PHUKET

Aus­tralians have been flock­ing to Phuket for as long as palm-tree post­cards have been ar­riv­ing in our mail­boxes, but there is more to this is­land than beach bars and T-shirt shops. Jen­nifer En­nion ex­plores the chang­ing face of this old favourite.

Signature Travel & Lifestyle - - Contents -

You’ll see Aus­tralia’s favourite Thai des­ti­na­tion in a new light

Arooster crows as a soft glow il­lu­mi­nates the palms above and a tinge of pink ap­pears over the villa walls. Aside from the rooster, that quin­tes­sen­tial alarm clock, the pre-dawn world around me is silent. I salute to the im­pend­ing sun, reach for my feet and then curl into a co­bra pose. I breathe in air that’s al­ready be­com­ing hu­mid and stretch mus­cles sore from the pre­vi­ous day’s trav­els. I’ve wo­ken ahead of the morn­ing yoga class at Aleenta Phuket Re­sort & Spa, so opt for a solo ses­sion in my pri­vate pool villa. It’s a care­free way to be­gin a day in tran­quil Phang Nga, Phuket.

Over a trop­i­cal break­fast at the beach­front res­tau­rant, I con­tem­plate how re­moved I am from the noise of Thai­land. Trav­ellers to this part of the coun­try are a world away from the night­clubs, bars and mas­sage par­lours of Pa­tong and, there­fore, also the crowds.

This is the Thai­land you want to dis­cover, where the long beaches are rel­a­tively empty and most en­coun­ters are with lo­cals and the oc­ca­sional wan­der­ing dog or chicken. Even when you ven­ture to one of the re­gion’s most beau­ti­ful at­trac­tions, Phang Nga Bay, you still only en­counter a frac­tion of the tourist numbers you come across on the not-too-dis­tant Phi Phi Is­lands (where cult clas­sic The Beach was filmed).

Bay beauty

Phang Nga Bay is most fa­mous for be­ing the home of James Bond Is­land (Koh Ta Pu), a lime­stone karst that rises out of the emer­ald wa­ter. Fea­tur­ing in the 1974 film The Man with the

Golden Gun, the is­land is beau­ti­ful but no more strik­ing than the thou­sands of oth­ers in the bay. It makes sense then that I spend the day cruis­ing to an­other clus­ter with Sil­ver Hawk Group.

The morn­ing is hot by the time I ar­rive in what feels like the mid­dle of the bay. A hand­ful of long­tail boats and yachts are an­chored and lo­cal men in in­flat­able kayaks approach. I gin­gerly step into the kayak and sit back as my guide takes me through caves, into “blue pools” (which are more green) and un­der lime­stone over­hangs. He points out “rooms” in the rocks and other strange for­ma­tions named after an­i­mals. It’s an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in an an­cient land­scape.

Back on board the two-storey Sil­ver Hawk boat, the friendly crew mem­bers serve up a feast of tra­di­tional Thai cui­sine and del­i­cate desserts. Still on board, we learn how to craft lo­tus flow­ers into origami-like boats, which we later set sail, car­ry­ing our wishes for the year ahead in Loy Krathong fes­ti­val style. Storm clouds gather above as we re­turn to Aleenta Phuket Re­sort & Spa and an af­ter­noon down­pour makes for a re­lax­ing way to un­wind in my se­cluded pool.

Town tour­ing

The five-star Aleenta Re­sort is a top spot to base your­self when vis­it­ing Phuket. It’s only 25 min­utes’ drive north of Phuket In­ter­na­tional Air­port, and you can eas­ily daytrip south to some of the ma­jor at­trac­tions.

A wor­thy stop is Phuket Old Town, one of my favourite Thai­land des­ti­na­tions. Once the in­dus­trial heart of the re­gion, this his­toric sub­urb is now a thriv­ing hos­pi­tal­ity hub that’s at­tract­ing trendy

Thais and tourists. Lime, lemon, blue and pink Sino-Por­tuguese ter­races line laneways, invit­ing ou to wan­der through door­ways and pho­to­graph de­tails. On one street cor­ner, peo­ple take respite in a cafe lined with old, fad­ing ra­dios. It’s hip in its de­sign and at­tracts a cool clien­tele. A few doors down, a jew­ellery store dou­bles as an ice-cream­ery and ‘ac­ti­vated char­coal’ waf­fle cones can be cho­sen to house large scoops of ice-cream in spot-on wasabi and Red Bull flavours. There are also el­e­gant Thai restau­rants and gor­geous tex­tile and home­wares stores where a savvy trav­eller could get lost for hours.

It’s my sec­ond visit to this for­mer tin­min­ing area and I’m en­thu­si­as­tic about the dif­fer­ences I wit­ness within five years. Phuket Old Town is the per­fect ex­am­ple of Thai­land’s chang­ing face.

The fol­low­ing day at Aleenta, I once again wake early, roll out my yoga mat (supplied) be­side the pool, and watch the sky turn mauve. I stretch into child’s pose, my thoughts re­turn­ing to how re­moved I am from the bus­tle of Bangkok, Phi Phi and Koh Sa­mui. This is Thai­land, but not as you know it.

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03 01 Aleenta’s main pool 02 Old Town streetscape 03 Aleenta’s Ocean View Loft 04 Stun­ning Phang Nga Bay 05 Beach­front pool villa

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