Sleeping in a bedroom surrounded by water is unnerving. The gentle splash of the water against the glass walled bedroom made me want to get up to use the bathroom several times in the night. The only thing that kept me in bed was the thought that I would probably tread on a tray of handmade chocolates, or stub my toe on a bottle of champagne if I did try to find my way to the (marble decked, petal smothered) loo. I was in Thailand to wade in luxury, and the Banyan Tree resort in Phuket certainly did do its best to cocoon me during my stay.
I was staying at a private villa, hidden away from the rest of the hotel by man-made ponds and trees. The bedroom 'floated' on a pool, a private garden had another private pool and Jacuzzi, and there was a vast study with wifi that I only went into as it held the mini bar.
Asian luxury hotels are the perfect answer to the economic crisis. They still cost less than the Riviera or New York, but can easily match anyone for quality and service. I was allocated my own butler who hovered around my front door, waiting to drive me down to the bar in a golf cart. He always looked slightly disappointed when I said I would rather cycle down on the free bicycles provided to the villa. Whenever I came back into the villa, I would find new chocolates or rose petals hidden in new places, a sweet gesture.
The Banyan Tree hotels, in Bangkok and Phuket offer a calm, cool refuge to help the befuddled traveller adjust to Thailand. And if you are worried about the carbon footprint, offset and remember that the five hotels dotted around the man-made lagoon in Phuket were built on the site of a disused tin mine that had been written off as a toxic wasteland. Cleaning up the land and building and opening up the undulating lunar beauty of Bang Tao beach to visitors and the local community was a more important ecological service than paying a few pounds to a carbon offsetting company.
And for anyone wanting a spa break, Thailand is unbelievable. The concept of a tropical garden spa was born at the Banyan Tree Phuket; until then, spas aimed at Europeans all looked like they belonged in Baden-Baden.
The Banyan Tree's founder Ho Kwon Ping tells a story of how he asked European spa consultants to come over to advise him for setting up a spa at the Banyan Tree when it opened in 1994. They suggested clinical white rooms, powerful air conditioning and medical staff. Instead. The Banyan Tree spa has natural ventilation, fans, and gentle showers to cool customers down.
After a stupefyingly good two-hour massage, the tiny, impossibly strong masseuse rang a brass bell to mark the end of the treatment, and to wake me up from my blessed out snooze. That, combined with the flowers, incense and oils that wafted around the ornate airy pavilion where the massage took place, made me feel a little like a temple deity.
But if you want something simpler, a little like craving a bag of chips after a white truffle risotto, there are shacks everywhere, offering a quick foot massage or shoulder rub for five pounds. I found I was getting three massages a day to get rid of knots from ten years hunched over laptops.
The other beauty of Thailand is that the other Thailand, the backpackers and beach shacks are never too far away. Thai law forbids anyone from sealing off access to the beach, so even the Banyan Tree cannot promise guests a private beach. This is a good thing – the air conditioned calmness of a luxury hotel always seems so much sweeter after a day spent away from scented sprays and hot tea brought to you wherever you want it.
So on the beach, I could wander off and finding a beach cafe that will serve seafood noodles and cold lemonade at plastic tables set directly on the sand. These are so cheap that lunch easily justifies the sundowner and cool towel brought to my private terrace later on at my floral villa.
By Meera Jeevan
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