After the Sarasin Bridge opened in 1967 connecting Phuket to the Thai mainland, the 1970s and early '80s saw Thailand's biggest island become a haven for adventurous backpackers, many of them Australians, who travelled for 17 hours from Bangkok on rickety buses to stay in simple family-run bungalows on the beach.
Authorities drew up a master plan to get a more congenial kind of tourism happening and Club Med Phuket opened in 1985, forging the island as an international beach destination, kicking off an onslaught of tourism development, and prompting Thai Airways to schedule daily flights to Phuket from Bangkok. A whole new scene was born.
While Club Med resorts in the Maldives, Japan and China reopened late last year after shutting due to COVID, the pioneering Club Med Phuket, like other Club Meds in South-East Asia, remained in mothballs, due to border closures in both the resort destinations and customer countries.
But Thailand is open again and travel is on again for Aussies, Thai Airways is restarting many flights, including Sydney-Phuket direct and the iconic property is set to swing into action again on March 11 – and with improvements.
The 16-hectare, 305-room family-focused resort on Kata Beach now features a newly redesigned main pool area with a new deck facing the sea and four themed zones, one each for kids, adults, activities and leisure.
A new "Tropical Nomad Lifestyle" program includes craft workshops, tropical cuisine, pool parties and a new entertainment set-up for evening dancing.
The menus have also been revamped to feature more traditional specialty Thai dishes in larger buffet spaces and Club Med's Thai street food cart and bars have also had a makeover.
The activities menu has been overhauled, with a new audio-visual show running in the revamped theatre and culture-oriented activities instigated including Thai boxing lessons and Thai cooking classes.
Weekly Thailand Days will feature local performances, Thai markets around the pool, local arts and crafts artisans creating and selling onsite, and themed buffet spreads.
Club Med is also offering Australians free COVID-19 medical assistance coverage for stays at its resorts till December 31. It covers medical and stay expenses in the event of sickness, lockdown or unforeseen quarantine.
From $1345 an adult and $805 a child for seven nights. See Clubmed.com.au