Sunday, August 6, 2017

Things to See, Taste and Do in & around the Banyan Tree Phuket resort

“You’ll love Phuket. It’s not only beautiful. The Thai people understand excellence in service. They think of every little bit of detail”, a couple I sat with at a friend’s recent wedding reception said to me who recently returned from a trip to Phuket in Thailand. I started to write this article in the final hours of my 3 nights stay at the Banyan Tree Phuket and I can certainly say the people in the Banyan Tree Phuket understand excellence in service. By the way ‘Phuket’ is pronounced with a silent ‘h’ like ‘Puket’ and not “Fuket’.

It is the first time here for me in Thailand and the beach life, resorts, Thai culture, food and slow living is what attracted me to come to Phuket as well as the fact it’s not all that far on a plane from Sydney (in comparison to say Europe). It was the beginning of June which means the start of the monsoon season in Phuket. The weather was as warm as the people I met during my stay and you’ll get short spurts of rain in buckets full and thunderstorms. It was very warm and humid and honestly, I don’t mind monsoonal weather as I prefer that over the cold and rain - the weather conditions of Sydney so my fellow Instagram followers told me they experienced in Sydney during the time I was in Phuket. The downside though of going during monsoon season is that some tours are weather dependent such as Phi Phi Islands tour and the Night Market Tours, all arranged by the Banyan Tree Phuket resort so if it’s really wet they are cancelled because the sea conditions are too rough and in the case of the markets, not many stall holders will be there for you to see. 

And I’m totally fine with that too as there is no shortage of things to do or not to do in the Banyan Tree Phuket and you really come here for peace, solitude, relaxation, romance and tranquillity. It’s a place to unwind from the stresses of daily life, and the experience enhanced when you hear the pitter patter of monsoonal rain as you are massaged, oiled and herbally steamed, without a single guilty thought on what else you should be doing.

We flew into Phuket Airport around 9pm in the evening via Singapore with Qantas on the first leg and Jetstar Asia on the second leg to Phuket which was only an hour and half from Singapore. The stopover at Singapore was a good one I thought because I had access to the Qantas Lounge and I was happy for layover time there as the Singaporean food on offer was so delicious particularly the Singaporean chicken laksas. Singaporean food always tastes better in Singapore and the same with Thai food. The best Thai food I’ve eaten was in Thailand.

There was a slight delay in our luggage coming out of the carousel (and thoughts that ran through my mind at the time were that I should have packed more 'essentials' in my hand luggage) but it was all good and our luggage finally it came out and we looked for our Mercedes E-Class driver arranged by the Banyan Tree Phuket to transport us to the resort from the airport. The air-conditioned car, cold water and cold towels was a welcome relief to the heat we arrived in as well as the exhaustion from overseas air travel.

By the time I arrived at the resort and checked in it was around midnight. Banyan Tree Phuket resort is about 20 minutes drive from Phuket International Airport. It is situated on the west coast of Phuket and set amidst the lagoons and gardens of Laguna Phuket in Bang Tao Bay, Asia’s first integrated resort. I was welcomed by the porters who took our bags to the rooms and hotel staff who freshened us up with tamarind juice and a cold towel. By then I was ready to get a good night’s sleep and wake up fresh to explore.

I have heard so much about the Banyan Tree Phuket before I arrived but this resort with a focus on wellness, spas and good living to the highest and luxurious standard is by far the best I’ve experienced anywhere else in the world that I’ve travelled to in terms of the quality of service standard, accommodation, food and beverages, and things to do or not do.

You go to the Banyan Tree Phuket for rejuvenation, relaxation, a sense of intimacy, soul searching and serenity.

Here are somethings you can see, taste and do in the Banyan Tree Phuket resort.


Resort itself

The resort itself has a feel of ultimate exclusivity in luxury and privacy. We stayed at the enclosed Banyan Pool Villa which was a beautiful and spacious comfortable private villa in a serene setting in Thai inspired décor that exudes elegance. There is a his and her private dressing room and an inviting open air oval bathtub. Step outside and there is a 3.5 by 6 metre cobalt blue outdoor pool. The beds are comfortable and clean and the bedsheets and pillows luxurious ensuring you rest well throughout the night. Every night a little gift is left on your bed from the hotel staff and a fruit bowl of in season Thai fruits.

