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Even those who have the luxury of time would not be able to enjoy all the wealth of amenities that Sheraton Grande has to offer. A member of the Luxury Collection, a renowned brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the resort has 423 elegant guest rooms, 8 decadent dining options, and 1 of the largest freshwater pools in all of Asia. It is one of five integrated resorts in Laguna Phuket, a beautiful destination flanked by verdant mountains facing the sparkling blue-tinctured waters of the Andaman Sea. Guests enjoy signing privileges in Laguna Phuket’s 30 restaurants and other quality facilities including the 18-hole Laguna Phuket Golf Course.
Jomel, the photographer and I made a grand exit from the Phuket International Airport in our BMW Series 5. It was after dark, much of Phuket remained to be seen as we found ourselves cruising around lagoons leading to the hotel. At the lobby we were given a map of the resort. It was huge. Villas, gardens, pools: all on an island within an island. The receptionist informed us that our complimentary breakfast would be at the Birds of Paradise restaurant, which according to the map was almost at the opposite end of the island from where we were standing. “You’re room is at the center of everything” said one of the baggage assistants which, along with all associates of Sheraton Grande and all hotels under the Luxury Collection are referred to as “ambassadors”. It took a while before we got to our room, passing through elegantly decked hallways, a bar, shops, an elevator down a floor, not too big a price to pay for the resort’s size and 423 room choices on offer. So for those who need it, electric cars, bicycles, and even helmets are provided.
We were pleased with the location and the design of our cozy room, Thai-inspired with contemporary decor. We had our own private balcony, large enough to dine in. I settled into bed, not without discovering an extra pillow in the closet first, and enjoyed the free WiFi on my laptop. We were also provided tomorrow’s weather forecast to prepare for our day of exploring. At the 25-32 degrees Celsius range, temperature was just right for the beach.
The Birds of Paradise Restaurant is heaven for food-lovers. Its breakfast buffet has everything. I could only fill my plate with my favorite among favorites: bacon, back bacon, omelet, pork and chicken and beef sausages, sautéed mushrooms, a mini donut, danish and other pastries, a mini pancake which I decided to top with cherry pie filling instead of the usual maple syrup. Jomel filled his plate with sunny side up eggs, beans, French toast with cherry pie filling, and an assortment of Japanese food. Returning to the buffet for the “nth” time, I tried food I would normally have for lunch such as pasta with white sauce and mushrooms, curries, and Thai rice. As it turns out, Thailand doesn’t have distinct breakfast dishes, so you can expect to see your favorite food among the wide selection of international delicacies. We sat by window to admire a better view of the lagoon.
Drawn in the direction of the Andaman Sea, we found ourselves treading through well manicured landscaping, and eventually the white-colored sand of Bang Tao Beach. We sat on the sun lounges under the umbrellas, admiring the extensive beach, stretching for over 3 km. Pine trees, other greenery, and mountains completed the inviting atmosphere. A towel hut is provided and is staffed with ambassadors, where you can also register for other services such as croquet, volleyball, and water sports. The beach is open to the public with restaurants and stalls not associated with the hotel, but there is a tranquility area offered exclusively for hotel guests in a roped off section where complimentary ice water is provided. We missed out on the pre-lunch time activities: body stretching at the fitness center and a sailing lesson, but we still had a shot at one more: mingling with a baby elephant on the beach area at 3pm. This info and the rest of the activities for the entire week are sent to guest’s rooms in the resort newsletter “Perennial,” and are featured in the resort television channel.
Come lunchtime we were still stuffed from our breakfast buffet, but skipping lunch was not an option for my adventurous palate! Just to name a few of our lunch choices: Hong Kong and other Chinese classics at the traditional “Tea-House,” southern Thai cuisine (this region of Thailand has the spiciest food) at “Chao Lay Thai,” imported steak and other beef and fresh sea food at “Gekko.” We settled for light snacks and refreshments at the poolside restaurant, which was perfect for a leisurely lunch and known for its wood fired pizza. We were now at the opposite end of the pool, at the sandy shore end, looking across towards our room and its private balcony, thankful that our room was in the lowest of four stories since it had direct access to the pool.
We ran into the baby elephant as it and its trainer were both making their way to the beach area, occasionally stopping for amused guests. Jomel and I joined the circle of people around the elephant, and any person willing would stand next to it to interact or co-perform a trick under the guidance of the trainer. When I volunteered, the trainer made the elephant “neck” me as I tried with all my might to keep still, much to the amusement of those watching. There are other baby elephants around the resort and while they draw much attention from adults, their presence is mainly for the kids. Sheraton Grande is a kid-friendly environment, offering youngsters the “VIK” treatment. The Very Important Kids Club is visited daily by the baby elephants and has a playground, videos, games, crafts and other supervised yet exciting activities.
