An integrated resort provides an escape from Phuket's mayhem, writes Julie Miller.
Several years ago, I stayed at the old Sheraton Grande at the Laguna complex at Bang Tao Bay on Phuket's west coast. It was nice, if a little staid, but at the time, the concept of a "gated community" seemed anathema in such a vibrant island destination.
But times change; and so has Phuket. And nearly 30 years after Laguna Resorts and Hotels took over an abandoned tin mine at Bang Tao Bay to create Asia's first integrated resort, Laguna Phuket has finally come into its own.
Back in 1984, the waterfront site resembled a moonscape, littered with discarded machinery and with soil so denuded it was written off by a United Nations Development Plan team as being "too environmentally damaged to have any development potential".
The consortium's leader, Banyan Tree owner Ho Kwon Ping, was not deterred, investing US$200 million to bring the site back to life. His vision showed remarkable foresight, with a focus on sustainability long before it became a catchphrase. Trees were planted to attract birds, while a lagoon - once the mining crater - was stocked with marine life. Working with the local community, Bang Tao Bay was cleaned up and is today one of the most pristine beaches on the coast.
The result is a true sanctuary from the mayhem that Phuket has become: tranquil, relaxed, pretty and clean. Six luxury hotels offer accommodation to suit all budgets; while there is also a residential complex, a golf club and a shopping village.
As the most exclusive of the Laguna hotels, Banyan Tree Phuket adds another dimension to the concept of "haven". This all-villa resort is divided into three sections: the main part, with 135 luxurious villas, restaurants, a spa complex, fitness centre and golf club; the Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary, a wellness retreat with the emphasis on romance, relaxation and revitalisation; and the DoublePool Villas by Banyan Tree, lavishly appointed villas resembling private estates.
My visit to the Banyan Tree Spa Sanctuary unfortunately occurred during monsoon season - but weather is no obstacle when you're staying in absolute luxury, and there's nothing quite like enjoying a tropical storm in your own private pool that's big enough to swim laps. There is also a jacuzzi and a pavilion with twin massage beds.
Inside there's a separate living space, a massive dressing area and bathroom featuring a shower/steam room, and an outdoor bathtub. The bedroom is a true work of art, built around a lotus pond showcased by floor to ceiling glass walls. It's insanely beautiful. All this before the extras included in the package: in-villa massage, a wellness consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, yoga classes and daily high tea in the lobby.
The writer was a guest of Banyan Tree and Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Banyan Tree Phuket, at Bang Tao Bay. Email email@example.com.
Tourism Authority ofThailand, thailand.net.au.