The villas come in different categories and price ranges depending on the features of the villas. I was given a tour around the spa and pool villas at the resort and these were quite impressive.

There are 12 adult only Spa Sanctuary Pool Villas and it’s another level up from the Banyan Pool Villa. You would book the Spa Sanctuary Pool Villa if you want unlimited in villa massages and foot rituals upon check in, Thai high tea at The Cha, daily morning delights and exclusive spa night turndown service, and want general private time to enjoy the residence. The Spa Pool Villas are a contemporary tribute to traditional Thai architecture and décor. It’s an expansive space for 2, creating a natural setting for your spa, wellness and romantic holiday. Imagine getting a Thai massage and if you turn your head left you can see the pool and turn your head right, you see the lagoon. Truly bliss!

I also saw one of the exclusive Double Pool Villas and they come in one, two or three bedrooms, which is a premium villa stay which comes with your own butler, beautiful gardens and infinity pool. The style is more on the contemporary European side and everything about it is class, relaxation and elegance.

I was also shown the Spa Academy where all the masseuse undergo intensive 5-6 months of training at the Banyan Tree Phuket. There are rooms with rows of massage tables where the students education begin at both a theoretical and practical level. There is also the ‘Pantry’ where the therapists make all their own natural spa products which are in the bathrooms of the villas and used in the treatment rooms. The products smell good enough to eat and are all natural, not tested on animals and paraben free.

In the main area of the resort near the lobby are communal areas which include the main pool surrounded by Thai inspired architecture where you can relax, the fitness centre that has daily scheduled activities that you can participate in from tours to exercise classes to keep you occupied, a library if you want some quiet reading time, a large lagoon area where you can just sit and sip tea and admire the serenity as well as the Spa centre where you can book in a Thai massage or other wellness treatment.


Saffron Restaurant

During the cooking class with Chef Worapong Paechoo or 'Chef Gai' he told me to call him of Saffron Restaurant, the signature restaurant of the Banyan Tree Phuket, he asked me if I like to eat beef, chicken and seafood. I said yes to all the above. If the taste of his food that he taught me to cook earlier in the day for lunch was anything to go by, I knew I was in for a real treat for dinner at Saffron Restaurant. I was served refined authentic Thai dishes that are a presented so beautifully with a delicious harmonious explosion of fused flavours in every dish I tried. 

Where we sat overlooks the lagoon and it is a wonderful setting in the evening where the lights are turned on creating a peaceful and romantic setting. Our dining table is adorned by a real lotus flower too that I’ve only seen in the form of cakes at home in Sydney or in statues in my mum’s home that you can get in Chinatown. I’ve never seen a real lotus flower before, which flourishes in Thailand because of the tropical climate.

The Watercourt

During my stay at the Banyan Tree Phuket, I always looked forward to breakfast as the buffet spread is a flavoursome dining experience spread where East meets West and you have a choice to eat your typical Western food of bacon and eggs or you can do what I did and eat food that you don’t ordinary eat for breakfast back at home. I ate an Asian breakfast for the entire stay and absolutely loved it particularly the Thai fermented noodles Kanom Jeen or fermented noodles with green curry. For a breakfast dessert I ate Khao Nida Sangkaya (egg custard sticky rice); Khao niece gluay (steamed banana sticky rice); Sa La Pao Sai Tua Dum (Steamed Chinese Bun with Black bean) and of course the Thai fruits that are in season.

Afternoon High Tea at the Lobby Bar

During my stay at the Banyan Tree Phuket we had consistent and buckets of torrential rain in Phuket which is what you get when you go during monsoon season, but I didn’t mind it as there is no shortage of things to taste and do in the resort. I tasted this beautifully presented High Tea in the Lobby Bar of the Banyan Tree Phuket created by Chef Kristin Cutajar. The high tea comprised of Chicken Curry sandwiches (my favourite) Scottish Loch Fine Smoked Salmon Open Sandwich, Smoked Duck and Quince Jam Sandwich, Piquillo Pepper Tart, freshly baked raisin and plain scones, cupcake macaroons, white chocolate and coconut lollipops, ginger and lemongrass creams brûlée. It was a wonderful afternoon tea experience watching the rain fall in the lagoon.

