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Thailand: Discovering Sri Panwa in southern Phuket

Paradise and heavenly are words travel journalists bandy about all too readily. It’s a problem, because when we finally find somewhere that deserves these descriptions, there are no more words left to describe it. A quick thumb through a thesaurus throws up “utopia”, “promised land” and “cloud nine”, but they still don’t do justice to Sri Panwa in Phuket, as Kate Mallord discovered.

The location
Sri Panwa is right on the southern tip of Phuket, on a forested promontory called Cape Panwa. After an hour’s drive from the airport, the road snakes steeply  through thick greenery and I expect to find an imposing building awaiting our arrival. So when the car pulled up under a pagoda, I wondered if the beau and I were at the right place.

Only fleetingly, because from here in we were looked after by the most welcoming, smiling and attentive staff this side of, well, the King of Siam’s palace walls. At the top of the stairs our eyes swam eagerly along an infinity pool that flowed out to an ocean view peppered with lush islands that look like they’d stood up just for our arrival.

But any hotel can do stunning welcome vistas; the sign of a truly impressive hotel comes when you’ve been to your room, unpacked a few things, bounced on the bed, changed and left the room to explore the grounds. If you’re still bubbling with excitement and cooing at that point, then you’re somewhere special.

The Villa

Our one-bedroom luxury pool villa came with a wraparound infinity pool, a connecting day room, a spa bath with a vista, a free mini-bar and a personal butler. We spent the first 20 minutes gawping and saying things like “Have you seen this?”, “There’s a walk-in-wardrobe over here”, “Well there’s a fitted kitchen with complimentary snacks, fruit and beers through there!” and “Can we move in?”

We then spent another 10 minutes shuffling through the two iPods to select the day’s playlist, settling on a mix of Bob, Ray Charles and Groove Armada. And only then did we set about bouncing on the king-sized bed (firm but forgiving) and donning swimwear to test our personal pool. The rest of the day was spent lounging by the pool, gazing out over the Andaman Sea and nibbling on and drinking things from the mini-bar.

The food

Over the four nights we stayed at Sri Panwa we ate once at each of the hotel’s two restaurants. That first night, we sampled a delicious Thai green curry and a Wagyu rib-eye from the more casual Baba Pool Club, which has sunken tables looking out over the Andaman Sea. The second night being the beau’s birthday, we celebrated with a Baba hotpot.This is a fondue with a simmering stock of your choice, and you select different meats, seafood, veggies, noodles and sauces to cook in it. It’s the perfect meal for anyone who can’t make up their mind because you can have it all – meat cooked how you like, your pick of seafood and as many, or as few, greens as you like. It’s utterly moreish.

In a bid to be a little more adventurous, on the third night we headed for Raya restaurant in Phuket town. Set in an old colonial two-storey house, it serves up traditional Thai food at local prices. The owner, Khun Kulab, has trained many of the chefs at the high-end Thai eateries on the island, but her food way surpasses many of theirs and costs a third of the price. Khun Kulab has cooked for dignitaries and celebrities (including Gordon Ramsay), so if you really like Thai food a meal at Raya is a must.

The boat ride

It would have been remarkably easy to spend the entire holiday holed up in the villa, but we opted to hire an old long-tail boat to see a few of the local islands. Our captain took us to a nearby reef that we were disappointed to find swarming with other tourists.

When asked if there was somewhere else less busy, the captain seemed as relieved as we were to leave the hordes of Euro-holidaymakers fighting for a glimpse of a star fish. Instead, he took us to a private island just off the tip of Cape Panwa. The hotel had thoughtfully packed giant beanbags and lunch, so we spent the afternoon pretending to be Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday, only without the cannibals – and a speedy way home.

Details, details
Air Asia, SilkAir, Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia all operate direct flights from Singapore to Phuket. Four nights in a luxury pool villa at Sri Panwa costs from $940 including breakfast and airport transfers.

Raya is at 48 New Dibuk Road, Phuket Old Town; call +66 76 21 8155.

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