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Determined to milk my final day in Phuket of everything it has to offer, I head out of our villa while it’s still dark. I make my way to the restaurant’s second floor to catch a better view of the sun just as it makes its ascent. Shades of orange begin to paint the sky as I look over the resort’s scattered rubber and pine trees amongst the other villas. Behind me, waves are breaking on the pristine Mai Khao Beach. Aside from the frantic chirping of the native birds and the staff below me preparing breakfast, I have Sala Phuket all to myself.
In a state of effortless tranquility, I find myself just sitting as the sun continues its rise. There is no introspection, or reflection on the last few days in Thailand’s famous Southern paradise – just this moment. It feels strange. An emptiness of thought that is virtually unachievable in an age of ultra-connectivity. I’ve found an off switch, and it is refreshing.
Details Make Perfection
“It’s about little small touches,” says Regional General Manager John Ashenden. From the moment we stepped out of our van, the entrance of the resort demanded a calm disposition. An intricately carved Sino-Portuguese gate slid open to reveal tabula trees and a strong dose of greenery providing the backdrop. Instead of the usual lobby, a walkway surrounded in shallow water greeted us, providing an opportunity to settle into the serene environment stripped of any baggage that was lingering before our arrival. The constant sound of running water fueled the serene welcome. It felt more like I was entering a monastery than a resort. I half-expected a monk to greet us at the receiving area.
Taken as I was by the calming reception, I was pleased to find out that it would be a feeling replicated all around the resort. Even the bathrooms near the fitness center ensured the sound of running water was never far. As we got acquainted with the area, the attention to detail was revealed to be simply stunning. The carrying out of the Sino-Portuguese theme was done to a level of meticulousness that was almost dumbfounding. Little touches, which if you didn’t bother to look closely, would easily go unnoticed. Aside from the artistically crafted carving on the ceiling of the dining area, I found tiny painted flowers on the edge of the fun pool and an engraved blossom in my room sink – extra efforts to bring a sense that every aspect of my stay, no matter how tiny, had been carefully considered.
Listening later to Jan Hollister, Executive Assistant Manager of Sala’s Food and Beverages, explain the four different steps, complete with the precise ratios of ginger, sugar, water, and ice it takes to make their ginger brew, I get a sense of how the detail-oriented nature of the resort isn’t specific to the architecture or interiors. In fact, the lengths they reach in order to achieve gastronomical satisfaction is a wonder all its own.
It is difficult to fathom just how soft this duck is. The meat is basically melting in my mouth. Cured overnight, braised for nine hours and served with kale, garlic, and caramelized onion, every bite brings an astonished look on my face. The commitment needed to pull this dish off is ludicrous in my mind, but I am immensely grateful they’ve gone through the trouble. Normally, I wouldn’t be too keen on the rest of the ingredients, but the duck was prepared to such perfection that it removes me of my reservations. The result is a plate wiped clean. “If I told you everything, you’d go, ‘I don’t want any of that.’ It’s kind of like when you were a kid. The parents, they have to hide some things from you,” says Hollister.
And I’m glad he does. I am sold on the duck; everything else turns out to be a pleasant surprise. Over the years, one can develop a perception that there is a “correct” way of preparing certain dishes, and anything outside of the realm is considered unacceptable. In Sala, that idea of correctness is a fluid concept, like a jazz musician going on a solo – disregarding the standard rules but with an end product that’s exquisitely unique.
A Helping Hand
A large benefit to traveling is a widening of perceptions, the opportunity to step away from what is familiar and appreciate an experience far removed from what is considered normal. That concept is not lost in this luxurious nature-filled paradise.
“Most people, they take a holiday maybe once a year or once every two years. Most of the time, they’re just at home doing their daily routine,” Jan explains. “When they get here, they need our assistance in order to guide them in the right direction on how to enjoy their holiday or how to enjoy this resort.”
Aside from a variety of offered tours around Phuket and its neighboring areas, accompanying every breakfast is a paper with a few interesting nuggets of information that not only help guests acquaint themselves with the resort’s specials and activities for the day, but also sheds light on Thailand and the nation’s culture. Given how difficult it is to muster the desire to leave the villa, never mind the resort’s cozy confines, I feel it is a welcome touch in ensuring that, along with my serene memories of the Sala Spa and swimming in the infinity lap pool, I am taking home with me a knowledge of the country I have visited.
“Sala is about the outdoor living lifestyle experience,” says Ashenden. Aside from the confines of any of the resort’s 79 luxurious villas, most of the guests spend their time in the area in front of the beach, dining in the restaurant’s poolside terrace, or soaking in the sun beside one of three different pools. Amidst the calming pine trees, beds and private salas are expertly placed around the grounds, a mere few steps away from Mai Khao Beach – an untouched nine-kilometer stretch of sand that faces the pristine waters of the Andaman Sea. There are no vendors, boats or jet skis, – a total opposite of the Southern beaches of Phuket.
The outdoor experience follows into our villa, one of three gigantic two bedroom Pool Villa Suites. Strangely, even with the private pool, the nearby comfortable terrace, and the extremely cozy bedrooms, it is my outdoor bathroom that I fall in love with most. I find myself often reading in the suspended chair, looking out onto the large luggage chests and the sleek stone bathtub beneath the low-hanging chandelier. Enveloped in a green of plants and a yellow of well-placed lights, every time I step on the wooden deck for a shower amidst the Sino-Portuguese tiles that line the floor and walls, I feel exceptionally privileged. Only a handful of people would ever experience indulging in such simple pleasures in this setting.
Descending from the restaurant’s second floor, I make my way to a poolside sala to wait for my companions to join me for breakfast. Other guests are starting to make their way out of their villas to join me. I know the end of my Phuket experience is fast approaching, so I take a moment to fill my head with all of the magnificent experiences of the last few days: the short trip to Phang Nga to visit James Bond Island, the food at Sala Restaurant, the exceptional Mai Khao Beach, the fun conversations in our unreal villa. Refreshed, and filled with positivity, I put in some serious effort to ensure I get a lasting mental snapshot of the view before me. Now, wherever I go, I could take my happy place with me.
Wine And Thai Food
“Normally Thai food, especially the curries and the stir-fried food, we like to combine with Rieslings, or sweet, medium-sweet wines, because it makes a very good balance between the spicy food and the sweetness of the wine. It reinforces the flavor of Thai food very well, while still keeping the flavor of the wine. If you combine spicy Thai food with very dry white wines, then you stop having the flavors of chili, ginger, and garlic. It’s much better to combine with wines that are a little bit sweeter,” says Jose Luis Duran, Sala’s Food and Beverage Manager. “You can actually drink with rosé as well. I particularly like the ones from Australia or New Zealand, where they have very fresh rosés, but you always need to look for a little bit of that sweetness. In case you want to have red wine, we suggest a very light-bodied variety, like a Pinot Noir from New Zealand. A full-bodied wine, which would go well with steak, doesn’t really go well with Thai food.”