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Soft strains from a khim, a classic Thai stringed instrument, enveloped me as I stepped into the cool, circular lobby of the Movenpick Resort and Spa on Karon Beach in the south-western coast of Phuket. Three men and a lovely lady eagerly waited for me at the reception area and in no time, ushered me to a meeting room for a briefing. Very efficient. Very warm. Very fast. Very Swiss. Very Thai.
The reception team was led by General Manager Hansruedi Frutiger (a bit stern at first but with a twinkle in his eye), Sales and Marketing Director Craig Fong (all business), Food and Beverage Director
Carlos Sanchez Vizan (warm handshake, infectious smile) and Assistant Marketing Communications Manager Napaporn Phandee (very formal). The formalities lasted less than ten minutes. By the time I left the briefing room, we were all on a first name basis. In the next two days Hans, Craig, Carlos and Pu would treat me as a friend of the house and show me the true meaning of Swiss hospitality steeped in Thai tradition.
An electric-powered buggy took me down a narrow winding path to a secluded corner of the resort where my room was located. It was a Plunge Pool Villa, a luxuriously spacious haven with a huge bathroom, king-sized bed, complete amenities and sliding doors that allowed the bedroom to open up onto – lo and behold – a private terrace with my own plunge pool! As I surveyed my villa, I realized I had to make a tough choice. East or West? Eventually, I went for the dark and white Swiss chocolates instead of the fruit basket which beckoned a sweet welcome as they sat on my bedside table.
Carlos met me at the Pacifica for lunch. This exceptional restaurant is famous for its generous breakfast buffets, a la carte lunches, theme dinners and all-day international dishes. I settled for a light salad and fruit juice and watched guests from Australia to Austria sunning themselves or working up an appetite on the resort’s main swimming pool. Carlos comes from Spain and has quite an impressive list of experiences, from Switzerland to Phnom Penh. “All of our food and beverage systems, all of our planning and operations are all designed to elicit one word from our guests,” Carlos informed me. “That word is wow.” While he admitted that Movenpick has to maintain consistency and high standards, he pointed out that the staff is always challenged to come up with surprises for their guests, especially those who keep coming back and finding something new alongside the familiar brand of service they have gotten used to.
Right after lunch, Marketing officer Napaporn Phandee took over. Fondly called Pu by her colleagues, this charming lady has a unique way of showing me the various accommodations of her resort. It has something to do with what she calls “the circle of life where people start as friends, become engaged and decide to become a married couple and finally build a family”. For these purposes, Movenpick has prepared 175 newly renovated rooms at the main building and more than 150 suites and villas that offer idyllic tranquility and class comfort. “Let’s say you want to have a great time with friends,” Pu said, “Then you may want to stay at the De Luxe Garden or Ocean View Rooms or the De Luxe Villas. As you fall in love and decide to get married, you can have an unforgettable wedding at the Lagoon Lawn and spend your honeymoon at our very private De Luxe Pool Rooms, De Luxe Garden Villas or the Plunge Pool Villas. Couples looking for romance can cozy up at the Penthouse Plunge Pool Villas. And with a growing family, you may want to stay at the butler-serviced Residences or the Family Villas which are two interconnected Garden Villas.” No need to worry about the kids. The resort has The Play Zone, Phuket’s largest club for youngsters and teens, with a whole range of indoor and outdoor activities. Pu’s interesting tour answered my question regarding guests of all ages, from young couples to extended families splashing around in the pool or talking silent walks along the resort’s gardens, all of whom seemed to be enjoying a stage in their lives in the most memorable setting they could find.
Mid-afternoon found me having a cup of espresso with GM Hans Frutiger. This Swiss gentleman has two important priorities aside from efficiently running Movenpick Resort and Spa. “First, I would like to inspire the Thais and guide them in the pursuit of the standards set by the global organization,” Frutiger said. “Second is my concern for the environment. Conscious efforts are put into segregation, recycling and waste water treatment systems, among others.”
