The no-frills approach to hotels tends to be found in budget chains on inner-city streets rather than beside a pristine beach. Newly opened Cassia on the resort island of Phuket shakes up traditional expectations of holiday accommodation. Katie Roberts road tested the minimalist, apartment-style hotel with her family.
It’s been a while since a new hotel opened in Laguna Phuket on the island’s west coast, about a 20-minute drive south of the airport. Well-known for pretty resort lined lagoons and a well-ordered sense of calm, it’s home to a Banyan Tree, an Angsana and two Outrigger Resorts, plus numerous private residences and villa estates, all a stone’s throw from the gorgeous fine white sand of Bang Tao Beach.
Visiting Cassia Phuket just a few days after the opening was always going to be fun, but it didn’t dawn on me until we opened the apartment door that we were to be the first to sleep in the beds, use the kettle and turn on the shower; our children would have the first turn at assembling the Lego sets in the kids’ club room, walk dripping wet through the lobby and ask multiple questions of the friendly staff. If Banyan Tree is the first-class suites of Singapore Airlines, then the hotel group’s new brand Cassia might be said to equate to the Scoot of the airline industry. It was the widespread use of the colour yellow, from staff uniforms to feature walls, which triggered this association in my mind. Also, what you see is what you get at Cassia. And while the low price is a trade-off for a standardised, no-frills approach, the hotel is definitely stylish rather than gaudy. There’s an emphasis on fun and freedom, too, but without some of the luxury inclusions you’d expect from more expensive accommodation. The question was, could our family enjoy a holiday well enough without them?
Can you live without: a porter to convey your luggage to your apartment?
The Cassia Way: Colourful, airport-esque luggage trolleys with gorgeous (and loud!) bicycle bells are on hand at the entrance for you to load your luggage directly from drop-off, and push to your room after check-in.
The Verdict: The kids loved it, and there was no messy bag tagging, or waiting around for suitcases to arrive at the room.
Can you live without: poolside service and an umbrella in your cocktail?
The Cassia Way: Don your sarong and trot inside for self-service at the bar; there’s a good selection of local and international beers and wines that are definitely cold.
The Verdict: Drinks are cheaper here than in Singapore, and since you’ll need to move off your sun lounger to sign for them, there’s probably less chance of over-indulging – and you’ll likely meet new people too.
Can you live without: an enormous international buffet breakfast spread?
The Cassia Way: A tiffin breakfast is delivered in an insulated bag to the apartment hatch (1960s milkman-style) with a choice of Western, Asian or vegetarian. Make use of the microwave oven to heat it up and the coffee machine for your caffeine fix.
The Verdict: There’s absolutely no need to get changed out of your pyjamas and the delivery concept is fun. The food is standard fare that’s sufficiently filling to get you through to lunchtime.
Apartment test drive
At Cassia, the one- and two-bedroom apartments have kitchens and balconies and range in size from 42 to 77 square metres. Wi-Fi is free and available everywhere, even beside the pool. Room 340 rated highly for our family of four. The spacious lounge, kitchen and dining area gave us room to move, and the two bedrooms – one with a king bed, one with twin beds and each with a bathroom – meant there was no arguing over who had to sleep on the sofa. Minimal toiletries are supplied, so be sure to bring everything you need. Many rooms have gorgeous lake views; ours, though, had a street and park view to the rear.
Tip! There’s a kids’ club room off the hotel foyer with toys and games for rainy days, but it’s unstaffed, so it mightn’t be suitable for leaving little ones unattended. Children over eight, on the other hand, will love it.
Can you live without: on-site full-service restaurants?
The Cassia Way: For all-day food, drinks, snacks, pre-prepared meals, ingredients and alcohol, head to Market 23 in the foyer and stock up on supplies. Eat at the tables nearby, or cook meals in your apartment. The kitchens are kitted out with microwave, cook-top, toaster, snazzy pink and yellow pots and pans and appliances, and you have a dining table. There are also abundant dining options at nearby resorts, or just step outside the Laguna front gate and find traditional Thai, Indian or new choice Bake Flame Pasta offering Italian, Japanese and tasty flame-grilled chicken and wood-fire pizza. We also heard good things about upmarket restaurant and bar Bampot by chef Jamie Wakeford. On Fridays, Boat Avenue has live music, cold beers and a food market with a friendly atmosphere.
The Verdict: Easy, easy, easy – especially when you’re travelling with kids.
Can you live without: traditional Thai architecture with subtle décor and solid wooden furniture?
The Cassia Way: Colour. From the enormous and bold graffiti-style artwork to the pink kettle and the yellow feature walls, there’s not a hint of brown or traditional Thai to be seen; everything is bright or white.
The Verdict: Cassia sweeps aside the traditional with a breath of fresh air that’s very welcome.
Cassia will suit families on a budget, long-stay travellers, big groups on a price-conscious weekend break and those looking for flexibility. We can’t wait until similar new establishments open in Bintan, Indonesia, Lijiang, China and Beruwala, Sri Lanka
The free Laguna shuttle stops at Cassia on demand, and at resorts within the enclave, as well as at the Laguna front gate. The free ferry will also stop to pick up guests from Cassia; it does a circuit of the inter-connecting lakes, the other resorts, the beach and the shops. It’s a pleasant trip, even if you don’t intend to get off anywhere. Cassia doesn’t have direct beach frontage but it’s quick enough to find your way. A dedicated beach facility is opening soon. Surrounding resorts offer a day rate for the use of their facilities.
Rooms start at $175 a night; head to cassia.com to check out their opening specials.
This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of Expat Living.