Anantara’s Phuket flagship hotels and residences offer a breath of fresh air.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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Sprawled on a chaise, book in hand, I marvelled at the foliage rustle with signs of an incoming storm outside the window. White lilies appeared to bow to the heavens, palm leaves flapped in the breeze like fans, and further in the horizon, beach parasols spun like girls twirling in summer dresses.

It was only minutes ago that the skies were blue and birds sang. Dramatic changes in weather are apparently common during monsoon season in Phuket. The Tree House restaurant, where I indulged in a three-tiered English-Thai afternoon tea, was the perfect place to look over the lush Bill Bensley-designed gardens, for which Anantara Mai Khao Phuket is famous. I poked my head out to see if the resident Muscovy duck managed to return to her nest safely in the downpour. No sign of her.

Located just 15 minutes away from Phuket International Airport, the all-villa hotel spills onto Mai Khao Beach, a whopping nine-kilometre stretch of sand, which is the largest on the island. Like its Thai sister properties, this one also has an eco slant. Plastic is a rarity and water comes in glass bottles. The hotel management works closely with The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation to retrieve turtle eggs, which are incubated, hatched and released into the Andaman Sea each June. The property’s farm is home to three chickens and two bunnies — the former rescued from battery farms, and the latter a major attraction for the hotel’s younger guests.

Situated away from the nightclubs and markets in southern Phuket, the resort is more about leisure activities. A board of hourly to-dos for kids range from pizza-making and Jenga keep the little ones busy, and give the grown-ups time to workout. There’s Pilates, Muay Thai, circuit training, yoga, and if you’re lucky, a dip in the ocean when currents are more forgiving. Breaking a sweat is a must, trust me, because food here is absolutely scrumptious.

The ocean-facing Sea Fire Salt is a signature venue, where local seafood delivers every time. You’ll find favourites from sea (Sea) and land (Fire) seasoned from the chef’s impressive salt library (tom yum salt is a thing). The restaurant is known for its grilled specialities served on a Himalayan salt brick preheated to 200-degrees Celsius. Whether you believe that the meat absorbs the salt’s nourishing minerals, the savoury flavour it imparts is pleasant enough.

After morning Thai boxing and yoga sessions, downtime beckoned at the hotel’s Phuket Spa, which, according to Lucia McCallion, director of Spa, Wellness and Recreation, is going through major changes. This includes a more resultoriented menu with categories like ‘energising’, ‘balancing’ and ‘relaxing’, and Comfort Zone products will be introduced in these customised treatments. McCallion says, “Guests often come into the spa asking for a Thai massage just because they’re in Thailand. But we want to know what they mean when they say ‘I want to relax’. Is it a muscle thing? Did they go through a death in the family, or have an argument with their wife before they came perhaps?”

Chakra Crystal Balancing therapy and Shirodhara are two new treatments to look forward to. In addition to nourishing hair and scalp, Shirodhara eases stress and anxiety levels immediately, and my slumber that evening was uninterrupted. Perhaps thanks to the aromas of herbal galangal and ginger steam beforehand, it’s probably the only time I’ve ever fallen asleep in a spa’s wet facilities.

Shirodhara was calming, while the Chakra Crystal Balancing therapy leaves you super recharged. One of the newest signature treatments, it restores the six energy centres using stones and oils, infused with one of four healing crystals, during the massage. Rose quartz represents self-love and peace and is recommended for travellers. Rigorous and hypnotic strokes were used to achieve healing. Whether it’s the soothing music, therapist’s expert touch or realigned chakras, I feel aligned and at peace.

Located just 30 minutes away by car is Anantara Mai Khao Phuket’s newer sister property, Anantara Layan Residences. Built in 2014, both its 15 residences and 77 villas espouse a more contemporary look with cutting-edge fittings. Nature remains the spotlight, with jaw-dropping ocean views at check-in and a verdant canopy leading to villas, which are also surrounded by vegetation.

