Dear Shaded Viewers,
After attending Malaysia Fashion Week in Kuala Lumpur, I jumped on a pond-hopper on a whim and headed up to the Thai island of Phuket, located in the Andaman Sea. I was invited to stay a night at the phenomenal Amanpuri Resort on the white-sand Surin Beach. Amanpuri means “place of peace” in Sanskrit and that’s an understatement as this was the most relaxing and luxurious hotel I’ve ever stayed at. (Bill Gates and Naomi Campbell, among other uber-A listers, have stayed here.)
Opened in 1988, Amanpuri is the flagship of the Aman Resorts empire (I recently visited their impressive property at the Summer Palace in Beijing), and perfectly captures the style and elegance of Thai culture. Located in a coconut plantation on Phuket’s west coast, Amanpuri boasts 40 Pavilions and 30 Villas. It was designed by world-renowned architect Ed Tuttle.
Every detail of my stay was so perfect–the warm-bath temperature of the turquoise sea, the timing of bright sun in the day and gentle rain in early evening, the sounds of the birds in the bamboo forest and the frogs in the lily pond–that I began to suspect that everything was being art-directed and controlled by a hidden team of technicians from Industrial Light and Magic.
Everything at Amanpuri was built and landscaped with breathtaking visual impact in mind. Here’s a view from one of the terraces down to one of the (very) private beaches.
The entrace to the library. I wish I had more time to explore the expertly curated collection of tomes, but I could not tear myself away from the beach, the sea, and my tranquil Garden Pavilion.
A view of some of the Pavilions that are built on several levels connected by walkways and stairs. I was up on level 5 which was great, because I needed to burn off some calories after all the decadent Asian breakfasts in Kuala Lumpur. Each room is actually its own freestanding house and all are built with absolute privacy and seclusion in mind.
Entrance to my Garden Pavilion.
The bathroom was lobby-sized with frosted windows that refracted the sunlight in gorgeously subtle ways throughout the day.
There was plenty of walk-in closet space but being an on-the-go nomad, I never got around to unpacking.
Some of the exotic fruit in my Pavilion were types that I had never seen before. I especially liked the red road apples. There were cookies too, which attracted an unexpected roommate: a salamander. (There are salamanders everywhere in Phuket so there’s no avoiding finding the occasional one in your hotel room–no matter how super-luxurious your lodgings are.)
There were dishes of fresh jasmine flower buds near the bed and in the bathroom, filling the room with intoxicating fragrance. They had a natural sleep-aid effect on me as I slept like a log.
Of course I tried out the bathtub in a therapeutic bath of Andaman Sea salts and ginger-tea extract.
I was loving my private terrace surrounded by lush bamboo.
The Pavilion definitely had a Zen vibe throughout, including the pale grey-blue bath robe which I was mad for.
After I was given a tour of the property and checked into my room, I soon headed down to what has to be the most perfect and quietest beach I’ve ever experienced. There were only a few other guests around and the staff manages to be both lavishly attentive and discreetly unobstrusive. I could not stay out of the impossibly crystal-clear water.
Indulgences are served by the pool during tea time but I wanted to save my appetite for dinner.
When I returned to my Pavilion from the beach, it rained for an hour or two and it was so beautiful to watch.
When one arrives in their Pavilion, the sound of soothing instrumental Thai music is playing on a loop on the CD player. My other favorite soundtrack to my stay–one that I always travel with–was Yoko Ono’s album “Between My Head and the Sky.”
Musicians situated across the pool from The Terrace, Amanpuri’s main restaurant which serves Thai cuisine, serenaded diners with soothing instrumentals. (There’s also an Italian and a Japanese restaurant. I chose Thai because it’s one of my favorite cuisines.)
The first course was Tom Yam Thalay: a hot & sour soup of shrimp with lemon grass, galangal mushrooms and chili paste. All the flavors were perfectly balanced. The other appetizer was delicious shrimp satay in tamarind chili sauce.
As for the cocktail, I chose the Ginger Blossom: green-tea vodka, ginger, apple & lime. All of the vodka cocktails are prepared with Charbay Vodka which is made from only whole, fresh ingredients. They’re free of essences, perfumes, dyes, fragrances and so-called ‘”natural flavors.”
The main course came in three dishes. My favorite was the Laab Ped Yang: roast duck tossed with toasted ground rice, herbs and dried chili-lime vinaigrette. Yummy!
The vegetable dish consisted of plump, luscious mushrooms with stir-fried greens in oyster sauce. The third main dish was the excellent Gaeng Kathi Gai Bai Chaplu: red curry with chicken and betel leaves. I hadn’t had betel leaves since a trip to Hanoi back in 2004 when they were wrapped around nuggets of grilled beef. The thing that I love about betel leaves is that they have a hint of the illicit about them: the red betel nuts, or areca, are chewed by Southeast Asians and Taiwanese for a psychoactive-drug effect. (But only the leaves were used in this dish, so there was no narcotic effect.)
Chef Naree Wantaro came to my table a couple of times to chat and it was lovely to meet her because I thought her food was wonderful. She told me that she learned everything she knows about cooking from her mother–so no yuppie culinary schooling required! Before Amanpuri, Chef Naree headed a number of 5-star hotel kitchens, including the restaurants at the Shangri-la and the Sukhothai in Bangkok. She was also the chef at a restaurant in California. I begged her to come to New York and open a restaurant there–her food is far better than most of the Thai I’ve had in NYC.
The dessert was sublime: sweet sticky mango rice with fresh mango, which I washed down with fresh mint tea.
Beautiful early morning light….
I was back at The Terrace the next morning for a delicious breakast: Thai omelette, Thai iced coffee, fresh-squeezed orange juice and pain au chocolat.
I then spent 6 magnificent hours at the beach….I had to be practically dragged away because I didn’t want to leave!
More attention to detail: heated water for washing the sand off one’s toes before leaving the beach.
Thanks for reading.