Tamarind Restaurant

On the last evening in Banyan Tree Phuket we tried something different and experienced al fresco dining by the poolside at Tamarind, one of Phuket's finest destination for authentic Japanese fare prepared by the accomplished Japanese Master Chef Shiraishi Kikuo. At Tamarind, Shiraishi serves up a range of tantalising Japanese dishes of udon noodles and bento boxes which is what we tried for dinner.


Spa treatments

As I was set on trying on a Thai massage at the Banyan Tree Phuket resort, and I was happy to park myself at the resort’s spa particularly when Phuket was experiencing its tropical rain during the onset of the monsoon seas. I was led to a small villa like separate room for my treatment which had glass windows so you can look out to the private gardens and Thai inspired water features. I removed my clothes and replaced them with a blanket like robe. The therapist quietly knocks and comes in and asks me to lie face down on the massage tables and your face is nestled into the horse shoe shaped face rest ready for the lubricious round of body work to begin. I hardly moved and I’m sure I fell asleep to the soft sound of the patter for monsoonal rain outside, not caring whether I will be drenched when I leave the treatment room to head back to my villa. I was spiced, oiled and creamed and the scent truly fragrant and rejuvenating. It was such a beautiful and sensual experience.

Bike Tour

The morning after I arrived I was scheduled in for a bike tour at 930am of the local area and village in Phuket with Jin, a Thai local who is also part of the recreation team of the Banyan Tree Phuket. After putting on my helmet I pedalled behind Jim. The air was fresh and warm, the scenery lush green, full of chirps and sound of cars on the road in Phuket, some vegetation was untouched and there was some areas in development for new apartments. The locals drive on the left hand side, same as Australian roads. The ride was relatively flat and effortless I thought and an easy way to see the local area. I saw little shacks of homes and local stores in town as well the fisherman’s village. The fisherman are normally around the beach area around 7am catching their fish to take on their bikes to the markets. Jin, a Muay Thai boxer also showed me the local boxing ring where you can watch matches and introduced me to the owner. I learnt something about Jim too who was a very good boxer who competes and he showed me a few moves of how Thai boxing is different to Western boxing. He told me to try it and the kicking part is quite hard. The bike tour lasted about 2 hours and it was a wonderful way to see local life outside the Laguna resort area and very convenient it is a tour run by the Banyan Tree Phuket too.

Cooking Class

The best Thai food I’ved tasted was in Thailand. Under the guidance of Chef Worapong Paenchoo or Chef ‘Gai’ he told me to call him (which I later discovered ‘Gai’ in Thai means chicken) I learnt Thai cuisine is food that is light and fresh and traditionally seasoned with chilies, peppers and aromatic herbs. Chef Gai taught me how to make three delicious traditional Thai dishes and they are really easy to make. We started off with a Spicy Prawn Salad or “Pla Goong”, and in making this dish, I learnt not to cook prawns for too long. In fact, they only need to be blanched for about 2 minutes. I also learnt to make Tom Yum Goong, hot and sour shrimp soup. Here I learnt not to stir the prawns in water too much and only just move it so that there isn’t a fish smell in the room. Chef Gai said his mother taught him that. Finally, I learnt to make a Green Curry with Chicken or ‘Kaeng kheow Waan Gai. Very fragrant and delicious and it always tastes better when you grind your own curry paste. I was given the recipe cards so I can try them at home one day. Taking a cooking class is a good way to learn new Thai recipes and kitchen techniques you would not ordinarily learn back at home.

Night Markets Tour

Local markets are often a good place to experience at night because you don’t want to waste a perfectly good beach day and head to a busy market place under the scorching sun. Although in our case, we couldn’t even go at night because of the downpour of rain on the night we were supposed to go. We ended up going on another evening when it cleared up. I love the markets and the markets we went to had over 100 stalls doing roaring trades of fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood, street food to clothes, shoes and locally made consumables.

