Friday, November 27, 2009

Phuket - Amanpuri Resort

The World is lucky to have somebody like Adrian Zecha - a rich person who has the vision, means and determination to create extraordinary projects. I'm a bit biased of course - as an architect we are always dreaming about landing a client like him. Instead of just kicking back and enjoying life, he chose to take on the challenge of creating some of the most interesting resorts in some of the most unusual places in the World. Every Aman resort is a unique and visionary creation.

Amanpuri was the resort which started a whole new trend of travel and lifestyle. Not many people thought a small ultra-exclusive boutique resort - one charging more then USD 1,000 per night, would be able to survive. Aman resorts proved that it could be done, and now there are even "Aman Groupies" who would only visit a destination if there is an Aman resort there. We are talking about mostly millionaires here.

For mere mortals like me, a visit is as close as I would ever get to an Aman experience. In Bali we managed to visit Amandari and Amanusa, both very beautiful resorts in stunning locations. They were also much more accommodating and we managed to visit the villas to see what it's like to stay in ultra-luxury. Here in Phuket, I only managed to get to the reception and the main pool deck. Amanpuri is located at Pansea Beach, sharing an entrance driveway with The Chedi.

Immaculate landscaping.

The beautifully crafted stone walls - a signature at all the Aman resorts.

The villas nestled on the hill sides.

The architectural design for Amanpuri was based on traditional Thai architecture which has been stripped down to it's most basic. At the time when it was built, it was a revelation. 20 years down the road, trends have moved on and most of the exclusive resorts now are minimalist in design. Compared to that, Amanpuri looks a bit old fashion, but it's charm is still undeniable.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Phuket - The Chedi Resort

The Chedi is a luxury resort located at Pansea Beach, a secluded corner just North of Surin Beach. It is part of a chain of luxury resorts managed by the exclusive GHM Hotels, headed by Adrian Zecha - the visionary hotelier behind the Aman group of resorts. The Chedi brand is a few notches below Aman - which is an ultra high-end concept. The rates are quite cheap compared to other resorts of similar standard - averaging around USD 120 a night.

The design of the resort looks a bit dated now. Though the minimalist tropical approach is copied from the Aman style, the execution is not as refined. A low-key entrance porch is connected to the reception area by open walkways flanked on both sides by small lily ponds. Though the overall ambience has an air of understated luxury, there are some laxes here and there in terms of design and maintenance.

The design is a pared down modern Thai style - with lots of warm timber tones and natural stone.

Rooms are hidden among the trees and landscape.

The main pool.

Overall I wasn't as impressed with The Chedi as I had expected to be. It is no doubt still an attractive property due to the exclusive location and reasonable rates, but the competition is getting tough at this end of the market nowadays.

Phuket - Patong Beach

Patong Beach is in a bay tucked between hills on both sides. This 2 km stretch of sandy beach is on the Western side of Phuket Island, and faces the Andaman Sea. It is the most popular and developed beach in Phuket.

In 2004, Phuket Island was struck by a tsunami caused by an Indian Ocean earthquake. The tsunami wreaked havoc on many parts of the island, including Patong Beach which was one of the most badly hit. Many people were killed. Walking down the beach front now, there is completely no sign of the destructions cased by the tsunami. Patong Beach has completely rebuilt itself, which is a testament to the resilience of the Thai people and the community here.

Patong Beach Road by day. Kind of like Kuta in Bali, don't you think ?

For nicer views of the beach, take a short drive to the Northern end. Here the sea comes right up to the shore, which is protected by a stone wall. Go further up the hills to get even better views. From here you can feel the wrath of the sea which can cause such great destructions.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Phuket - The Tique Hotel

I like to seek out smaller boutique hotels when traveling. They are more personal, have more character, and usually offer much better value compared to the branded 4 or 5 star hotels. It pays to do your research before the trip to find the best accommodation for your money. I find that 2 of the best Internet Hotel Booking Sites in Asia are Agoda and AsiaRooms. The rates are usually quite similar, but Agoda has an edge in some great special offers. Both sites offer lots of information and pictures on the hotels and resorts, and very useful user reviews.

I found this small boutique hotel in Patong through Agoda. It is my favourite type of boutique hotel - small, modern, and fuss-free. The hotel design is contemporary and minimalist, but very well decorated with the owner's collection of antiques and artifacts.

The hotel is quite tiny - it only has 22 rooms in a 5 storey building. The lobby is small but functional. This is also where the breakfast is served on a communal table. On the roof top there is a plunge pool with great views of Patong Town.

The room is quite basic, but is has everything you need. It is also very big for a boutique accommodation. There is even a large flat screen TV.

The pool on the roof top with views of Patong Town.

I enjoyed my stay at The Tique. It is stylish and conveniently located, just 5 min walk to Patong Beach. The rate is around USD 70.00 a night inclusive of a simple breakfast and free Wifi. Highly recommended.

(A bit of update: Just found out this hotel has changed name to The Album Hotel. I thought Tique was a better name. Rates are still the same, but seems a bit difficult to book.)

Phuket - Patong Town

Patong Beach is the most popular destination on Phuket Island, so naturally Patong Town is where you find most of the accommodation and tourist attractions. The town itself is quite small - just 2 main streets running parallel to the beach and lots of smaller lanes in between. The Patong Beach Road is sort of like Kuta in Bali - with lots of small hotels and resorts, pubs, restaurants, shops, tattoo parlours, etc. Most things are quite cheap in Patong, but they are not necessarily the best quality.

During the day Patong Town is kind of quiet. You start to wonder where's everybody ? It only comes alive a night - when tourists come out looking for food and fun. The crowds generally come out around 7.00 p.m., and most places are open till midnight.

Patong Town during the day. Where's everyone ?

Patong Beach Road at night. There are lots of pubs and restaurants along this long stretch of road next to the beach, but be warned that they are mostly tourist traps and prices are quite steep ! I found the seafood pricing generally much higher compared to back home in Malaysia. However the quality of the food is generally very good.

Lots of small shops and street stalls for shopping. Mainly T-shirts, souvenirs and faked goods.

I don't find Patong Town particularly interesting. It is basically a base for exploring the rest of Phuket Island, and some of the smaller islands around.