In dealing with local talent, Frutiger believes that one has to be fully aware of the sensibilities of each person and working in harmony with the culture and innate sense of hospitality of Thailand’s most important tourism assets, which are its people. Frutiger has this knack of popping up during my lunches, dinners or walks in the resort, making sure I get a VIP treatment, making me feel at home with his signature twinkle in the eye and his aura of efficiency tempered with a genuine gift of hospitality.
A chilled bottle of white wine was waiting for me as I stepped onto the balcony of El Gaucho, the resort’s Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouse). Hans and Carlos were on hand to accompany me in enjoying the glorious sunset over the Andaman Sea and to see to it that I bite my way through a succulent selection of 15 prime cuts served hot from the grill, stuck on a sword and sliced onto my plate. Maybe five or six helpings of beef, lamb, chicken, pork or seafood, but not fifteen as advertised! The juicy portions went well with side dishes of grilled vegetables and buttered rice washed down with an excellent red wine. Nobody walks out of El Gaucho hungry, they say. I was not just stuffed – I was feeling quite the VIP they wanted me to be!
The day was almost over and it was time to kick back and enjoy some live music and a few more drinks before bedtime. Right below El Gaucho is the Sand Bar where they serve superb cocktails and delights from the Pizzeria, which turns out authentic favorites from its wood-fired oven. The regular band composed of Filipino musicians Nestor Ricafort, Jay Balacy and Maryanne Flores with Thai bassist Tanakorn Pholsap expertly dished out covers of Sting, the Eagles and other favorites to the delight of the crowd of Europeans and Asians seated in couches and day beds spread out on the sandy compound.
I wasn’t sure whether it was excitement, fatigue or a combination of the two but I needed comfort food before I hit the sack, so I called room service and asked for a steaming bowl of tom yum goong. That’s right – a classic Thai soup at midnight. That, for me, was a great way to end an awesome day.
The following morning, I had to drag myself out of my dreams and my soft bed in time for breakfast at the Pacifica and the day’s scheduled tour. I found Carlos nursing a plate of watermelon as I sat down with my usual power breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit and toast. Carlos reminded me that my fatigue and hangover will definitely go away once I go through the resort’s spa treatment. He was right.
Nestled in a lush garden and adorned with authentic Thai sculptures, fountains and cabanas, The Spa promised sheer, unadulterated indulgence. I was given one of their therapists, who demonstrated her well-practiced art of kneading, stroking, stretching and soothing. Next thing I knew, I was being shaken awake – the therapist was concerned about me falling into a slumber so deep it would take a herd of Thai elephants to wake me up!
It was almost noon and in spite of the tall trees and thick foliage, the tropical heat was beating down my neck. Fortunately, I was scheduled to have lunch at the Café Studio where they serve the world-famous Movenpick Ice Cream. An internet café cum library, the Café Studio serves cakes, pastries, sandwiches and of course, Movenpick Ice Cream with flavors ranging from premium vanilla, Swiss chocolate blended with caramelized walnuts and maple syrup to passion fruit and mango sorbet. I chose a turkey sandwich to go with my sorbet and slowly savored the sweet, tangy and milky concoction with my light and healthy lunch for the day.
Free and easy! The afternoon schedule finally allowed me to soak in my private plunge pool. I grabbed a chilled can of beer from the mini bar, slipped into my shorts and slid into the pool for an hour of relaxation. With the sound system and television off, I allowed the chirping of birds to lull me to relaxation as I sipped my beer and soaked in quiet luxury.
Finally, at a farewell dinner at the Orient Asia, I extended my thanks to Hans and Carlos for being such gracious hosts and for making me feel like a VIP in this remarkable resort and spa on Karon Beach in Phuket. Over a fine dinner of curried lamb and mildly spiced seafood, I toasted my hosts for a job well done. Not with a glass of wine this time, but with a steaming cup of fragrant jasmine tea.