Recreation activities in the Banyan Tree Phuket Fitness Centre

During the day our tour to Phi Phi Island got cancelled due to rough seas because of the monsoon season I tried some of the recreational activities in the resort like Thai boxercise to K-pop music and Pilates to work on some core strengthening work. They were fun and productive classes to keep you fit after all that good food you indulge in during your stay.

Golf (contributed by my husband, Darren)

It’s 7:00am and I’ve just finished breakfast and I make my way from the Banyan Tree Resort where we are staying to the Pro Shop at Laguna Golf Phuket for my 7:20am tee off. The walk to the Pro Shop is only about 5 minutes and literally next door to our lodging – so convenient! 

The golf course is an 18-hole par-71 course. It looks immaculate and something out of a post card with its lily filled lagoons.  
It’s a balmy 27 degrees and I’m in my shorts and collared short sleeved shirt to meet the dress code.  

 The previous day I also got to meet local PGA Golf teaching Pro Blake Ellison at Laguna Golf Academy which is located at the course. Blake, originally from the UK and now a local resident at Phuket, gives me a run down of the course and after seeing my swing on the driving range also gives me some very useful tips on my golf grip, putting and chipping techniques. If you want a lesson from Blake, I highly recommend you booking him in.

On arriving at the Pro Shop and unlike other keen golfers, I didn’t bring any clubs with me so I hire a set of Titleist AP2s. I also decide to hire an electric buggy and the Pro Shop also assigns me a caddy which is a new experience for me as coming from Australia, the only golfers who have caddies are the Pros who play the big tournaments you see on TV. I’m just a weekend hacker who slices the ball.  

I meet my caddie and her name is Sunan and caddy number 18. Generally, the lower the caddy number the more experienced the caddy is. I’ve been told that the club has over 300 caddies and all are female. I also notice they all wear pink tops and pink head scarfs.

As there were a number of golfers already queuing on the first hole, the Golf Marshall directs us to start the round off the back 9 and the caddy drives me up to the 10th hole, a 321 yard Par 4. The caddy hands me a driver. I drive the ball down the fairway and it fades slightly right but manages to stay out of the rough. On my second shot, the caddy tells me my ball is 120 yards from the hole. She offers me either a 9 iron or PW iron. I choose the 9 iron and manage to land the ball on the green. When we get to the green the caddy then tells me to aim just left of the hole. My putt is wayward to towards the right and I end up three putting for a bogey before heading to the next hole.

The rest of the round while not great playing by me, proves to me most enjoyable particularly with the scenic surroundings, lush fairways, interesting holes and the novelty of playing with a caddy. I finish the 18 holes in good spirits even after donating a few balls into the lagoons. I give the caddy a tip of 400 baht (about 12 USD) at the end of the round.

Later I meet up with Crystal Zhong, who is the Marketing Communications Assistant Manager at Laguna Golf. I learn that the club has many overseas visitors who also take up golf memberships with the club. The memberships offer a range of member benefits including full access to the course (no green fees); large discounted benefits on the driving range, food and reciprocal playing rights on other courses.

I also learn that the World Golf Awards has named the course “Thailand’s Best Golf Course” for 2 consecutive years and “Asia’s Best Golf Course”. Based on what I experienced today, the awards do not surprise me and I’m itching to head back to Phuket for another round at Laguna Golf.

Trip Summary Notes
Getting there
We flew with Qantas to Singapore and then flew Jetstar to Phuket Airport
Where to stay
Banyan Tree Phuket
33, 33/27 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Road
Cherngtalay, Amphur Talang
Phuket 83110, Thailand +66 76 372 400 +66 76 324 375

Must see, taste and do's in and around the resort (& organised by the resort)

  • Thai massage
  • Morning bike ride tour of the local villages
  • Thai cooking class
  • High Tea in the resort
  • Golf
  • Night Markets Tour

See.Taste.Do stayed as a guest of the Banyan Tree Resort

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