Pick the right place and Phuket can still be paradise – but hurry!
Phuket has long been the destination for those seeking long lazy days on white sand beaches and lively night life. Patong beach, on the west coast, is the result and a warning for the future. This largely overcrowded area is rammed with beach bars, restaurants, shops, noisy motorbikes and honking cars. If that’s what you’re looking for, look no further but if you prefer a touch of tranquillity, style and luxury, then look elsewhere in Phuket and you’ll love it.
Phuket is the biggest island in Thailand, in the Andaman Sea off southern Thailand. It’s now undergoing considerable development with the idea of swelling tourist numbers – but does it have the capacity and natural resources to cope in the future, we wonder?
Phuket is still undoubtedly charming and the islands off its coast still a beautiful draw for anyone wanting to escape to idyllic climes – so if you’re thinking of heading that way, do so in the next year or so before it all goes Patong.
At the moment Phuket is an island of two halves – the frenetic and the fantastic.
We’d selected Twinpalms Phuket, on Surin Beach , a few bays north of Patong and well away from the crowds but still with sufficient life for it to be attractive.
In the same way as the island presents two faces – but perhaps by design – so does Twinpalms Phuket. It’s a delight!
After a long and arduous flight we were feeling jaded and although our smart limousine from Twinpalms Phuket made light work of the forty-five minute transfer from the airport to Surin beach (past haphazard street wiring and ads promoting the highly dubious pastime of cuddling tigers), our first impression as we arrived at the road in which Twinpalms Phuket is situated wasn’t inspiring. To our left was a coach and car park with glimpses of a beach, ahead was a Novotel and to our right a blank wall. Entering the driveway of Twinpalms Phuket we were confronted by a grand but austere and colourless Thai pagoda entrance that suggested we’d arrived at just another large hotel.
Our cases were swiftly transferred to a trolley and we were told to forget them – we took this as a positive comment!
Ushered to a seat under the pagoda, in front of reception, we were immediately offered scented cold towels, bracelet of fresh flowers and a glass of champagne – things were looking up.
Early for our room, we were invited to spend a little time in the air conditioned library but elected to go for breakfast instead – but not before we’d been asked to choose the fragrance (lemon grass, yiang yiang or sandalwood), flowers (Jasmine, Orchids or Lotus) and pillows (duck down, buckwheat or contour massage) we’d like for our room each day.
As we walked from reception to the restaurant we caught sight of a view that suddenly transformed our world from black and white to full colour. Apparently it was the intention of the Swedish owners of Twinpalms Phuket to transport their guests dramatically from the ordinary into paradise – it works!
Stretching away from us, framed in the temple-style Thai pagoda framework of the reception was a long palm-fringed pool with verdant surrounds, another feature pagoda at the pool-end and glimpses of poolside accommodation bordering this highly inviting scene.
With spirits immediately lifting we were shown to breakfast, past a white jacketed staff member cutting fresh fruit for the series of juicers in front of him and to the veranda where we were invited to order coffee from a bewildering list of choices and to help ourselves to the buffet breakfast where chefs also prepared food to order.
Jeab, our waitress (and apparently ‘head of breakfast’) was ‘all over it’ by being quickly efficient and ever-helpful, becoming a reliable spirit over the next few days who kept us happy and her team on their toes. Champagne and iced coffee for breakfast are an easy habit to fall into!
It was soon time to show us to our room and we gratefully meandered along the pool side to our Deluxe Pool Room. Again, at first glance on entering, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re just in another five-star room with its rather plain, matter-of-fact furnishings and facilities – until you draw back the curtains and step out onto your own private deck and dip your toes into a ‘moat’ of sparkling water that separates you from the main pool. Returning to the room we walk behind the large bed and into a spacious ‘his and hers’ bathroom and a shower room that ends in a floor to ceiling glass wall overlooking a stone-strewn light well.
The twin faces of Twinpalms Phuket continues throughout our stay – a constant, ‘Oh, not sure; followed by Oh, my goodness that’s nice!
Without doubt, however, our stay becomes a wonderful mix of relaxation and activity that gives us no hesitation in recommending Twin Palms to anyone.
Twinpalms Phuket’s twin faces for us, were – wonderful staff (especially interns Chiara and Marina) but local ones not always so easily understood; superb breakfast buffet choices but on a veranda that overlooks a coach park (which could so easily be screened from view); children allowed but they were fortunately never intrusive; efficient pool bar but not very atmospheric; lovely touch of complimentary fresh fruit cut to order daily in the wine room with a really rusty door panel showing on the mezzanine!
A gripe of ours, which is common to most hotels, is that there is seldom enough space provided for two open full-size suitcases. There is often a wardrobe but if you’re touring and only at a place for 1-3 nights then unpacking/repacking becomes a chore. Ideally a separate dressing room with adequate space for cases/wardrobes would be ideal to avoid utilising bedroom floor space.
Overall, any reservations with Twinpalms Phuket were trivial by comparison with the overall effect of such a lovely location and the staff proved intuitive and remarkably clever in retaining preferences in their minds for successive visits to facilities, or overcoming problems, rather than ignoring them (‘Would you like Tiger beer sir; as you had two days ago here at the pool?’ On another occasion the house phone for room service was faulty but we were called back from another location to fulfill our request)
Evenings were magical as we sat with a G&T on our deck, dangling our toes in our own pool and listening to the burbling of water and chirruping of cicadas. Over the three days we were at Twinpalms Phuket we eventually, reluctantly, pulled ourselves away from the beautiful pool area and forced ourselves to leave the hotel to visit the sights and taste the alternative dining of the area.
