Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Phuket: sailing east to west

Having dipped our toes in the Eastern Andaman Sea it was time to go west to party central Patong and to sample the luxe life as only a Banyan Tree resort can deliver it.

As we were all travel writers, we couldn't just hop in the van and go, we needed a new experience.  Luckily, that meant sailing aboard the Sea Breeze for a Siam Junk Cruise.

What a treat. This beautiful, 112-foot long, 23 feet wide, two-masted teak vessel provided the ultimate in comfort, attractiveness and hospitality. Managing Director John Bethell (a real foodie!), his associates and crew entertained and coddled us throughout. 

Hearing how they cruise the waters of Burma and India as well as those of Thailand, can have a masseuse on board and have chefs for Thai, fusion and Western-style cuisine made me want to gather a group to fill the six tasteful staterooms, each with bath. Dibs on one of the VIP suites. They can accommodate as many as 50 for a day cruise with gourmet meal.

The very loud firecrackers set off over the bow by the crew did their job. Ours was an auspicious and totally pleasant journey.

The sea was as beautiful but the scenery was not as dramatic as what we had already seen. We anchored off Patong Beach for lunch and felt far luckier than the passengers on our much larger neighbor, Cunard's Queen Victoria. 
NOTE:  Go to my other blog, Food Afar - Recipes from a Travel Writer - and check the April archive to see what we ate and how you can cook it at home.

Tip: Transfers from land to boat are fairly easy, but find out how exactly they will be handled before booking. No problem at all from a marina; the walk out to the boat can be long but at least you know it is going to be flat. The transfer to the Six Senses boat was a cinch but getting from boat to the island resort's pier was a bit dicey. We padded through the sand to a zodiac then climbed up a very short ladder with lots of help to get to the Siam Junk. Getting from junk to zodiac was easy as was getting off at Patong Harbor.

Landing in Patong was going from the sublime to the ridiculous. The beach was filled with bikini-clad bodies, a few of which were designed for skimpy swimwear. 

The sidewalks were filled with sarong-wearing  recent beach goers who shared streets and sidewalks with motor bikers joy riding or hell-bent to get wherever faster.

Offerings were titillating.
Come sleep with us - racy apartments personally staffed. 
Touch Villas. 
Laundry and massages. 
FBI, Finest Bar in Thailand. 
From custom tailoring to a companion of the moment or x-rated apparel, it was yours for the asking and paying. 

Two spots here Westerners will find appealing. Joe's Downstairs overlooks a rocky promontory, serves excellent drinks and is a great place to watch the sun go down. 

Right next door, Baan Rim Pa, one of Thailand's most celebrated restaurants, features dishes only found in the country's Grand Palace. Staffers have raised vegetable and fruit carving to a fine art. 
Warning: With Joe's to the left and Baan Rim Pa, the two make for a lovely evening but you will have to negotiate flights of stairs.

 We returned to the sublime with an all too brief stay at Banyan Tree Phuket in their divine, luxuriously appointed pool villas.

Warning: Some of these villas feature beds that are on a raised platform but at floor level.  This can be a problem or a giggle depending on your attitude and physical dexterity. However, the resort is on flat terrain and you rarely encounter more than four steps up or down between buildings. Golf carts ferry you from one destination to another within the complex and villas come with bikes. 

Banyan Tree is at the northern, most private end of what is billed as Asia's first integrated resort, Laguna Phuket, with five hotels sharing an 18-hole golf course, corporate training facility and an idyllic stretch of white sand beach. All were appealing but the Tree was the most elegant. 

Do NOT miss the spa. You will have to dig deeper into your pockets for a massage here, but do it.  The massage rooms are the most beautiful I have ever seen. 

Not that you'll have your eyes open once you hit the table. 


And with that, I had to leave Thailand for the long, l-o-o-n-g haul home.


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