It’s a long flight, even on a private jet, from NYC to Phuket, but once you touch down the magic carpet rolls out. We were met by a white uniformed greeter from the Amanpuri, who escorted us to a black chauffeured BMW that whisked us to the hotel. Looking out the window, you see a third world country streaming by until you swing into the palm lined drive to the resort’s enchanted garden; all the teak wood buildings are built in the traditional Thai style with whimsical peaked winged roofs. The architecture echoes the Royal Palace compound in Bangkok where King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara live. Frederic Varnier, the charming and erudite head honcho here for the past 15 years, and members of his sarong wearing staff meet us, bowing in the time-honored greeting. Here you will find a collection of the world’s savvy cognoscenti who are called “Aman Junkies,” because of their loyalty to the brand. This list includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Gates, Kate Moss, Mick Jagger, Harrison Ford, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Jason Statham and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt along with their six children — before the couple separated, that is.
I wandered down hand hewn stone steps surrounded by greenery to a tiny rock peninsula. This idyllic spot, edged with swaying palm trees, overlooks Pansea Beach. The soundtrack was provided by a gentle wind and white caped waves rolling against the boulders that create this stone jetty. A young Thai girl led us to the outermost table (one of only four) perched eight feet above the sand and sea. She held back a simple wooden chair and placed a freshly pressed white linen napkin on our laps. The menu was something you would expect at Kappo Masa, not on a rock in Thailand. The chef proves masterful and the cuisine an unexpected delight; healthy, sophisticated, scrumptious. With a majestic palm tree as our umbrella, I looked out over the multi-blue hued sea, relaxed and comforted. The table symbolized the exquisite experience that is the Amanpuri. This hotel was built by legendary hotelier Adrian Zecha in 1988. It was the first in the Aman Group of hotels and resorts that now span the world from the Turks & Caicos and Bali to Sri Lanka and Tibet.
The Jet Set
Every detail at this flagship hotel is elegant, from the fragrant cool towels and refreshing hibiscus teas that await you at every stop, to the refined taste exercised in the execution of the pavilions and reception areas. The most extravagant way to stay here is in one of the 30 private villas spread out over the hills looking down at the ocean. These range from a two-bedroom compound with a private pool and separate pavilions for dining and lounging for $3,800 a day, to a grand 8-bedroom house with a live-in housekeeper and chef for $14,000 a night. Billionaires, the jet set and stars like Pierce Brosnan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, One Direction’s Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson have all slept here, as well as scores of others who don’t want to see their names in print. The management has been known to send out boats filled with security to bribe and shoo away the paparazzi who train their long lenses on their guests. When one of these privately owned villas goes on the market, they fetch 10 to 25 million dollars.
For a romantic rendezvous, stay in one of the 40 stand-alone Pavilions that face the sea and are near the beach, bar, pool and restaurants. These glamorous rooms are spacious and well thought out; they also boast their own outdoor dining and lounging pagoda. Each bedroom is a sleek dark wood cocoon with sliding teak doors and windows that either seal you in or open to the views of the sea and the tropical gardens that surround you. The twin bath and dressing rooms make it easy for a couple to get ready simultaneously. Everyday there is surprise, the Buddha in your bedroom is draped with a fresh frangipani lei, floating orchids fill your bathtub that is surrounded by lit candles, there is package on your pillow bearing a gift: a white silk scarf, white orchid plants punctuate your room, and fresh fruit and cookies are always left on a tray. Service is silent and timed so you never see it happen.
Although you can go into Phuket to eat, its easier to dine at the resort. Although room service is swift, we started everyday with breakfast in the main pavilion facing the Olympic sized, black tiled pool, that is surrounded by grey chaise lounges. The food here is on a par with The Carlyle in NYC or the Rosewood in London, with freshly brewed coffees and teas and homemade breads and jams. There are lots of healthy choices; try the fresh fruit smoothies, egg white frittatas or the open faced Thai omelet. That said, I couldn’t help but miss the lavish buffet breakfasts one finds in European hotels, but the Amanpuri is far quieter than a normal five-star hotel, and you never wait for anything. You can choose from three separate restaurants and cuisines, The Tiger restaurant serves Thai food, but if you want a hamburger, it’s done just like in the U.S.A. Their Italian restaurant offers perfect pastas and a heavenly Tagliatelle lamb ragu. Puri Naoki serves Japanese fare; order all the sushi, the grilled yellow fin tuna and the tangy hot and sour soup with a floating shrimp you want. To work off the calories, head to the hotel’s state of the art gym which sits on top of a bluff. Every treadmill offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of the sea and long stretches of beach. You can hire a trainer to put you through your paces, or there’s a yoga master who conducts a class in the mornings. Sweat in Nirvana. Recover in the elegant spa. It is a quiet oasis and all they want to do is pamper you. Order up: The Royal Thai massage, invigorating facials with local herbs or expert mani-pedis. My favorite treatment was the foot massage with Andaman sea salt and roasted coconuts. After lunch, nap in the shade, then rent jet skis and go exploring. They offer all the water sports here, from snorkeling and waterskiing to sailing and paragliding. As I swam in the sea it was hard to envision the tsunami that hit the area 11 years ago 2004. Thankfully there are very few signs left of the devastation that it wrought.
Not to be missed: Between 4:30 and 5:30pm there is a ritual in the teahouse overlooking the pool. A gaggle of maidens make traditional Thai pancakes, the size of silver dollars, over a charcoal stove while a musician softly plays an indigenous instrument. These tiny treats are beyond yummy; try the banana, mango and chocolate, or go rogue and have one made with sweet onions. They melt in your mouth so be careful not to eat too many. The ladies also serve cold ginger tea with mango juice and offer pumpkin and banana bread and coconut cookies if you want to switch things up. Luckily, tea time is exactly one hour or you’d need to wear a caftan to the beach. We went swimming at sunset; the water was warm and the sun’s last rays reflected off the ocean as we body surfed and played in the waves like happy seals. Later, the lapping waves lulled us to sleep in our beds. Amanpuri, where dreams are made into reality. aman.com (66)76-324-333