James Bond Island and Phang Nga Bay
A ‘must see’ Phang Nga Bay, to the northeast of Phuket, is simply beautiful and if you time it right to avoid the main rush of tourists then you’ll see a collection of attractions that aren’t swamped by people until you stop for lunch at the floating island of Koh Panyee – where the sheer volume of people is actually part of the atmosphere.
We travelled by fast flat bottomed cabin cruiser with Laguna Tours (minus any safety briefing or indication where the lifejackets might be) in a small group of ten (you can hire your own traditional private boat if you wish) to Phanak Island with its dramatic limestone cave ‘rooms’ which we canoed around and under with a guide; Thalu Island with its stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations in hidden caverns;
Ko Khao Phing Kan – now more popularly, ‘James Bond Island’ since featuring in ‘Man with the Golden Gun’ (its busy but you can’t help but be fascinated). From the beach, you can always get the photo you want as access around the monolith by boat is restricted). Bond’s seaplane of the movie has unfortunately long been replaced by a phalanx of souvenir stalls – you’ll be shaken not stirred!
An excellent and substantial lunch and a stroll around the floating village of Koh Panyee, followed by a ride to Naka Island for R&R, swim and doze on the beach with a beer, before a swift return to the marina will complete your tour. All-in-all, it’s a good day out in Ao Phang Nga National Park.
Palm Seafood Restaurant, Bang Tao Bay
This belongs to Twinpalms Phuket but if we had any reservations about the partisan recommend they were immediately dispelled on our arrival at this beautiful evening venue that owes as much to Miami chic as it does to Thai cuisine.
White canopy-covered sunken seating pods around the central pool are overlooked by peripheral seating under more substantial pergolas which reflect the dancing flames of braziers and the shimmering waters where fishing canoes bob in the setting sun.
No canned Muzac here – a ‘DJ’ crafts a superb selection of modern and classic Blues/Jazz/Ballads, from Tracy Chapman and Sade to Adele, Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald that really enhance the atmosphere and perfectly set the scene for fine dining.
We had a ‘tasting menu’ that seemed to go on forever with an array of stunning flavours from Shrimp cakes and spring rolls as appetisers, Thom Yam Goong, spicy prawn soup – so freshly cooked with ginger, lemon grass, curry leaves and chilli that it packed a really distinctive but not excessive punch that’s never found in pre-prepared food; fresh deep-fried White Snapper with sweet and sour sauce accompanied by diced and marinated vegetables; Crab fried rice and Phad pug Ruam – deep fried vegetables with oyster sauce. We finished by moving to the beachfront with a coconut ice-cream served in a fresh coconut half with slivers of fresh coconut. The improbably nicknamed ‘Patrick’ (his Thai name was totally unintelligible to us and obviously many others) was outstanding with his advice, service and humour – a real credit to the restaurant.
The wines are from all nations and not silly prices. Service was excellent, the kitchens spotless (we sneaked a peek and a pic through the service hatch) and a shuttle service runs you back to the Twinpalms Phuket, just ten minutes away, when you’re ready.
Not that we often comment on washrooms but the styling and ‘open to the air’ greenery section behind the covered main area was novel, attractive and noteworthy.
Even though we were here in high season, such is the restaurant layout that it didn’t seem busy. Find your way here – wherever you choose to stay in Phuket.
Baan Rim Pa Restaurant, Kalim
It’s as near to Patong beach as we wanted to get and the stunning setting of this traditional teak house Thai restaurant overlooks the hoards at a sufficient distance for you to be totally unaware of them at this quiet northern end of the bay.
Recommended to us by Marina of Twinpalms Phuket, Bann Rim Pa is situated on the side of the cliff directly over the water.
Every table has a magnificent panoramic view and the freshly, perfectly prepared, tasty food that we selected from an extensive menu is only marred by having to endure the ‘special attraction’ of a live pianist playing the full repertoire of ‘The Sound of Music’! This (music and restaurant) is especially popular with Thai locals, as opposed to tourists, of whom we saw none during our visit.
Catch and Bimi Beach Clubs
NOTE: 27.04.16 We have been informed that both Catch and Bimi have now been closed indefinitely. According to a Press release by Twinpalms:
‘The closure of Catch and BIMI comes as part of a government drive to honor the Thai Royal family by removing all businesses and returning the beach to its ‘virgin’ state…. Surin Beach’s incredible natural beauty was first revealed to the world when Thailand’s Royal family visited the beach in the 1950s. It has become the go-to spot for everyone from artists to aristocrats in the years since…by early of June 2016, HQ Beach Lounge a new beachfront sensation is set to open on Kamala Beach.’
There are other top-end hotels on Phuket but we felt that the array of choices, the novel accommodation, outstanding and friendly service and the choice of cuisines both within and nearby made this a great choice. Twinpalms Phuket will also arrange all of your tours or travel around the islands if you wish.
So for us – think Phuket; think Twinpalms Phuket
Why not download the TLC World guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to submit your own personal itinerary request
Other useful contacts and website links:
Laguna Tours – various boat hire options