Standout: Sri Panwa, an elegant hideaway in Phuket, is a favourite of celebrities and anyone else with a taste for luxury.
At this luxury resort you can sleep in the same beds as the stars (after they’re gone, of course), writes Kristie Kellahan.
It’s been described as the very best of the best luxury resorts in all of Thailand. A sunny destination on the south-eastern tip of Phuket where members of the revered Thai royal family sip Appletinis at the sky-high rooftop bar alongside glittery stars of the pop culture world.
In the four years since Sri Panwa’s resort became fully operational (there are also 25 spacious private residences on site), Rita Ora and her entourage have filmed a video clip here, Gordon Ramsay has feasted on nosh from the state-of-the-art kitchens, Flo Rida has suggested a music playlist and Snoop Lion has chilled in a villa back when he was still a Dogg.
The big names of Western stage and screen pale into insignificance, though, compared with the megastars of the East who drop in from Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore for a glamorous weekend shielded from prying eyes.
On this sunny day there’s a gaggle of near-hysterical Korean fans waiting at the foot of the steep pebbled-driveway entrance to Sri Panwa, trying in vain to get past the smiling security guards. It turns out the searing-hot “It” couple of Korean film is in residence, although the discreet front desk staff won’t name names, beyond confirming that they are famous with a capital, underlined F.
“Famous like Tom Cruise?” I ask.
“Oh, much bigger. More like Brad and Angelina.”
So what is it that draws in the AAA-list? Pampered and indulged, they can go anywhere, stay anywhere and barely blink at pool villa nightly rates that can run well into four digits. They want the height of luxury and the very best facilities and amenities, that goes without saying. Multimillion-dollar, 360-degree water views? Tick. A day spa as spacious as the entirety of most other resorts, where they can slough off the cares of yesterday with an organic coconut scrub? Of course. Anything less than pool villas secluded in absolute privacy? Don’t waste their time.
What stands Sri Panwa apart from the hoi polloi of glamorous, luxurious island resorts is the sense of relaxed fun and elegant — never obsequious — service that anticipates every need of the guests, whether they rate a mention on the online global influence radar, Klout, or not.
The hotel owner and general manager, Vorasit “Wan” Issara, is the baby-faced 32-year-old son of a prominent Thai family that made its fortune in property. A guest whispers to me that they “basically own Bangkok”, although you’d never guess from the unaffected charm and eager-to-please friendliness of Issara. He brings his dog to work, deliberates over the menu in each of the resort’s restaurants and adds fun touches such as free minibars stocked with Icy Poles, as well as the expected beer, soft drink and chips.
Issara encourages a happy work environment for the staff — they drive around the grounds in tricked-out tuk-tuks and wear uniforms of Superman-motif T-shirts and shorts in the steamy Phuket humidity.
As Issara and his team press another slice of tiger prawn tom yum goong pizza onto your plate or replace your lemongrass cocktail before the ice melts in the first, it’s not hard to imagine you’re at the most upscale summer camp in the world being led in cheerful pursuits by the most good-looking, indulgent camp counsellors to be found.
Envisioned originally as an oasis of private residences spread over 16 hectares of lush Phuket rainforest meeting the Andaman Sea, the Sri Panwa plan was expanded to include 52 hotel villas. (There are two private holiday residences still for sale: starting price, $5 million.)
Next came the pool club, a cooking school, the Cool Spa, fitness centre and an amphitheatre in the forest that regularly hosts concerts and special events: perfect for those seeking privacy for weddings or other celebrations. A range of restaurant concept spaces opened to cater for everything from gala events to casual bites.
The spectacular hero of Sri Panwa is Baba Nest, a rooftop bar with 360-degree views of the Andaman Sea and arguably the best sunset vista in Phuket (the bar is open daily from 5pm). Comfy, oversize beanbags dot the wooden decking of what has been named one of the top three beach bars in the world.
The sound of champagne corks popping is challenged only by the clicks of an orchard of Apple iPhones and iPads committing the view to digital eternity.
It’s difficult to take a bad photo at Sri Panwa, although the private beach is not the greatest in Phuket. Rocky and subject to the whims of the tides, it does not compete with the white sands and bathtime ebbs of popular Surin Beach.
Some swim from the floating pier that was built as the launch and departure point for longtail boat rides to the outer islands, while those who can drag themselves away from the resort take day trips to secluded snorkelling spots.
Truly private as the infinity pool villas are, they practically beg for clothing-optional swimming and sunning. One member of the group I was travelling with shyly disclosed her late-afternoon nudie dip over communal breakfast next morning in Baba Poolclub, only to be laughingly reassured that everyone else had done exactly the same thing.
Even the star guests have commented to staff how free they felt within the walls of the private, gated villas. If only those walls could talk.
Kristie Kellahan was a guest of Sri Panwa and Jumpee Travel.
Three more celeb-worthy resorts in Phuket
1 Twinpalms Phuket Resort (twinpalms-phuket.com), a favourite with the Euro jetset for its glam, contemporary spa and location across the road from Catch Beach Club. Gents, pack your white trousers and black Amex; ladies, be seen in an itsy bitsy bikini or not at all.
2 Foto Hotel (fotohotelphuket.com, under construction) is one of the newest hotels on the island. Designed with the fashion crowd in mind, and a photography theme throughout, the hotel serves up snap-worthy view after snap-worthy view.
3 Banyan Tree Phuket (banyantree.com) holds court as the shining star of the sophisticated spa and wellness crowd, counting a roll call of Oscar winners as returning guests.
Thai Airways flies 11 times a week from Sydney to Bangkok with daily connections to Phuket. 1300 651 960, thaiairways.com.au.
Sri Panwa is a luxurious island resort sprawled over 16 hectares of rainforest. The resort is perched on top of Cape Panwa, affording the private pool villas and Baba Nest bar sweeping sea views.
One-bedroom pool suites start from $500 a night and one-bedroom pool villas from $800.