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Thirty seconds after stepping out of the limousine, I was surrounded by a semi-circle of smiles at the entrance of Amanpuri. Led by hotel manager Antonio Saponara, the lobby team wasted no time in handling my luggage, checking me in and making sure that my first few minutes in this beach resort would reflect the kind of hospitality Aman Resorts is known the world over.
A few steps into the receiving area and the style and graceful elegance of Amanpuri began to unfold. The resort’s main swimming pool and the expanse of the Andaman Sea glowed with the vermillion gold of the setting sun with the silhouette of swaying coconut trees framing this magnifi cent three-dimensional picture postcard.
Amanpuri, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘place of peace’, is reputed to symbolize its namesake in more ways than one. I was given the privilege to experience this reputation. And I was not disappointed.
Nestled in a mature coconut plantation is my home in Phuket – one of the forty Thai-styled pavilions designed and built to take advantage of the view and the natural contours of the hillsides. I was not quite sure if I will find the time to use the digital stereo system or the wide screen fl at television but I defi nitely would enjoy the king-sized bed and the spacious bath, shower and changing room equipped with luxurious amenities like soft, thick towels and bathrobes. The large bedroom and bathroom exuded a sense of warm comfort with their varnished wooden walls, panels, door and window frames with Thai art pieces providing balance and accent. My pavilion is a few steps away from the resort’s facilities via an elevated walkway dotted with signs that ensured I don’t get lost in the meandering paths especially at night. Taking in the early evening breeze, I noticed warm lights peeking through the thick growth. I later discovered that these are some of the Villa Homes that dot the hillside beside the resort. Each well-appointed villa consists of two to six separate bedrooms, private pools and a deck with a Thai roof where guests could dine or relax outdoors in complete privacy. A live-in maid and cook attend to the needs of guests round the clock.
After a quick shower that washed away the stress and strain oftravel, I headed for The Terrace for a light dinner. Restaurant Manager Piyanut Sripen ( who preferred to be called Jang ) told me The Terrace offers casual, all-day dining in an al fresco setting and features European and Thai specialties. Jang added that nearby is a restaurant called, well, The Restaurant that serves Italian cuisine while a few steps from the beach is Naoki, which boasts of original French Kaiseki fare which is a creative mix of the best in French techniques and Japanese culinary artistry.
I wasn’t ready for mainstream Thai dishes so I opted for Grilled Grouper with puy lentil, roquette and haricot vert salad with a light pesto vinaigrette. And to help me relax without the help of alcohol, I asked for a pot of fragrant jasmine tea which I slowly sipped to the melodious strains of Thai classical music performed live by a pair of young, pretty artists.
Amanpuri took advantage of its excellent location by designing its dining facilities in areas where guests can fully enjoy the view of the beach, the pool and the surrounding gardens. Soft, warm lights offer a sense of peace and comfort while the service staff quietly yet efficiently ensures that expectations are met.
Day two found me up and about early. After a hearty breakfast topped with fresh slices of watermelon and papaya, I headed to Yacht Heaven, Phuket’s only deep water access marina. Located about 30 minutes away from Amanpuri, Yacht Heaven overlooks the stunning Phang Nga Bay on the northeast coast of the island. Accompanied by my gracious host and hotel manager Antonio Saponara, I toured the boardwalks and docks where watercraft from Hongkong to Europe are tied alongside some of Aman Resort’s professionally managed vessels. “ Managed under Amancruises, more than 20 cruisers and sailing craft make up the largest fleet of any resort in Southeast Asia,” “Saponara explained. “Sailing, deep-sea fishing, diving and overnight charters with full crew are available.” “I had the good fortune of visiting their four showcase vessels that ply the bay and take guests to beaches and islands, including the famous Koh Phing Kan, the island made so famous by the movie The Man With The Golden Gun that locals and tourists dubbed it James Bond Island.
First stop was the Aveline, a new 62ft Horizon luxury yacht complete with a built-in barbecue, sun deck, a wide teak swim platform for snorkeling and diving, spacious cabins and saloon. The Aveline can accommodate 16 day guests or four overnight guests on tours to the Similans, Phi Phi or Krabi islands. Next was the Maha Bhetra – ninety feet of Sea. One of the most extraordinary tours of Phang Nga Bay, I was told, is aboard the Sealion, a 40ft traditional Hong Kong junk brought over to Phuket and refurbished with modern, powerful engines and navigational technology. The vessel has an open-sided aft deck where guests can soak in luxury in between excursions to islands, caves and beaches. Finally, we boarded the 110ft Maid Marian II, the grand dame of the fleet. Built in 1931 by the New York Steam Ship Company, she has been refi tted but was allowed to retain her glory days with her copper and brass bathroom facilities, classic art pieces adorning the cabins and suites and an overall design that brings back the era of class and luxury.
Back at the resort, I finally found the chance to chat with Amanpuri’s general manager Frederic Varnier. “Peace and security are intrinsic to the resort simply because of one key factor: our staff. “ Varnier explained. “Most of them have been with Amanpuri since the start and a lot of their children or relatives have followed suit. “ Varnier believes that loyalty arising from a close-knit family of personnel and staff generated a sense of responsibility that’s translated to excellence in service. At the same time, this sense of loyalty has been and continues to be reciprocal. When the deadly tsunami struck in 2004, a lot of resorts in Phuket had to lay off personnel. In contrast, Amanpuri retained its staff and even subsidized their salaries in spite of the destruction and loss of revenue. Varnier told me that the Amanpuri staff is “for keeps – and the resort management consciously ensuring them continued employment and professional growth – because at the end of the day, these people symbolize our idea of service and security.” “For me, it means fresh bed sheets, excellent facilities and a basket of fresh fruits every day of my sojourn in this Asian paradise.