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Stylish and natural by the pool at Sala Phuket

Sala Phuket Makes Hot List (as We Predicted)

Thursday, April 24, 2008
Contender for Innovation of the Year 2008

MAI KHAO beach is a busy place these days with construction proceeding or about to begin on a handful of large projects. The JW Marriott Resort and Spa was once the only resort on this stretch of Phuket's west coast. Not now.

One new Mai Khao resort, the Sala Phuket, presents a strikingly memorable impression of the shape of the future. It is not entirely alone, either.

Not far from the original Marriott, work has begun on a new Marriott Renaissance Phuket Resort, which will eventually add to the three Courtyards scheduled to open elsewhere on the island this year.

Adjacent to the Marriott, work is proceeding as well on a purpose-built Marriott Vacation Club Resort.

Along the coast, closer to the airport, the large West Sands Phuket villa and condominium project is going up, with its waterpark for guests and the resort segment recently announced as falling to the Outrigger Resort group to manage.

We are also led to believe that work will begin on another resort, the 114-room Chabaya, fairly soon. There will also be eight villas in the project, across 11 rais.

But it's the rambling 20-rai Sala Phuket we have come to see, and it leaves a lasting impression.

Our verdict: this design sets new standards for beachside Phuket. It deserves to be widely acclaimed.

In recent years we've seen the Evason Phuket and Six Senses Spa, the grandeur of the Banyan Tree DoublePool Villas, the stylish makeover of the Indigo Pearl at Nai Yang, and a brace of new resorts in Phang Nga, including the international travel award-winners, The Sarojin and Le Meridien Khao Lak Beach and Spa Resort.

The Sala Phuket is a fresh delight, a concoction that blends nature and nurture nicely.

Just for a start, that name is a whole lot more manageable and memorable than many of the unweildy mouthfuls of resort names that come tumbling out of confused marketing departments these days.

Is this caused by indecision, lack of focus, or the desire for an Internet presence when a potential customer types in ''resorts Phuket''?

As in most aspects of life, actions speak louder than words, and the delightfully short Sala Phuket says a lot.

Deprived of the great headland top provided by nature for the Sri Panwa Resort or the tumbling hillside of the Trisara Phuket, Sala Phuket's Thai design team has done the impossible.

They have made flat fashionable.

If the turtles ever do return to a stretch of Mai Khao coast that is becoming increasingly crowded, it will be to a stretch of beach at a resort as attuned to its surroundings the way this one is.

Why? Because the resort is set well back, with a large grassy space acting as a buffer between the pounding blue Mai Khao waves and the integrated low-rise Sala.

It's a beautiful sight to see, a sign that money isn't perhaps the only thing that matters here.

But you will need quite a bit of that, too, to cover the imposing room rates.

The 79 suites at the Sala include seven styles, with rates ranging from $US490 for a Deluxe Balcony to the Presidential Pool Villa Suite at $US1500 a night, plus seven percent VAT and 10 percent service charge.

What you get for your money, only guests can tell you. Yet in a design sense, Sala Phuket presents great value.

Part of the test is the number of photographs we take on a guided tour. Around Sala Phuket, we went click-happy.

It's an uplifting experience, in more ways than one. The camera not only comes up to the eye often. The spirits soar, too

The resort has only been open since December 15 and already it has been chosen as the backdrop for a model fashion shoot in one upmarket Thai magazine.

We predict there will be many more.

Most new resorts these days offer the cliche of glass windows between the bathroom and the bedroom, as if somehow couples stay on honeymoon forever.

The Sala Phuket lifts the bathrooms outside in most of the villas, to one elevated and covered end of the 15-metre pool.

Inside becomes a cosy retreat for sleeping and snacking. Outside, surrounded by tall villa walls, the pool and bath area becomes a water playground.

Clothing? Who needs it?

Throughout the Sala site, stripling rubber trees are beginning to dapple the paving stones. Grass has been allowed to grow around the pavers, which will impress everyone except the gardeners and anyone who has to wheel a trolley here.

Just as the Indigo Pearl is a tribute to Phuket's tin mining past, so Sala Phuket honors the island's rubber plantations.

And fortunately, nothing is gloomy or industrial here. Light is allowed to intrude gently at odd angles everywhere, even in the lobbyside library.

The inner sanctum of the spa zone is, quiter simply, stunning. We haven't seen anything quite so alluring for some time.

This is not about nature, as so many resorts try to make it. This is all about the spa.

Even the stairways leading up to the Balcony accommodation have been transformed into artworks. Yes, the camera comes out, even on the stairway.

There may be flaws at Sala Phuket, but as far as beachside design goes, we failed to find them.

If this resort does not pick up prizes for the respectful way it treats nature and its innovative playfulness with texture and light, we will be very surprised.

And we hope Mai Khao has more resorts as good as this one coming soon.

WHAT CONDE NAST said: The Sino-Portuguese-inspired decor, including black lacquered sliding doors as well as ornate chandeliers above the bath, harks back to the area's earlier inhabitants, while neutral hues keep the look stylishly modern. When the rubber trees grow to maturity, shade will spread across this spacious property, but for now guests can escape the sun under canvas-covered daybeds scattered on the beachfront lawn with its three large pools, one of which is kid-friendly.

The Sala Phuket Spa also made the Conde Nast Hot List Spas for 2008.

Conde Nast specialises in publishing highly regarded travel and lifestyle magazines.

Look for TRENDS regularly at Phuketwan

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