Though still surrounded by the Andaman Sea, the resort is tucked within a nook on the island, making the tides still enough for me to learn stand-up paddleboard. It was one of the many beachfront activities on offer, alongside rafting, snorkelling and more, but after falling off my board one too many times (albeit with eventual success at the end) I retreated to the beachfront Mojito Corner to reward myself with Thai-inspired mocktails.

A home-away-from-home for Anantara’s founder William Heinecke, who stays almost every weekend, the Layan property will also undergo a complete overhaul. This will include the addition of 15 Japanese-style, multi-floor residences under new brand Avadina; more spa villas; a newer and larger gym and kids’ club; organic farm and cooking school –– all expected to be unveiled over the next two to three years.

But change is already in the air with its wellness offerings. If the spa’s licenses come through by this year’s last quarter, Anantara Layan’ Spa will be the first in the hotel group to provide edgier treatments like IV therapy. Specialised progammes over several days will also be introduced.

My biggest skin concern, according to a very-detailed Biologique Recherche Skin Lab assessment, is dehydration. A facial comes to the rescue, using detoxifying products to reduce pigmentation and pump up moisture. I thought the immediate glow I noticed afterwards was remarkable, but when I emerged from an Intraceuticals’ Oxygen Facial the next day—the one Madonna allegedly gets every day in place of Botox—my mind was completely blown.

Said to be one of the best non-invasive procedures, the skin is filled with natural amino acids for instant firming, lifting and plumpness. The result? Wrinkles, even the ones close to the eyes and on the lips, disappeared; the contours of my face are more prominent and my eyes are substantially brighter.

Director of Spa & Recreation Stephanie Arrive said the results would probably be less evident if either treatment was performed on its own. “Biologique Recherche works on the deeper level by establishing and rebuilding a stronger foundation before Intraceuticals comes in to give the ‘wow’ effect.” Since the Oxygen facial is not recommended daily— and rather unaffordable unless you’re a platinum-status singer—multi-day treatment packages featuring different brands and products make sense. They can target a different area each day and are not too harsh on the skin.”

Though the spa is moving in a more tech-savvy direction, a personal touch is very much retained. At Layan, posttreatment snacks are personally made by the chef. And who can forget its healing rituals like the new Himalayan Salt Therapy? With benefits like purifying air, exfoliation, improved sleep and enhancing respiratory system and digestion, these heated pink blocks are rolled onto the body to drive out tension, stress and negative energy. A neutral sweet almond oil is used, and strokes start from the feet up. This was a vibrant massage, starting with a powerful back twist. After long hours of slouching in front of my computer, I welcomed this energy, as did my skin, which glowed afterwards from the stone exfoliation.

Gluttony can be guilt-free at Anantara Layan Phuket Resort. Vegan menus are available in both restaurants, and breakfast offers Halal and gluten-free options. There is a superfood corner where you can find spirulina powder, quinoa and bee pollen. The fruit is fresh, and new interesting juices are available each morning. On a cheat day, however, Thai eatery Dee Plee serves punchy curries and a delicious spring roll stuffed with crabmeat, herbs and mushrooms. Downstairs at Breeze, crispy salads, poke bowls and tacos are a must.

Both of the group’s flagship properties are quietly making changes internally, but also raising the bar of Thai hospitality. Holistic wellness experiences are reinvented through combining traditional therapies with medical innovations. Pampering is no longer instant gratification, but a relaxing and functional journey.

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PREVIOUS PAGE: Soak away your cares at Layan’s Anantara Spa. THIS PAGE: Oppulent treatment rooms at Anantara Mai Khao Phuket
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THIS PAGE: Chakra Crystal Healing Therapy replenishes the body from within and is one of the newest treatments at the Mai Khao property.  OPPOSITE PAGE:  Anantara Layan’s Hillside pool and spa are both excellent ways to while away an afternoon 

My Reading Room
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CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Snack virtuously in  Anantara Layan Spa’s Relaxation Room which serves homemade treats; Himalayan Salt Therapy is a must; New facilities, namely a more spacious gym, are currently in the works 

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

Writer Joyce Yip