Despite being well travelled in Thailand this was our first visit to Phuket. The reason? We can’t afford it. A visit to Phuket must be done in luxury. Fancy resort, secluded beach and away from the ugliness of mass tourism. For this reason Phuket is not a backpacker or budget travel destination. You can try but expect disappointment. On this visit we are here by mere fluke; many thanks to Asia Eater Magazine. Five star luxury, pool villa, beach front resort and private chef lunch. We stay at the luxury design hideaway of Sala Phuket Resort. As modelled by Fanfan the photogenic half of Live Less Ordinary. Note while Phuket is an island of luxury travel it is also an island of affordable luxury. Perfect for frugal pampering.
Our previous pool villa experience (Ubud Bali) had let us down a little. Cold pool, inching into water, tiptoeing lengths, teeth chattering “its cold, its cold, its cold”. Far from romantic. Anyway the pool at Sala Phuket is set at the perfect temperature and runs the entire length of the villa. Ideal for lazing, all day, doing nothing. While tempted to smash cocktails from the resort’s Tiki bar menu we instead stay civilized sipping red wine and nibbling complimentary longons in privacy. Hang the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and feel free to walk around butt naked. No-one will know the difference. Again a first for us as with past pool villa experiences we feel constantly wary of neighbours potentially peeking through branches or over low rising walls. The freedom to privacy is highlighted at Sala Phuket by their sexy outdoor bathrooms.
Organised by Chef Jan Hollister of Sala Phuket. A guy you can’t help feel envious of. Enthusiastic, excited and loving what he does. It is also his day off so in all likeliness he would be off for a hedonistic night on some remote island. The chef preparing lunch was Pathita Yatpijidpairin. We eat Khanom Jeen… “Did he just say Khanom Jeen???”. A popular dish for Thai celebrations often served as stodgy rice noodles mucked out with an overly fishy ‘Nam Jeen’ sauce. I’m not saying it’s a bad dish but it’s rarely treated with care. On this occasion it was the Khanom Jeen being celebrated. Without a doubt the best I’ve eaten. It comes served with a mild ‘Khao Soi’ coconut based curry and a variety of local vegetables and greens. A selection to remind me of how little I know of southern Thai food. If interested this option is available on the breakfast menu under “Yellow Curry”. Next to join the table is Mieng Kham – another celebratory snack. Miang Kham is a tasting dish where we pick at a mix of sweet, sour, salty, hot flavours and ingredients. Wrap them in a Cha Plu leaf and stuff in your face. With so much on the table my favourite goes unnoticed till the end. Crackers and nibbles with dips of peanut sate, green olive tapenade and… I didn’t see past the tapenade. I’m a little weird for tapenade. Anchovy free tapenade. A delight I’ve failed to track down in Bangkok or elsewhere in Thailand.
Probably the biggest surprise during our stay at Sala Phuket. When a beach goes unmentioned it often means it’s not worth mentioning. Arriving to the the beach I was amazed. The coast engulfed with an unworldly, red glow. As a beach scrooge Mai Khao was perfect. To me sun, sea and sand means sweat, irritation and discomfort. I feel a whole lot happier sitting back to watch from a distance. Lonely and empty. The Red Flags flying to indicate ‘No Swimming’ and no pressure for the obligatory photo-ops of me and Fanfan getting wet.
In the mornings I wake around seven. Fanfan closer to nine. I enjoy morning tranquility while Fanfan snugs the luxury bed. For two hours I sit giddy in anticipation like a kid waiting for Christmas. The breakfasts at Sala Phuket are goood. More like a three course meal. If I don’t fill up on the continental breads, cheeses and cured meats I tuck into the Sala Breakfast. Scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage, tomato and potato hash. Followed by pancakes in a vanilla cream, topped with fresh chunks of mango and a side of maple syrup. Happiness.
Not to be overly cheap I did spend a little at Sala Phuket. I order from the All Day Dining Menu hoping to meet again with green olive tapenade. Success. It comes joined with dips of chilli oil and a balsamic vinaigrette. The tapenade scoffed down with mini naans before I remember to photograph. We order Massaman curry a famous Southern Muslim dish. It tastes like no other Massaman I’ve tried before. In a good way. It makes perfect use of the predominantly southern Thai spices of cardamon and star anise. The chicken slow cooked to perfection. A surprise hit with Fanfan the massaman snob. Again we stick with wine which is guzzled through a weird tabletop, aerating widget. Ugly but interesting. Pizza to go.
We didn’t leave the villa much. During occasions which we do; we capture posed pics at the fancier facilities on the beach front area of the resort. We then quickly scamper back to privacy.
As always I am intrigued to find local life. To find it you don’t have to go far. A misconception with resorts is that you fail to see the ‘real’ side of island life. People expecting you to be holed away from locals. I actually find this to be the opposite. Staying in notorious tourist spots (e.g. Patong) you are less likely to see authentic local life. At Sala Phuket we are in the North of the island far from touristic and traveller trails. You can almost say off the beaten track. Leaving the resort’s boundaries you are immediately surrounded by authentic local life. A short walk past fruit stalls and a friendly game of Sepak Takraw we find seafood restaurants. Eating again. Unfortunately the food is blanded for tourist tastes. Overly sweet and skimping on chilli heat. An annoyance we find a lot when eating in the South.