What insider insight can I tell you about Phuket, an island so famous, so popular and so commercial that for decades it’s been consistently voted on “World’s Best Islands” lists and whatever other superlatives you can imagine.
Well here’s a useful bit of info that might astonish people about this famous island. What most Phuket residents know, and mostly everyone else doesn’t know is that not that many of the island’s hundreds of hotels are actually situated on a beach. Mwaaaahahahahaha!
How do I know this? I live in Bangkok and am pretty familiar with Phuket. It’s only a one hour flight from Bangkok after all. But imagine if you were a tourist from icy Canada arriving for a much needed winter vacation, this might come as a bit of a let down if you hadn’t researched your accommodations properly.
I’ve noticed that some hotel website can be misleading too. For example, I see some hotels in bustling Patong claim that the hotel is just “steps” from the beach, which is technically true, but they don’t mention that those steps have to cross a crowded, noisy city pavement and a main road filled with traffic between the hotel and the beach.
Some hotels also might advertise sea views which are actually a thin blue stripe in the distance as the hotel is on a hill several kms’ drive away from any beach.
Some hotels are located on the sea, but on a cliff with no beach, just a shuttle van to the nearest beach which is 10 minute’s drive away. I could go on, but you get the idea. So if you’re looking for a beachside room, make sure you research your hotel’s location if you haven’t been to Phuket before.
A few newer hotels are building north of island on the mainland just across the bridge, which has beautiful unspoilt beaches and complete privacy because basically there’s nothing else out there.
This is the location of the Aleenta Resort Phuket, a chic boutique hotel with streamlined contemporary design and five-star fine dining from a European chef with Michelin credentials. The hotel is located right on wide, beautiful and unspoilt Natai Beach where you can go on beach walks in all directions undisturbed.
Aleenta Phuket’s pool suites and pool villas are located right on the beach, so you can walk straight onto the beach from your villa. There are also unique ocean view pool lofts in a high rise building. The resort also manages three separate luxury private villas on Natai Beach which can be rented and are popular for private parties and weddings.
I normally wouldn’t think of staying on Natai Beach, but was curious to try the Aleenta Resort Phuket as I’d heard many good things about their property in Pranburi, another remote beach location near Hua Hin, located about three hours’ drive from Bangkok.
I loved our big, airy penthouse loft as soon as we stepped in and saw the 2-storey sea views and the high ceilinged space with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, family-size dining table, office, and sun deck with a generous pool overlooking the sea. I see why they call this suite a “loft residence” because it does feel like an apartment, not hotel rooms.
It was easy to laze in our suite and luxuriate in the space and privacy, but we had to venture out for meals and some beach time.
One night we had a sumptuous dinner in the resort’s elegant The Edge fine dining restaurant located on the beach. Alex the friendly young chef came out to talk to us and recommend dishes. It goes without saying that dinner was delicious, and each dish looked just like the fancy artsy creations you see on the Food Channel chef shows.
I’d eaten a big snack at tea time not long before dinner, so I was easily stuffed and tried to cancel my dessert. To my alarm this brought a concerned Alex out of the kitchen, straight to our table to ask if everything was okay and then insisted that I couldn’t miss out on the special delights he was preparing that were coming my way.
Yes I managed to eat the whole thing, and showed Alex the empty plate afterwards when he came out again to check up on things after the meal. Alex is very enthusiastic about food, enjoys chatting with guests, and pays a lot of attention to his diners. He informed us that Aleenta does its best to provide organic, sustainable, and locally sourced produce for its kitchens.
Some of the other guests ate at The Edge restaurant every night, exploring the fancy gourmet cuisine, but we wanted some home-style Thai seafood, so a couple of nights we decided to venture out to some local restaurants.
One night we tried the nearest Thai seafood restaurant, which was on the waterfront near the bridge about 15 minutes’ car ride away. Another night we tried to find a particular beach restaurant for a sunset seafood dinner on Phuket which became a frustrating two-hour drive, going around in circles only to find the restaurant closed and the beach pitch dark when we finally, finally found the place.
The long stretch of beach is perfect for quiet beach walks and one morning I got up early enough to go before breakfast (going anywhere before breakfast is a big deal for me). The beach stretched endlessly in both directions so we decided to walk north, for what seemed like a boiling hot eternity to me.
We didn’t see any other hotels along this beach, only private villas in various ambitious styles of architecture, some of them ludicrously out of synch with the environment. We passed a big, white New England-style country house that would have looked more at home in The Hamptons with Martha Steward carrying a basket of apples, instead of plunked here among the coconut trees in Phuket.
It became too hot and sweaty for me as the sun rose higher, and I eagerly turned back to the hotel and breakfast, which was my favourite meal there.
The breakfast menu is simple but generous. Each a la carte breakfast dish was accompanied by a stacked tray with pastries, cold cuts, cheese and fruit. The breakfast buffet was also small and simple, with a generous fruit spread. This is where I discovered rice milk, which was rich and creamy, and absolutely delicious.
The Aleenta Phuket’s Ayurah Spa is discreetly tucked away down some stairs and around a corner. My spa session was an oil massage with chromotherapy bath, which was a sunken Jacuzzi in its own dark windowless room. I sat in the frothy bubbling tub while coloured lights changed all around me.
I normally don’t like windowless rooms, but this bath was unexpectedly enjoyable, with all that soft, fragrant foam frothing around. I liked it! The bath was followed by an oil massage. Spa sessions are always relaxing but the chromotherapy must have had some special effect because I felt amazingly lighthearted and happy when I came out of the treatment.
The next morning at breakfast I was even gushing about the spa treatment to another guest, a young Australian mother who was all agog until we were raucously interrupted by her screaming toddler who threw herself between us, banged on her mother’s knees and dragged the harassed mother away to feed the carp in the lily pond. ( I love kids, but not so much when they’re piercing your eardrums before the first sip of morning coffee).
I also tried the oxygen therapy, This is where you sit in a comfortable dark room inhaling oxygen from a tube, just like the ones in the hospital, but in a nicer room. I’ll do anything if it’ll give me more energy and make me feel rejuvenated, but I was also intrigued by the oxygen room.
Once in the session though, there’s not much to do but stare at the circular tank in the middle of the room, which was glowing in the dark and was empty. I was told it was meant to be a jellyfish tank but it wasn’t working at the moment, so it was just a fishless tank of water. I don’t know if they’ve fixed it since then, or if the tank is still empty. I would recommend anyone doing this to do so after a very big meal, so you can take a nap while you’re inhaling the oxygen. And please don’t bring your phone and do emails and watch movies as that would defeat the purpose of relaxing your mind in a quiet space.
There’s a boutique where I enjoyed browsing through some beautiful resortwear and swimsuits. There’s even a colourful kiddy play area. The hotel manager told me that the resort originally was meant as a couple’s romantic getaway, but as it time passed, most of the couples became repeat guests who started having babies and bringing their young families back here. So the resort adapted to be more kid-friendly and grew along with its guests.
How’s that for a place you where can be on holiday and feel at home?
Have you been to Aleenta Phuket? How was your experience there?