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