Cape Panwa Hotel, Phuket
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a quiet corner of Phuket yet somehow Cape Panwa, one of the first luxury properties on the island, remains largely free from the hordes. At the southern tip of Phuket's east coast, the resort sits atop a cliff affording beautiful views of the Andaman Sea. Its beach is one of the best on the island, free of hawkers and protected from the westerly wind. For many years it was the only resort in the area and regular guests (many of whom have been coming for decades) say in the early days the water was crystal clear with a beautiful reef for snorkelling. Monkeys and even a sea otter used to visit. It is still beautiful today, but now Cape Panwa is flanked by luxury resorts.
Built on a former coconut plantation, the all-white Cape Panwa Hotel exudes colonial charm with Cape Panwa, a magnificent Sino-Portuguese style mansion on the beach, and Panwa Lodge, a white Sino-Portuguese bungalow tucked between jungle and coconut palms.
The low-rise property blends in with the natural beauty of the cape and the bay, although the resort is somewhat of a mixed bag design-wise. All 205 rooms were refurbished about five years ago, followed by a new ocean-themed lobby and the Bamboo Bar. There are two pools; the main one is refurbished, while a smaller beachfront one could do with a spruce-up. A cute funicular ferries guests between the lobby and the beach.
All of the resort's tasteful guest rooms are sea facing with private balconies and a day bed. There are eight accommodation types, ranging from the 53-square-metre junior suites to Pool Villas, and at the top end, the chic two-bedroom, two-bathroom Cape Absolute Suite – a sprawling glass-encased penthouse offering 360-degree views. We stay in a 78-square-metre Cape Signature suite with a large balcony and sea views over lush tropical foliage. We can see the entire 300-metre stretch of beach to neighbouring Sri Panwa. The room is spacious and contemporary with white walls, dark wood panelling above the bed and a sisal rug.
Between them, Cape Panwa and sister property the Kantary Bay Hotel (self-contained apartments suitable for long stays) offer 10 food outlets. Top of the Reef is the resort's signature restaurant with a focus on seafood. The head waiter will whip up a caesar salad or crepes suzette at your table – totally old school. Adjacent, the Otter's Bar is a nice spot for a sundowner, although we preferred sitting on the outside deck (if you are inside the men need to wear long pants). The Lighthouse is a cute novelty pub with a dartboard, live music and a nautical feel. You need to eat at least once at Panwa House just to marvel at the architecture of this former coconut plantation house with its stunning elaborate tiled verandah overlooking the sea. Breakfast is a busy buffet affair; however, the charming staff offer terrific service.
If you are a flop-and-drop kind of traveller, you will be in heaven here. Many guests, most of whom are retirees, spend the best part of the day relaxing under a palm tree. The resort offers Thai cooking classes, private yoga classes or you can hire one of the resort's two private yachts, Panwa Princess and Panwa Princess II for a sail to Coral or Racha Island. The resort also hosts Phuket Race Week, the biggest annual event on the island's nautical calendar.
A lovely spa at the hotel entrance delivers heavenly massages, while Tim Laven, the guest relations manager, knows everything about Phuket (ask him about the street art in Phuket Town), and doubles as the resort's unofficial kids club. Dinner next door at Sri Panwa's Baba Soul is a must. Our daughter devoured dishes I would never have thought possible for an eight-year-old – deep fried shiitake mushrooms, crispy pork with chicken broth, fiery duck salad. Book a table and they will pick you up and deliver you home in a tuk-tuk.
This is a much loved, classic resort that has played host to everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio, Pierce Brosnan and Elizabeth Taylor. It is best suited to those wanting a quiet, affordable holiday away from the craziness that can be Phuket.
27, 27/2, Mu, Sakdidej Rd, Wichit, Mueang Phuket. From $175 a night for two including breakfast and Wi-Fi. See capepanwa.com
Early-morning swims at Cape Panwa Beach, and the gorgeous Thai staff (Supattra in particular).
The kids' games room and playground are looking a little tired.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Cape Panwa Hotel.