Amanpuri in Phuket captivates the senses and in no time, you will surrender to its beauty

SINGAPORE (Apr 2): Many years ago, when I first started writing on the lifestyle industry, I chanced upon a glossy travel magazine that featured the iconic roofs of Amanpuri in Phuket. The resort’s Ayutthaya architecture stood out — its slate grey, brown, red and white structure just behind the lap pool seen in the shimmering reflection on the water’s surface.

At that moment, I knew this place had to be included in my list of must-go destinations. Last month, a few friends and I were at Amanpuri, gazing at the build ing that had captured my imagination for some time. It had taken a while to get there, but the wait was worth it.

The peace that enveloped us when we stepped onto the resort was indescribable. It is all part of the philosophy of the Aman group of properties. The name means “peace” in Sanskrit, and Amanpuri means “Place of Peace”. Guests are made to feel like they are entering the home of a friend — a luxury home that is built around nature instead of creating nature around the property. That philosophy has seen the Aman brand grow to 31 resorts, hotels and private residences in 20 countries.

Here, at Amanpuri, the feeling of being welcomed into a close friend’s home goes one step further. As we were taken on a tour of the property, we were told that a wedding would be taking place over the weekend and fireworks were planned by the wedding party. Asked if it was a celebrity wedding, we were told: “There are no ‘celebrities’ here; all our guests are celebrities.”

Knowing that we were following in the footsteps of Angelina Jolie and her family, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss put a smile on our faces. We were taken in a buggy to our villa, where a group of staff warmly called out sawadee ka as they clasped their hands together. The outdoor pavilion was where we gathered for meals or just to chat. Even from this vantage point, we could see the sprawling property that was built around a coconut plantation.

Amanpuri is the flagship of all the Aman resorts; this is the place that started it all. The founder of Aman resorts, Adrian Zecha, was looking for a holiday home while he was in Phuket when he chanced upon a coconut estate. He planned to build a small resort, but banks refused to give him a loan. In 1988 — after raising money from his friends— Zecha opened his resort, which comprised 40 pavilions and 44 villas.

Sweet dreams are made of this

I was shown by my butler to my villa — a one-bedroom unit that overlooks the emerald Andaman Sea. For the next two mornings, I woke up with a view to die for. In addition, I had the private pool and outdoor areas that I could lounge about to my heart’s content.

It is here that you can get in touch with your inner self — by communing with nature and feasting your eyes on miles of ocean or greenery. I chose a digital detox — well, partly anyway; I checked my phone only once a day. It was difficult at first, but I made it through the weekend.

The staff are well trained in the art of being discreet. While catching up on my reading and getting some sun, a cold towel and a tall glass of cold lemongrass drink appeared on my side table. The wonderful thing is the sun’s heat was amply shaded by the lush vegetation that is found all over the property.

Not only will your thirst be quenched by attentive staff but you will be well fed too. It is good to holiday at the resort with friends, as you can get a private chef to whip up an amazing variety of Thai dishes. Over the next few days, we enjoyed morning glory stir-fried with chilli, crispy fried chicken, squid cooked in tamarind sauce and, of course, the very popular pad thai.

While we enjoyed the local food, we also tried the other dining establishments at Amanpuri: Nama, Arva, Thai Restaurant, Beach Club and The Lounge. If you have a yearning for Japanese food, you can make your way to Nama, where you can get washoku, or food cooked the traditional way. This healthy and delicious cuisine has been designated a Unesco intangible cultural heritage.

Arva, which means “cultivated” in English, was our dinner venue of choice. This Italian restaurant serves a sustainable menu: Its ingredients are locally sourced and include free-range chicken, fruit and vegetables. Just for fun, let me recommend some of the items on the menu that will whet your appetite. For starters, you can try the traditional tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and a basil salad. For mains, go for the homemade pasta such as spaghettini with clams, tuna bottarga, garlic and chilli. End the meal on a sweet note with a coconut sorbet.

I did say you will never go hungry, didn’t I? Every day, at 4pm, tea is served at the main lobby area. You can have a variety of teas and we tried the pomegranate tea and munched on kanom krok — little Thai coconut pancakes cooked over a cast-iron pan and with either a sweet (corn or pumpkin) or savoury (spring onion) filling. Teatime is also when you get to meet other guests and have a friendly chat.

