Phang Nga

Sunday Territorian - - FRONTIER -

An hour be­fore sun­rise, I leave my grand deluxe pool villa and run north from the five-star Aleenta Phuket Re­sort & Spa to­wards its sister prop­erty, the stylish and slightly more ca­sual Akyra Beach Club Phuket. Street­lights, a de­cent shoul­der, and al­most no traf­fic make the en­deav­our feel safe — and it’s eas­ier than run­ning along sleepy Natai Beach, which fronts the re­sorts.

I’ve barely passed a nearby field with wa­ter buf­faloes when a large, red­dish, col­lared dog ap­proaches with gusto. At first I freeze, afraid she might nip me in her ex­cite­ment. In­stead, she dances lightly nearby, grin­ning. Per­haps she’s happy to see a per­son so early in the day, maybe she thinks (mis­tak­enly) I have treats … or per­haps she can sense I’m miss­ing ca­nine com­pany.

I con­tinue jog­ging, slowly at first. My new friend joins me, oc­ca­sion­ally lead­ing the way. We con­tinue like this for an hour — back and forth along the kilo­me­tre stretch be­tween the two re­sorts, me chat­ting to her oc­ca­sion­ally and tem­po­rar­ily nam­ing her Dee for the Thai greet­ing Sawas­dee.

AWAY FROM THE CROWDS

The en­counter be­comes a trea­sured mem­ory of my stay here on the peace­ful south­west­ern shores of Phang-Nga Prov­ince, about 25 min­utes north of Phuket In­ter­na­tional Air­port and an hour south of Khao Lak. With lit­tle im­me­di­ately around the Aleenta other than a few other lowset ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions, the lo­ca­tion is a wel­come al­ter­na­tive to some of Phuket’s busier (and of­ten quite con­gested) tourist ar­eas — but these ar­eas are still close enough for a day trip, if de­sired.

Natai Beach is a serene spot from which to em­brace the An­daman Sea or prac­tise yoga, and its sandy stretch north to­wards Akyra Beach Club makes for a pleas­ant stroll, par­tic­u­larly just be­fore sun­set, when it’s tempt­ing to wan­der up to Akyra for sun down­ers. (If you hap­pen to be vis­it­ing on the last Fri­day of the month, make sure to wear white on this late af­ter­noon stroll. Akyra holds a monthly white sun­set party, which re­volves around a beach bon­fire; dress ac­cord­ingly — you can use the comfy white py­ja­mas pro­vided in your room, if needed — and you’ll re­ceive a free sun­set cock­tail.)

Py­ja­mas are but one in-room fea­ture here that in­spires re­lax­ation. Grand deluxe pool vil­las such as mine al­low swift move­ment from king­size bed to pri­vate pool — just a cou­ple steps re­quired. (The prox­im­ity might tempt you to make a morn­ing splash your sole morn­ing ex­er­cise; how­ever, be as­sured the wa­ter feels even more in­vig­o­rat­ing once you’ve worked up a sweat.) High ex­te­rior walls help guard your pri­vacy both in­side the villa and within its out­door space, which in­cludes a jacuzzi and daybed. Mean­while, across the road, on the prop­erty’s ocean side, three-bed­room beach­front vil­las boast full kitchens and An­daman Sea views from each of the en suite bed­rooms, mak­ing them an ap­peal­ing op­tion if you’re trav­el­ling with friends or fam­ily.

TUR­TLE LOVE AND OTHER ECOINITIATIVES

The An­daman Sea is home to four species of sea tur­tles: hawks­bill and green (the most com­mon) as well as leatherback and olive ri­d­ley. If you’re lucky, you might en­counter them while snorkelling in the Sim­i­lan Is­lands (a pos­si­ble day trip) — but you’ll def­i­nitely see them at the Thai Muang Tur­tle Sanc­tu­ary (also known as the Phang Nga Coastal Fish­eries Re­search and Devel­op­ment Cen­tre), about 30 min­utes north of the re­sort.

Dur­ing nest­ing sea­son (Oc­to­ber through March), sanc­tu­ary staff mem­bers place fences around tur­tle nests to pro­tect them from preda­tors; when hatch­lings emerge, they bring them to the sanc­tu­ary, where they stay un­til they’re at least eight months old. The sanc­tu­ary also re­ha­bil­i­tates ill or in­jured tur­tles, has an anemone fish breed­ing pro­gram, and ed­u­cates vis­i­tors about threats to sea tur­tles, for ex­am­ple, egg poach­ing, un­sus­tain­able fish­ing meth­ods, pol­lu­tion, and habi­tat degra­da­tion.

Aleenta can ar­range vis­its, and it also as­sists the sanc­tu­ary via fundrais­ing for the AKARYN Ho­tel Group’s Pure Blue Foun­da­tion.

Some of the re­sort’s other eco-ini­tia­tives are ev­i­dent in­side the vil­las: you won’t find plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles, for ex­am­ple, and you can in­di­cate whether you want your bed­ding changed by po­si­tion­ing the wooden frog pro­vided. Oth­ers ini­tia­tives in­clude fil­ter­ing and reusing wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion; reg­u­larly par­tic­i­pat­ing in beach clean-ups with neigh­bour­ing prop­er­ties; serv­ing fair trade or­ganic cof­fee grown by the Ahka Hill Tribe peo­ple north of Chi­ang rai; sourc­ing most other food lo­cally; and re­cy­cling.

CY­CLING, KAYAK­ING, AND MORE

In ad­di­tion to sanc­tu­ary vis­its, ex­cur­sions in­clude cy­cling tours to Khok Kloi vil­lage’s fresh mar­ket (which in­volves about an hour of ped­alling), raft­ing in Khao Lak — Lam Ru Na­tional Park, and trips to Phuket town’s Sun­day night mar­ket (an hour south), where you can sam­ple Thai treats from food ven­dors and pe­ruse some of the town’s Sino-Por­tuguese

ar­chi­tec­ture and street art.

One par­tic­u­larly spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence is a half or full-day cruise around Ao Phang-Nga Na­tional Park’s 42 sheer lime­stone is­lands. Don’t miss the tour’s op­tional kayak­ing ses­sion around Koh Hong as it al­lows a closer look at this en­chant­ing world. Koh Hong trans­lates to ‘Room Is­land’, and the name makes sense when you be­gin ex­plor­ing: some of its smaller ‘rooms’ (la­goons sur­rounded by lofty lime­stone walls) re­quire nav­i­gat­ing low, nar­row pas­sages. As your guide pad­dles through the more open ar­eas, gaze up: some of the lime­stone over­hangs are shaped like var­i­ous crea­tures, friendly dogs and sea tur­tles included. The writer was a guest of Thai Air­ways, the Tourism Author­ity of Thailand, and Aleenta Phuket Re­sort & Spa.

Grand Deluxe pool villa, Thailand. Pic­ture: supplied by re­sort

Ro­man­tic din­ing on the beach

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