Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa, Layan Beach, Thailand
Anantara Layan, in a secluded bay beyond the northern tip of Bangtao Beach on Phuket's western coast, is the kind of place every visitor to Thailand dreams of and few of us ever find. Although it's less than half an hour to the international airport, it's the only resort on this stretch of coastline (part of the Sirinath National Park), which means it's not only picturesque; it's also blessedly free of people. So if you fantasise about being the only person (save the occasional waiter toiling over the sand with cocktails) on a white, pine-fringed beach lapped by the turquoise Andaman sea, this could be the resort for you.
Anantara Layan is relatively small as resorts go: only 77 hotel suites and villas positioned along the beach and against the hillside. It's set among typically lush Thai tropical gardens, festooned with flowers – for perhaps the first time in this reviewer's life, there seemed to be a danger of becoming blasé about orchids. Architecture is a mix of traditional Thai palace (rooflines and carvings), Grecian temple (entry pavilions) and in-room Indiana Jones (dark, vaguely art deco-style furniture, ikat print, and subway tiles).
All the villas are at least 100m square, including the private plunge pool. Interiors are beautifully, even excessively decorated; it seems inconceivable that so many magenta-coloured dendrobium petals could be strewn in only one marble bathroom. The mosaic-tiled plunge pool is bordered by a handkerchief of velvety green lawn, around which high, tropical hedges preserve privacy. Thanks to the genuine grace of the Thai staff, the welcoming foot wash ritual (for villa guests) feels caring and restorative rather than embarrassing and awkward; you can also expect to receive a framed photo of your arrival (hopefully post-wash, and therefore smiling beatifically) delivered to your room.
The resort has three dining options, but the breakfasts at Sala Layan must be seen to be believed. Involving several rooms of buffet and a solid phalanx of custom-order chefs, there are at least a hundred different dishes on offer: you could, literally, eat breakfast all day. Anantara's Dining by Design, meanwhile, offers the chance to eat in a specially erected marquee on the beach, complete with candles and dedicated serving staff (more sand, more excellent toiling). And in the case of torrential rain, as we discovered, the whole meal can be seamlessly transferred inside, where the lights of the fishing boats – whose catches feature on the menu – are still visible beyond the bay.
Why you should need to leave the beachfront pool and cocktail bar is a mystery, but if you insist, there are lots of brilliantly non-motorised (ie quiet) watersports on the beach – and, on one occasion, lots of small biting insects. There's also a cooking school and Thai boxing and, God forbid, a fitness centre. The spa is a typically near-religious experience. For children, there's a well-equipped kids' club and babysitting service; for families there are occasional movies on beanbags on the large central lawn. There are also sketchbooks in rooms and towel-art-seminars in which you learn to turn a face washer into an elephant.
Though not as extraordinarily luxurious as some resorts in this part of the world, Anantara Layan is a beautiful and unobtrusive hideaway. It's more upmarket than most resorts that welcome children, and more peaceful. For a tranquil, low-key tropical beach break, with no all-night discos, no jet skis, and no crowds, but a surfeit of food, sleep, and self-indulgence, look no further.
HIGHLIGHT The truly wonderful welcome: foot-massage, refreshing drink, and framed photo.
LOWLIGHT After rain, lake-like puddles form between some villas and the beach, making access a challenge.
168 Moo 6, Layan Beach Soi 4, Cherngtalay, Thalang, Phuket 83110, Thailand
phone: +66 76 317 200; see phuket-layan.anantara.com