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The size and spread of Rixos Premium becomes apparent

Rixos Premium Primed For Khao Lak Revival

Tuesday, November 18, 2008
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RIXOS Premium opens in Khao Lak in December, and it should bring gasps of surprise. Nobody has done it before quite like this newcomer Turkish brand.

And it's a piece of Andaman history, too. This is the last of the large tsunami-wrecked resorts to reopen, almost four years after the big wave swept over everything.

Phuketwan visited the Rixos Premium in the final phases of its makeover. Seldom have we been so impressed.

Two thousand workers were still applying the finishing touches to the large site, in two shifts.

Get this: the main pools, which were extremely impressive when the five-star Sofitel Magic Lagoon opened just before December 26, 2004, have been enlarged still further.

It is now possible, the management says, to swim through different parts of the 16,000 square metres of pools for three kilometres. Three kilometres!

The attention to detail is also quite astonishing. For example, non-slip porous Australian volcanic stone has been imported for the lips of the pool at the point where guests can dive in, straight from their rooms.

In mansions of the 19th century, the servants scurried hither and thither on secret stairways and crossovers, cleverly designed to keep them out of sight.

A similar system of ramps and tunnels has been incorporated in the rebuilt Rixos Premium, so that staff carrying dirty laundry, pool towels and room service meals will not disturb guests.

One tunnel, we were told, extends for 300 metres, beneath the main swimming pool.

But we hasten too fast. This article is as much about the rebirth of Khao Lak as a popular tourist destination, with attractions that Phuket struggles to match.

Around Cape Pakarang, the Sarojin and Le Meridien Khao Lak led the fightback, and deservedly Le Meridien Khao Lak today boasts an occupancy rate of 85 percent.

The Sarojin? Probably doing even better than that, with a string of awards to its credit.

These resorts, Le Meridien and Rixos Premium both large and the Sarojin quite small (and perhaps with La Flora as a fourth) incorporate the five-star soul of the new Khao Lak.

I stayed in November at Le Meridien for the third time since the tsunami, and could not fault any aspect of the resort. The trees are grown, the staff are well-trained and the atmosphere is faultless.

At breakfast, the buffet spread is so large and diverse that it's possible to start the day on smoked salmon and brie and a pot of tea.

All told, Le Meridien has seven restaurants, although it must be said that nightlife is not what guests expect to find in Khao Lak.

Yet the Germans especially are coming in vast numbers, with general manager Torsten Richter and Executive Assistant Manager Tino Lindner delighted with figures that, despite the financial crisis, put Phuket to shame.

They know, though, that low seasons in Phang Nga are still extremely low. This not only spoils the graphs, but also leaves skilled but bored staff looking for alternatives.

While Le Meridien and Rixos Premium are likely to be rivals in some areas, they will jointly be keen to lift the appeal of Khao Lak as a year-round destination.

Rixos Premium certainly has a few points of difference that rivals in Phang Nga and on Phuket will spy with envy.

For a start, this will be Phang Nga's first all-inclusive rate resort, offering a broad range of extras with food and accommodation.

Room service between 2am and 7am is included, and the Rixos aims to party.

Another great idea is a late-checkout lounge under the elevated foyer, where guests who arrive early or need to catch a plane late on checkout day can shower and relax.

We were fortunate enough to be at the Rixos on a day when owners Zeynal Abidin Atmacan and Navathep Narula were showing a group of German tour operators around the resort.

Most of the 298 rooms are not excessively large but clever hanging lamps and a huge recessed television set help to maximise the space.

There are smart touches everywhere.

The electronics are state of the art, with the capacity for a receptionist to light the room before guests reach it.

The bathroom, with twin pebble-lined hand basins and its own large speakers, looks fabulous. One of our party even tried out the bath, dry.

And the slatted timber blinds on the see-through glass can be operated from the wet side of the window.

It's also possible to laze back on the comfortable bed beneath a huge Thai work of art and surf the internet on the television with a wireless keyboard . . .

The three billion baht spent on the resurrection appears to have been committed to quality throughout.

Special attention has been paid to recycling systems for water and garbage, largely because eco-aware Germans and Russians are likely to be the target markets.

Because the owners took good care of their staff after the tsunami, despite difficulties claiming the insurance, many familiar faces have returned on-staff with new skills acquired at neighboring resorts.

Resort workers live in quarters not far away that the owners say are equivalent to three-star, with two to a room throughout.

And if the food we tasted is any indication, the Rixos, with a premium (we guess that's the appropriate word) on freshness, will shake up a few of the F&B managers on Phuket who think they know it all.

Until the Rixos actually opens on December 16, comparisons with other resorts would be unfair, and even then it may take a while to perfect every aspect. That's not unusual.

We were truly impressed with the Le Meridien Khao Lak, where experience already provides a great holiday atmosphere. Both resorts have broad space for gardens and excellent beachfronts.

But we'd also have to say that the Rixos Premium seems filled with great promise, even if not with guests.

To see both resorts so healthy and happening four years on from the big wave is the important point. Khao Lak is back, finally and fabulously.

Phuketwan paid for one night at Le Meridien Khao Lak and enjoyed one night free. We ate a free four-course lunch at Rixos Premium, with free beers.

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