Much as we wanted to take part in the next set of activities, it was time to meet Ms. Erica Robinson, Director of Marketing Communications, at the lobby. After an exchange of pleasantries, Erica showed us the different resort villas. There are dozens and dozens to choose from. Noteworthy of mention are the exclusive Grande Villas which are a resort on their own. Guests choose from one, two, three, and four bedroom suites adorned with rich Thai textiles. Ideal for romantic couples or large intimate groups, guests of these villas also enjoy a range of elite privileges. The two-bedroom Island Villas are inspired by the spiritual traditions of the wat, or temple. Offering three or four bedrooms, the private pool villas and residences are located on Laguna Phuket Golf Club.
We passed by Angsana Spa which, although part of the Banyan Tree Group, is located within Sheraton Grande. It provides soothing treatments ranging from authentic Thai to ancient Ayurvedic. In addition, there are two Angsana Spas located outside of Sheraton Grande within Laguna Phuket.
Erica took us to Loy Krathong Lounge for light snacks and cocktails. This is also the perfect place to go to for live evening entertainment. There’s also an imposing fountain showcasing the Thai folks’ renowned skill in intricate carving. When Erica mentioned the Canal Village, we were interested to see this Thai village-style shopping center of 30 boutique shops offering anything from antiques to designer clothing. Jomel was interested not only in taking photos at Canal Village but also buying souvenirs for his family, though you can do your own shopping spree without having to leave Sheraton Grande: there’s hotel shopping at the second floor or the local handicraft stalls near the fitness center. Going to the Canal Village gave us the chance to ride the shuttle buses, which stop at the main entrance of the hotel and take guests to the other Laguna Phuket hotels and facilities. Another inter-resort transport available are the pontoon boats, boarded from jetties fronting the poolside restaurant and main lobby.
On our way to Canal Village we spotted Thailand’s only resort-based wedding chapel, the glass-walled Chapel-on-the-Lagoon, hovering on stilts. We discovered another dining option in Canal Village, the Village Bakery, serving homemade bread, tempting pastries, cakes, fresh Vittoria coffee, freshly squeezed fruit juices, all day breakfasts, sandwiches, and more. Unfortunately our hosted dinner was due in a matter of minutes so we quickly returned to the hotel, with silk robes and other clothes purchased by Jomel for his wife and daughter. Erica joins our dinner at Puccini Restaurant, a fine dining Italian restaurant set in the island villas, where Executive Sous Chef Ian Thomason prepared a multicourse dinner. Their selection of Italian wine is large and overwhelming so we turned to our British Chef for advice and he recommends three Italian wines to go with our dinner: Castello Banfi Pino Grigo – Chardonnay 2008, Taras Bin 681 Chardonnay 2009, and Villa Girardi Valoplicella 2006.
First on the table: assorted breads and dips of salsa, two kinds of butter, and pesto. The beet root dip, eye-catching in its magenta color and deliciously sweet, was our favorite. Next, the amuse bouche (served before the first course of a meal to excite the taste buds) in which Chef Ian presents paper thin slices of swordfish and tuna, served with balsamic vinegar. Chef Ian offers another alternative bread dip remarking that it is common in Europe to mix balsamic vinegar with the appetizer breads.
Next, a salad of octopus, scallops, lobster meat, tiger prawn, and squid. These were first blanched very briefly in seafood stock and then marinated in olive oil. Next, Chef Ian’s favorite dish and one of ours too, his take on a Euro dish: red onion, foie gras, pepper sauce, and white wine all wrapped in crispy taro. Erica reveals this is the first time she has had foie gras as she is not a fan of liver. I replied that I too do not eat liver, unless it is foie gras.
The main course is Chef’s take on Surf ‘n’ Turf (a main course common in British pubs combining steak and seafood): using pork belly, prawns, pumpkin puree, gravy, and vongole. The delicious roasted pork belly reminded me of my native Philippines’ national dish. Finally, dessert comes in the form of raspberry sorbet served with terrine, similar to pate in texture but more appropriate to blend with the delightful sorbet.
Before retiring to our rooms, we stopped by once again at the Loy Krathong Lounge for the nightly entertainment, and to our surprise and delight, the performers were all Filipino. So although we would be back in our country in a matter of hours, we felt right at home. Realizing that I have been stuffing myself for days during my stay in Thailand, not to mention the right to another buffet breakfast the following day, now was the perfect time to really sweat it out at the fitness gym. In only a few hours we would be pigging out at the buffet, and then immediately hopping in our BMW for the airport. Our leather-interior luxury car may have been built for speed, but we wouldn’t mind showing off driving slowly. Ah! If only we had the luxury of time!