You don't have to buy in to the nightlife of Phuket. Sunday Travel editor Angie Kelly found a peaceful and party-free part of the island.
There are no sleazy bars at Mai Khao Beach. There are no neon lights, touts, scooter shops, boozy crowds or backpackers.
While the island's most popular resort strip of Patong heaves with about 25,000 holidaying Aussies at any given time of year, just 16 kilometres north of the airport an alternate universe awaits.
While the party crowd turns right out of the airport, those seeking spa time, fine food, an art scene, historic architecture and an 11-kilometre strip of undeveloped, business-free beach, turn left.
Tucked inside the Sirinat National Park, on the north-west coast, is a handful of low-rise, boutique resorts where silence and the sand are golden and abundant.
The resorts are totally hidden from the main highway and the dirt-road drive through untouched national park underlines the isolation.
But there's nothing rustic about the Renaissance Resort and Spa, despite its location. We drive through a set of fairly serious security gates and pull up to find an ultra-modern, minimalist foyer warmed by staff who are genuinely smiling and friendly.
In minutes I'm on the back of a golf buggy riding to my private villa set in a thick tropical garden. Style and function marry well here - a soothing blue and neutral palette in up-to-the-minute furnishings meets mod cons, space and lots of glass. Chilling out here will occupy much of my stay once I lay eyes on the dinghy-size bath, outdoor rainshower and my very own plunge pool. Bliss!
Indulgence here is the soul-restoring kind - staying here is about eating well, exercising, chilling in the spa and immersing yourself in calm surroundings (though a couple of monkeys scuttling over my roof one night did their best to rattle my Zen). Healthy menus abound - I ate really memorable local Thai dishes at the hotel's casual fine dining Takieng, where ingredients are sourced daily - but the healthy choices are particularly in evidence in the main dining room Loca Vore.
Celery and pear juice, smoothie concoctions from local exotic fruit, organic breakfast menus and fresh baking are the order of the day. Australian chef Nathan Chilcott, who hails from the Gold Coast but was trained in London by Gordon Ramsay, runs the kitchen. While mindful of Aussie tastes, Chilcott's approach is about showcasing local fare with precision, an eye on presentation and a dash of Aussie humour.
And when you add daily yoga, sunrise bike rides and Thai language lessons, it's a far cry from the discos and wee-hour agenda reigning at the other end of the island.
A session at Quan spa is a must. A few hours here is so relaxing that plans to come back to the resort start forming - the modern design aesthetic best viewed by candlelight from a flower-filled tub.
If daytime is blessedly people-free, that changes at sunset when fellow guests appear and head for the sandy-floored ocean-side bar to watch the sunset. Barefoot, of course.
If curiosity or cabin fever nags (unlikely!), a stroll up the luscious grassy strip to the JW Marriott Hotel bar next door may suffice. Further afield, a trip to Phuket town will yield more authentic Thai food, many examples of historic Portuguese-inspired architecture, art galleries and some particularly interesting museums.
Angie Kelly was a guest of the Renaissance Resort & Spa.
Renaissance Resort & Spa. 555, Moo 3, Mai Khao, Talang, Phuket Island.
Deluxe room rates start at $164 a night plus tax and service charge and includes breakfast for two. Pool garden villa about $410, including breakfast for two; ocean front beach villa $466.
Escape the party crowd
This Greek island is known primarily for two things: beautiful whitewashed buildings set against the blue of the Mediterranean sea, and boisterous nightlife. It doesn't have to be quite so hectic, however. Just a short ferry ride away lies Thirassia, an island that was once part of Santorini until a volcanic eruption cleaved the land in two. Thirassia's permanent inhabitants now number about 300, making it feel a world away from the tourist hustle of nearby Fira. There are only a handful of restaurants here and one hotel. Peaceful doesn't even begin to describe it.
Koh Pha-Ngan, Thailand
There are two ways to "do" Koh Pha-Ngan. One is by staying in a Hat Rin bungalow with thousands of your closest backpacker friends, drinking cheap whisky out of buckets and worshipping the full moon. The other is by getting away from it all. Bottle Beach, on the north side of the island, can only be reached by boat and is consequently a relaxed hideaway from the party goings-on down south. For a hit of luxury, however, try Santhiya Resort and Spa, where a private beach, beautifully decked out villas and the full gamut of spa treatments will make the cycles of the moon irrelevant.
One word: villas. If you're trying to escape the maddening crowds in Bali, to get away from the Bintang singlets and footy games on pub TVs, you have to rent your own villa. There are hundreds to choose from, but our pick of the bunch would be any in the Seminyak area. The town is close enough to Denpasar to make it easily accessible and yet when you're ensconced in your luxury home, tossing up a dip in the private pool or a drink on the beachfront verandah, it will feel like you have Bali all to yourself.
Every Hollywood celebrity and American college spring-breaker knows about Barbados — well, at least one side of it: the hard-partying Platinum Coast. But what goes largely unnoticed to most visitors is the eastern side of the island around Bathsheba, a place where not much happens, and no one much cares. There are only a few boutique resorts here — such as the Atlantis — plus a rugged, largely unswimmable coastline, and the sort of blissed-out vibe the Carribbean is so well known for and yet doesn't often deliver. The east of Barbados is all about life in the slow lane and it's an easy life to get used to.
Most people go to Ibiza for one reason: to party. In the nightclubs, on the beaches and in the streets. But head inland from the heaving beaches to the town of Santa Gertrudis and suddenly everything is different. This is traditional Spain, with whitewashed churches hugging cobbled alleyways. The bars here are populated not by glowstick-waving Englishmen, but by old men who've been coming to these places for decades for their morning coffee and tostadas. The town is also something of an artists' retreat, bringing a creative vibe to an already relaxed destination.
Hamilton Island, Australia
You could stay in the main resort at Hamilton Island, lounging in the pool with other people's kiddies and staying up all night drinking cold ones with salt-encrusted yachties telling tales of the high seas. And you'd probably have a great time doing it. Alternatively, however, you could dig very deep into your pocket and head to the other side of the island to stay at Qualia, Oprah Winfrey's luxury resort of choice. You're unlikely to find any yachties there, but you will find one of the most amazing hotel stays our country has to offer.
Victoria's Bells Beach was used as the setting for the climax of Hollywood blockbuster, Point Break — but the filming actually took place in Oregon and Sunset Beach, Hawaii.