This unique 38-villa resort, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels collection, is on the west coast of Phuket near Kamala Beach, which is close, but fortunately not too close, to Patong, the Thai island's seedy beachside nightlife area. Set on a jungle-clad hillside with each strikingly designed villa clinging to it, Keemala is under an hour's drive to and from Phuket's newly refurbished international airport.
Wonderfully kooky, and it gets kookier the longer you stay and the more you discover. On arrival, this reviewer is unsure as to whether he's strolled into the ambitious new Thai al fresco showroom of Dinosaur Designs or onto the set of a modern-day revival of Daktari. Whatever the case, Keemala is a lot of fun and unquestionably unique. All of the one- and two-bedroom villas feature their own plunge pools of varied dimensions, with the design of the resort itself based on the cultures and traditions of four clans of ancient Phuket settlers (which, on further reading, you learn – a tad disappointingly – are entirely fictitious). But, make-believe or not, the clans' characteristics inform the design, architecture and decor of each of the villas and the overall resort. To add to the designer bucolic conceit, Keemala is home to a pink-tinged buffalo which remains unseen during the reviewer's two-night stay.
I've scored a Bird's Nest Pool Villa, one of eight at the resort and Keemala's highest level and most coveted category of accommodation. Since it opened, the photogenic Keemala has attracted considerable attention from foreign travel titles, including some of the leading US glossies, partly due to the striking design of this particular style of villa, which gives the impression of a tree house (or, er, bird's nest) suspended in the jungle. If you count the pool and sundeck, the villa, clad in dark, mahogany-like timbers, is a whopping 185 square metres in size with the infinity-edge pool itself a generous 30 square metres. The spacious separate bathroom includes a monsoon shower and rough-hewn standalone stone bathtub with views of the resort, the Phuket coastline and the Andaman Sea beyond.
Guests can enjoy all-day dining at the excellent, partly al fresco Mala Restaurant, with a menu consisting of Western, Thai and particularly good Indian dishes. Do be sure to snare a spot at the open-air Mala Bar for cocktails at sunset with the potential for drinks to become dinner under the stars. Food and drinks can also be ordered by the pool with in-villa dining also available.
Keemala is an easy place at which to linger but if you do fancy an outing, take the resort's own private tour, guided by a member of staff, to the charming Old Phuket Town on the other side of the island. Consisting of some impressive Sino-Portuguese architecture, Phuket Town is the only colonial-style town of its kind in Thailand, a nation that somehow historically escaped the spread of colonialism that overwhelmed south-east Asia.
Keemala Phuket, with its lavishly appointed fantasy villas, is a hoot. It's a wacky, welcome and cheery change from the much less imaginative and predictable resorts that tend to proliferate on Thai islands such as Phuket.
Doubles for the lowest category Clay Pool one-bedroom cottages start from $525. 10/88 Moo 6, Nakasud Road, Kamala, Phuket. Phone 1800 219 010 for bookings. See slh.com
Anthony Dennis was a guest of Small Luxury Hotels
The resort's imaginative design and fanciful theme, best realised in its villas, distinguish it from other establishments on Phuket, or most other parts of Thailand for that matter.
The ocean views from the resort and its villas and the overall effect is slightly spoilt by some unlovely modern public and private buildings in the near and far distance.
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