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A long plane flight gives you a great perspective on the world, in the same way a good martini does, or a lungful of smoke from a prize Cohiba cigar.
This rare pause to reflect during my journey from London to Phuket provided time to consider the fabulous options available to me on this Thai odyssey. From cookery classes and Thai boxing instruction to luxury boat trips, I wanted to cram as many experiences as I could into just a few days.
Next to me, a couple of gap year types chattered away about their three month plan for seeing Thailand, and I couldn’t help but feel envious of their extended stay. Those endless, carefree days of days of my youth felt so long away. Then I heard them discussing how they wouldn’t be able to afford the extra 50p per day per room for their own toilet. Suddenly, age, guile and a couple of credit cards looked a far better deal than youth, irresponsibility and a bad haircut.
I left them outside the airport haggling over a taxi fare while I slipped into an air-conditioned 4x4, which whisked me off to my tropical paradise.
Trisara is a handsome boutique property, situated north of the busy coastal tourist zone of Phuket, in the area of Nai Thon beach. And while it’s a convenient 15 minute transfer from the airport, the 40 minute drive to Phuket ensures that the majority of its residents are here to relax, as opposed to hitting the town’s notorious all night Patong area until the early hours. Indeed, a sense of peace pervades the entire resort, the only sound being the chatter of birds and the whisper of wind through its many palm trees. As I gazed out at the setting sun, casting fiery flickers over my villa’s private 10-metre infinity pool, I felt the rigours of a 20 hour journey slip away.
Now, everyone has a rigid Standard Operating Procedure when it comes to first entering a hotel room or villa, and I am no different. Shoes off, jump on bed, establish comfiness (very high), check out bathroom (clean, contemporary, lots of fluffy towels, ridiculously large bath, indoor and outdoor shower), sip complimentary drink (lemongrass and ginger tea) while lolling about on the bed, flicking through the TV channels and reading the hotel’s welcome pack guide (great food recommendations + no spelling mistakes=Winner).
Wandering on to the teak sundeck, with its stunning view of the Andaman Sea, I’m struck by the sheer level of privacy that a Trisara pool villa provides. Although there are villas to my left and right, they cannot see me, and I can’t see them. Even the hotel staff has to use a doorbell and then come in to the property by a side entrance, so that they cause as little disturbance as possible. Very handy if you’re the type who likes to take a dip ‘au naturel’, as it were.
Dinner that night was taken on the expansive outdoor deck, surrounded by lazily swaying coconut palms. Service was whip smart, but understated. There was none of that ‘hushed temple of gastronomy’ nonsense – the place was high end and offered fine dining, for sure, but relaxed enough that you could happily put your elbows on the table or drop a fork on the floor without fear of the whole place staring at you in silent reproach.
Prawns, chicken and the shredded red buds of the banana tree, among other things, went into my dinner, but its brilliance, as with all the best Thai dishes, lay in the complexity of its seasonings - sour in the front of the mouth (tamarind pulp), fiery in the back (dried chilies), and sweetly nutty at the top (coconut cream). Eating it left me reeling with pleasure.
There was also wonderful Tom Kha Gai, that vibrant chicken soup. Hot, rich and sharp, it owed everything to the liltingly fresh, vividly perfumed lemon grass, holy basil, coriander, coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves that flavored it, along with the obligatory chili. A contended burp and a coffee signaled to the staff that I was ready to hit the hay.
The next day, after eating some of the finest pain au chocolate I’ve had outside Paris, courtesy of Trisara’s in-house bakery team, I decided to find a local Thai boxing gym and do a little training.
I got there at 7am, and stood around nervously sipping water; stretching and watching the other pupils arrive. When one particularly fierce-looking chap turned up, all tattoos, muscles, short and squat – like an attack hamster – I sing-sang under my breath “Oh God, I’m dead”. The Aussie pupil next to me glanced up at this and then moved away. No one wants to stand next to the class’s weedy bloke.
The gym was as spartan as Russ’s conversation. Just a ring, some weight machines, lots of punch bags and a roof. The sides were open, allowing muggy air to circulate and passers-by to look in on the action.
Still, at least I could drag my aching body back to a beautiful hotel, as opposed to the small wooden huts next to the gym, where most of the fighters stayed.
While my fellow fighters wrestled with damp sheets and weak room fans, I could lie back on Egyptian cotton, watching movies on widescreen TV and pumping the air con up to US shopping mall levels of chill.
“I feel a bit guilty,” I said in a Skype call home to my wife. “But only a bit.”
My reasoning was that, actually, I had it far tougher than those living at the Muay Thai camp in their wooden huts. They were roused from their bed at 6am by a bloke banging a gong. I had to get myself up and motivated enough to skip Trisara’s excellent breakfast options – offering everything from faultless full English to Thai curry – and drive my sorry self down to the gym. I was the one with the willpower. Those tattooed pro fighters had it easy.
The next morning saw me skip the boxing to take one of the hotel’s Thai cookery classes. Held in the resort’s vast kitchens, and run by an incredibly patient Thai chef, I was schooled in the art of creating a sweet and sour prawn soup, Thai green curry and, my personal favourite, Pad Thai. The fact that I then had to sit down and eat all of this for my lunch, meant that any energetic activity was also off the menu for the rest of the afternoon.
Instead, the super-efficient reception team organised a last minute boat trip for me to the James Bond island, known locally as Ko Tapu, a stunning spot made famous in the 1974 film The Man With The Golden Gun.
There are lots of mysterious things about boats, such as why anyone would get on one voluntarily. It all seems like terrifically hard work. Head to any marina of a weekend and you’ll see hordes of amusement-seekers setting up folding chairs and spending an afternoon watching boat owners perform comical maneuvers such as forgetting to put their brake on and seeing their car roll down the ramp into the sea. Any honest boat owners would agree that, definitely, putting your boat into the water is asking for trouble. Most of them have had their boats sitting in their driveways long enough to be registered historical landmarks.
Given my clear misgivings about all things sea-faring, the knowledge that there would be a Trisara-supplied lunch on a far-flung beach, with a view of some of the world’s most impressive stalactites and stalagmites, helped clinch it for me. This was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. It’s a truly breathtaking area so, if anyone asks you whether you’d like to take a boat trip to Phang Nga, ‘yes’ is the only appropriate answer. Oh, and if there’s a better feeling than sipping on a chilled Chablis while eating a lobster, bacon and avocado club sandwich on a deserted beach, as your personal motor launch bobs about in the turquoise sea, then I’ve yet to find it.
In a decade of hotel reviewing, the one question people always ask me is ‘where the best place you’ve stayed?’ I’ve always fudged the answer a bit, mentioning two or three lovely spots. Trisara has given me the definitive answer. Seriously, it’s that good. Stay here.
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