More to explore

Perhaps you have indulged a little too much at one or all of the restaurants. You can easily burn off the calories with the list of outdoor activities at your disposal. Snorkelling is as good an activity as any to start with and you need not go far. As you wade along the shore, you can see the colourful fishes swimming around you.

For those who harbour dreams of adventures on the high seas, they can hire a boat and explore the coastline of Phuket and spend hours waterskiing or scuba diving among the reefs.

Need something a little bit more cultural? Take a drive out to explore the history of Phuket and learn more about its architecture as you admire one or more of the 30 Buddhist temples that dot the island. We took a car ride out to the main road just outside Amanpuri and explored the many quaint shops on foot. We gleefully gathered a quantity of silver accessories, bags with ethnic prints and beachwear that will take you from Amanpuri to anywhere on the French Riviera.

After all that walking, there is nothing more blissful than an hour of pampering. The spa at Amanpuri is located near the arrival pavilion and overlooks the sea. As soon as the massage started, I succumbed to the sound of the rolling waves and the expert strokes of the therapist.

Reinvigorated an hour later, I gazed at the view at the veranda outside my room. I sat there watching the sun set as the sky turned honey gold and crimson. Soon darkness fell over the turquoise waters while the coconut trees swayed in the gentle breeze.

Later, we sat by the beach to wait for the promised fireworks display and we were not disappointed. Did we feel like celebrities? We surely did.


Twenty minutes with Paul Linder

Here is a general manager who does not wear a suit; neither does he wear the usual T-shirt and khaki trousers favoured by many resort head honchos. Instead, Paul Linder is in white linen trousers and a bright salmon-coloured linen shirt. Linder’s personality is as colourful as his clothes. The interview with him was peppered with anecdotes and laughter throughout — he clearly enjoys his job. We heard that he was recently awarded the Hotelier of the Year title, with the announcement to be made later this year in Switzerland.

“I came here as a guest in 1997 and fell in love with the place,” says Linder. But most all, he fell in love with Asia. He has been living and working in the region for the last 15 years — at luxury resorts such as Chiva-Som and the Como Hotels. He admits that he is very much an Asian at heart: He speaks Thai and understands the culture of the people. “The only thing Swiss about me is my passport and bank account,” he quips.

Options sat down with Linder at the beach bar to talk about the resort and why his job is so important to him.

Firstly, tell us more about the recent renovation.

Every year in June, we close the property to renovate it. We revarnished the roof because of the rain, humidity, salt and sun. A lot of things needed to be retouched and cleaned. We used a lot of maka wood on the roofs and teak for the floors. They dry out fast, so they need to be oiled on a yearly basis. Even the outdoor furniture was given an overhaul, as it was weather-worn.

Other future changes would be to hide the TV inside a cupboard to encourage guests to do a digital detox. At the beach club, we will add a kids’ education centre, not a kids’ club.

What is the difference?

It is not somewhere for you to drop off your kids. It is really a place to educate children about marine life or the plants found in Phuket. There could be Thai language classes or lessons on how to make Thai handicraft. Here, at Amanpuri, it is all about culture and respecting the environment.

ut culture and respecting the environment. We believe in giving back to the community too, especially for our 30th anniversary. We just did a big charity event with Room to Read [a non-profit organisation that supports education and gender equality in developing nations] in Hong Kong.

We also support local talent and we are supporting a local athlete who will be participating in the Ironman challenge in Hawaii in October.

We buy a lot of produce from farmers and we buy chicken from a sustainable farm at the local orphanage. We buy fish direct from the local fishermen.

How would you describe Amanpuri?

When I came here in 1997 for the first time as a guest, what struck me the most was the architecture. And it is the same for all the Amans — the architecture is breathtaking. Look at the architecture — it is timeless. The design of the structures is inspired by the temples in Ayutthaya and the colours too — anthracite, brown and red. This is a small property and what we offer is simple luxury. Just look around you: We have the coconut plantation, the gorgeous sea and the beautiful sunset.

You are an unusual general manager.

That’s because I love what I am doing. If not here, then somewhere else, as long as I enjoy my work. You have to enjoy life and let things be. I treat everyone who comes here as a somebody.

This article appeared in Issue 824 (Apr 2) of The Edge Singapore.

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