Undiscovered Thai paradise
Glyn May, The West Australian
May 16, 2012, 8:40 pm
It's 8am on this brilliant sunny day along a pristine stretch of beach at the height of Thailand's tourist season, and the only footprints in the sand are mine. As far as the eye can see there's not a soul. The horizon is clear save for two local fishermen in tiny canoes.
Ironically, just down the road is Phuket International Airport where millions of passengers each year arrive in a nonstop frenzy of jets, buses, taxis, trolleys, touts and tourists.
The hordes head south, fanning out to Phuket's myriad holiday hotspots along the island's west coast, mostly unaware that a different kind of experience awaits to the north.
In about 15 minutes, on Route 4 north, you've reached the start of 75km of jungle-fringed, golden coastline, peaceful, relatively underdeveloped with a smattering of resorts, villas and hotels as well as budget accommodation.
Right now it's basking in the recently coined name "Thailand's Hamptons" after New York's summer playground of the rich and famous.
This is Phang Nga (province) West Coast, but popularly and incorrectly known as Khao Lak which in fact is the little town and resort area at the northern end of the strip where the likes of Le Meridien, Sarojin and J.W. Marriott have a presence.
Phang Nga West Coast (Khao Lak, if you insist) became popular because of the nearby Similan islands, rated in the world's top-10 dive spots.
New-found interest in the area (and the "Hamptons" tag) is a natural progression as vacant Phuket beachfront land becomes scarce and expensive.
Already many ageing homes and bungalows on big beach blocks are being bought for huge sums by Thai investors and companies in Hong Kong, Europe, Singapore, China, Russia, the US and Australia.
Having emerged less than 30 minutes ago from the immigration queue at Phuket airport, I am on a morning stroll-of-discovery on Natai Beach. This is home to the luxury boutique resort, Aleenta Phuket- Phang Nga - one of only three five-star properties in 20km. (Aleenta management purposely added the word "Phuket" as a marketing ploy.)
"We are a long way from being swamped with tourists," says Aleenta executive Mongkol Jancha somewhat wistfully, "but when development comes, we can only pray that the ambience of the area will not suffer. This is a very special part of Thailand."
Hopefully, it will retain some of its US cousin's old-world big-money charm (and less of Phuket's sometimes brazen edge) but the prospect of spotting real Hamptons celebrities such as Robert De Niro or Jerry Springer clambering off private jets at Phuket airport is highly unlikely.
You might however catch a glimpse of one of Thailand's most celebrated (and glamorous) businesswomen, Anchalika Kijkanakorn, owner of the intimate, award-winning Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga complex of pool villas, ocean-view residences and suites designed in a bold concept of whitewashed buildings, soaring glass panels and dark-stained timber.
The US-educated Anchalika, 39, also owns another five-star Aleenta in Hua Hin south of Bangkok, and two swish properties in Koh Samui.
And while New York's playboys and girls roam the Long Island Hamptons in search of ultimate indulgences, they might find it hard to match the Aleenta's advertised Romantic Surprise Package for honeymooners and the young-at- heart: "A fragrant pillow filled with lavender between your sheets . . . a warm water pillow that fits perfectly on your tummy to help with indigestion and relaxation . . . a snore-reduction pillow with sculptured memory . . . "
Or, says the blurb . . . "why not surprise your man with a 45-minute kickboxing session, followed by a 30-minute foot massage."
For the blushing young bridegroom, a surprise indeed.
�Glyn May was a guest of Aleenta.
- fact file *
�Thai Airways International flies from Perth to Bangkok with connections to Phuket. See thaiairways.com.au. Transfers to Aleenta resort from Phuket airport take 25 minutes and cost $45 by private car.
�Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga won four Bloomberg International Hotel awards in 2011 for Best Small Hotel and Best Sustainable Hotel in Thailand/Asia Pacific. The operators are involved in a coral reef regeneration project off Natai Beach and in preserving endangered leatherback turtles. Go to aleenta.com.�Executive chef Jean Louis Leon's French-Asian cuisine is a highlight. Night owls, forget it. The nearest bar scene is in Patong, an hour away.