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The winner blends geometry and nature in a palette of perspectives

Phuketwan Resort of the Year 2008 Award

Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Phuketwan Resort of the Year 2008: Take the Tour

NEW YEAR'S Day marks Phuketwan's first birthday, and what an eventful year for the island the past 12 months have been.

But have no fear: Phuket will be just fine in 2009, we promise.

Today also brings the first in the online site's series of awards. We begin with a new one, the Phuketwan Resort of the Year 2008 award.

We neglected to tackle resorts in making our awards for 2007, simply because the category seemed too tough. However, because resorts form such a vital part of Phuket's past, present and future, we simply had to have a go this year.

Now, there are lots of qualifications to these awards. For a start, they are largely personal judgments, based on the likes and dislikes of Phuketwan's staff (although we plan to change that with a judging panel and some serious sponsorship in 2009).

In ones or twos we have looked over, around and under many resorts on Phuket and in Krabi and Phang Nga this year. But it would be an exaggeration to say that we have seen them all.

It's also worth pointing out that some resorts we like have not had a full year in which to prove their capabilities, so quite a few worthy contenders will be taking up starting grid positions for the 2009 awards.

As Bill Barnett of C9 Hotel Works has pointed out in talking about his long list of resorts coming to the island, conversions of old hotels into new resorts will become more feasible in future.

There are also a range of resorts that are 20 years old or more on Phuket yet continuing to adapt with renovations and trendy makeovers, a bit like ageing movie queens.

There are good character parts for classic resorts, and the best of them still pull in fans galore at the Phuket beachside box office.

In marrying new ideas with timeless quality, some of the oldies but goodies have even become cutting-edge. Others don't have to change: their locations give them every advantage they will ever need.

We will name just one resort off Phuket: the Sarojin, which in 2008, for the third year in a row, won the World Travel Award for Asia's Leading Boutique Hotel, as voted for by travel agents.

That's quite an achievement for a 2004 tsunami wreck.

Now, when it comes to value, we take cost into consideration for our Restaurant of the Year (to be announced in a few days), but not for our Resort of the Year.

Call us fickle, call us inconsistent. Yet we do like the vicarious thrill of walking through a resort we will probably never to be able to afford.

But enough of this throat-clearing . . . the winner of the Phuketwan Resort of the Year Award 2008 is . . . Sala Phuket Resort and Spa.

Two of us walked in off the beach at Mai Khao without an invitation one day and fell in love with this place.

We went back to have a second look recently, just to make sure, and remained just as impressed.

As we said at the time, Sala Phuket has done something quite remarkable: it has made flat fashionable.

Some Phuket headland resorts cascade down hillsides to beaches. Deprived of that kind of advantage, Sala Phuket nestles perfectly into a natural environment.

The villas that make up the resort are set well back from the beach rather than overpowering it, the way resort designers once thought they were obliged to.

From that premise of co-existence flows a gentle design that delivers greenery, shapes and entrancing perspectives in every aspect of the resort.

Going around each corner becomes an adventure in shadows and geometry.

With rubber trees dappling paths and occasional Alice in Wonderland oversized surprises in odd spaces, the Sala's Thai design team has broken with resort boredom.

This place is fun, through and through.

The villas break all the rules, putting the bathroom outside by the pool and making the indoors part a bedroom-playground for pillowfights and snacks, if you happen to be so inclined.

Perhaps heading for the bathroom in a storm may be a handicap. That's a small price to pay, though, for such a memorable holiday adventure.

The spa is simply stunning. It blocks out the world, comforts your soul, and prepares you for introspective pampering. (Well, it's one of those things you have to see for yourself.)

As with that other success story, the Sarojin, Sala Phuket excels at the one thing that everybody just has to do well these days: marketing.

New resorts don't often appear in quite so many desirable magazines and quality newspapers in their first year as these two have done.

Maybe it's the sexy ''S-es'' that do it.

Meals at the Sala are competitively priced so guests are happy to eat in more than once.

''We are becoming involved in social marketing more in 2009,'' Resident Manager Anthony van Sleeuwen told us, ''and generating interest from there.''

''We've built some buzz. Mai Khao itself is challenging as well. Our second year is about creating Mai Khao as a destination.''

There are 220 staff. ''We pay well but we don't have excessive amounts of staff in relation to competitors. We have only the one restaurant.

''We try to keep it trim so we can afford to pay staff more.''

A bonus night-for-night scheme has delivered reasonable first-year occupancy rates on the 79 villas, given the twin airport blockades in Phuket and Bangkok.

Websites have become extremely important, allowing smaller boutiques to compete with larger international brands for independent travellers.

''We opened up a Facebook fan page the other day,'' Mr van Sleeuwen said. ''Customers are more savvy. All these channels are starting to make a difference.''

One novel idea: grazing. Executive chef Jan Hollister is leaning towards more appetiser-size dishes so people can try more taste sensations at a single sitting.

''So maybe there are six different dishes for the two of you to share,'' he said. ''It also gives guests something to talk about.

''The food engages them a bit more, and you are not locked in to a starter and main course approach.''

Local residents have begun to pick up on Sunday afternoons at the Sala especially. It's a joy to behold, any day of the week.

All we can say is, Hello, Sala.

Did we get it right? Prefer another resort? Tell us in Comment below

Coming up: the Phuketwan Innovation of the Year Award 2008, the Phuketwan Business of the Year Award 2008, the Phuketwan Restaurant of the Year 2008, and the Phuketwan Person of the Year Award 2008.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Thank you Phuketwan. your reporting and photos is a definite invitation to visit this tranquil and appealing resort.

Posted by Adrienne on February 20, 2011 16:54

Monday July 15, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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