesday: power; Wednesday: great misfortune; Thursday: protection of the angels; Friday: lots of luck comes and on Saturday: it brings success in important undertakings.
It was on a Saturday when I arrived first at The Sarojin, a boutique hotel, up north of Phuket in Khao Lak. The rooms are very Zen. There are stones and slate on the bathroom floor beneath the showers, absorbing the water beautifully in the heat, and logs to put shampoo on and driftwood acting as decoration. The contemporary Asian style with strong symmetry allows nature to flow and there's a real harmony with barely any distinction between the interior and exterior.
Outside light blue cushions echo the ocean whose beach, on this stretch, is a long, gentle and walkable curve. The land is thoughtfully spaced and has uncluttered placing. The foliage is of banana leaves and ferns.
The food in the two restaurants comes from a confidently small menu of extremely fresh local produce. I enjoyed a pomelo salad that had minced prawns, tossed coconut flakes, sliced kaffir, lime leaves, lilies and sliced shallots. The Massaman curry with tofu had coconut milk, roasted cardamom seeds, cinnamon, roasted peanut, bay leaf and tamarind juice.
Lady Sarojin, the hotel speedboat, is well placed to take advantage of reputedly the best coral in Thailand. It's on the nine Similan Islands (similan meaning nine in Jawi muslim). And it's only ninety bouncy minutes away out on the Indian Ocean. They comprise of a protected national marine park with three islands dedicated to turtle conservation. Here there is the promised water and sand that is ‘paradise' blue and white.
It was wonderful to have the experience of being tucked up safely in my outdoor pavilion while a proper tropical rainstorm played itself out on a landscape where kingfishers and monitor lizards had made themselves at home.
As for tigers and elephants, there is certainly much concern for their treatment. Elephant riding is considered ‘borderline'. But the trainers are devoted and there's a charming relationship between them and their animals. One ‘master' was barely seven stone and instantly crushable were it not for the complete mutual respect and affectionate bond between these two beings who were so clearly at one with each other.