May 30 2006

Forget Europe's hot spots, if you're aching for a moment of pure, indulgent, unashamedly hedonistic bliss you MUST put a stay at Phuket's exclusive Banyan Tree resort on the top of your to-do-before-i-die-list.  The gods were smiling upon me this week when I got to sample this slice of super-luxe-heaven myself. My real-life fantasy began like this: The Banyan Limo awaits at the airport, a gentle smiling chauffeur greets me. Within 30 minutes I arrive, greeted by a barrage of staff bowing to me as if I am some kind of Buddha, one of whom hands me a bracelet made out of Jasmine flowers (very Fantasy Island). They form a phalanx around me like protective body guards, escorting me through the grand foyer. So this is how Mick Jagger feels, I think to myself. But the star treatment is no act, it's sincere and endearingly polite - so humbling to be on the receiving end.

A golf buggy awaits, the resort is so big that they require the buggies to ferry guests to their villas. I arrive at Villa 205. The Pool Villa (pic above). Sonthaya, my private host welcomes me. I'm completely blown away.  The bed, ever so inviting, faces out to the pool. I've stayed in numerous 5 star resorts in my time but this one is exceptional. Sonthaya explains where everything is, a beach bag with a towel and sunscreen is prepared for me, a fruit bowl with some exceptional fruit sits on the table, my own toiletry bag with everything in it. They have thought of everything, even an outdoor bath to soak in later.

After Sonthaya leaves I decide, like a scene out of Porky's, I strip naked and jump right into the pool.  It's extremely private and not only can nobody else see in, it feels as if I have the resort to myself. But then I've barely left the villa, it's that kind of place. On the second day, I head out to the beach just a two minute walk away. I spot a French couple enjoying an $8 per/1 hr foot massage on their lounge chairs.  By the end of the day I have a golden tan. Later I spot the Presidential suite, or what I've dubbed The rockstars VILLA. It has its own private drive-away entrance so paparazzi shy-celebs can glide straight in from the airport. I'm told Liz Hurley, Olivia Newton John and Pierce Brosnon have stayed there recently.

The following morning as I head out for breakfast walking pass numerous staff who, bow after bow, greet me in Thai 'Sawatdi Kha'. Their smiles contagious and its then I realize what makes this place so special. It's the exceptional service. The Banyan Tree more than deserves its perpetual place on Conde Nast Traveller's HOT LIST.  It's the service, those gently sincere smiling faces, are like nothing I've ever experienced before.
At the extraordinary breakfast buffet I mouth the words OH MY GOD over and over as I swallow bite after bite of the perfectly made omelette, poppy seed pancakes, the fruit, the yoghurt, washed down with pineapple and mint juice.  The waitress asks if I would like a copy of the paper, another one passes asking if I would like champagne, "coffee or tea Mr Bill". I order peppermint, I pour a cup, spilling a drop on the plate and it's replaced a second later. The attention to detail by the staff is incredible.

I'm not surprised The Banyan Tree Phuket is one of the most traveled destinations in Asia. The privacy of one of the 127 private walled villas creates the feeling of utter seclusion. I'm told it's a favorite amongst celebrities, royalty, and other VIPs because it's so paparazzi-proof.

It's difficult to avoid hyperbole when talking about the Banyan Tree. It has earned its reputation through its indulgent service, radiant beauty and spectacular setting. We have hunted cool before and will again, however my stay at the Bayan exceeds the word cool and encompasses something brighter, deeper and stronger which resonates within you long after you have parted ways. by Bill T

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