Leonardo DiCaprio, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Bill Gates, and Harrison Ford are among the rich and richer who have made the 20 hour trip from NYC to Phuket. It’s a long flight, even on a private jet, but once you touch down, the magic carpet rolls out. We were met by a white-uniformed greeter from the Amanpuri, who escorted us to a black chauffeured BMW that whisked us to the hotel. Looking out the window, you see a poor third world country streaming by until you swing into the long, palm-lined drive to the resort’s enchanted garden; all the teak wood buildings are built in the traditional Thai style with whimsical peaked winged roofs. The architecture echoes the Royal Palace compound in Bangkok where King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara live. Frederic Varnier, the charming and erudite head honcho here for the past 15 years and members of his sarong wearing staff meet us, bowing in the time-honored greeting. Here you will find a collection of the world’s savvy cognoscenti who are called “Aman Junkies”, because of their loyalty to the brand. This list includes Jason Statham and his wife Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and their six children when they were still married.
The Amanpuri was built by legendary hotelier Adrian Zecha in 1988. It was the first in the Aman Group of hotels and resorts that now span the world from the Turks & Caicos and Bali to Sri Lanka and Tibet. The Aman Resort Group is now owned by Vladislav Doronin. I wandered down hand-hewn stone steps, surrounded by greenery to a tiny rock peninsula on the property.
This idyllic spot, edged with swaying palm trees, overlooks Pansea Beach. The soundtrack was provided by a gentle wind and white-capped waves rolling picturesquely against the boulders that create this stone jetty. A young Tai girl led us to the outermost table, one of only four, perched eight feet above the sand and sea. She held back a simple wooden chair and placed a freshly pressed white linen napkin on our laps. The menu was something you would expect at Sant Ambroeus, not on a rock in Thailand. The chef proves masterful and the cuisine an unexpected delight; healthy, sophisticated and scrumptious. With a majestic palm tree acting as our umbrella, I looked out over the multi-blue hued sea, relaxed and comforted, this table symbolizes the exquisite experience that is the Amanpuri.
The Jet Set
Every detail at this flagship hotel is elegantly curated, from the fragrant cool towels and the refreshing hibiscus teas that await you at every stop to the refined taste exercised in the execution of the pavilions and reception areas.
The most extravagant way to stay here is in one of the 30 private villas that spread out over the hills looking down at the ocean. These range from a two-bedroom compound with a private pool and separate pavilions for dining and lounging for $3,800 a day to a grand 8-bedroom house with a live-in housekeeper and chef for 14k a night. Billionaires, the jet set and stars like Pierce Brosnan, Jean-Claude Van Damme and One Direction’s Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, and Louis Tomlinson have all slept here as well as scores of others who don’t want to see their names in print. The management has been known to send out boats filled with security to bribe and shoo away the paparazzi that train their long lenses on their guests. Not long ago they spied on Brangelina and reported that their son Pax had hurt his leg while jet skiing. When one of these villas goes on the market, they fetch 10 to 25 million dollars.
For a romantic rendezvous, I’d suggest staying in one of their 40 glamorous stand-alone Pavilions that face the sea and are near the beach, bar, pool, and restaurants. These rooms are spacious and well thought out; they also boast their own outdoor dining and lounging pagoda. The bedroom is a sleek dark wood cocoon with sliding teak doors and windows that either seal you in or open to the views of the sea and the tropical gardens that surround you. The twin bath and dressing rooms make it easy for a couple to get ready simultaneously. Every day there is a surprise, the Buddha in your bedroom is draped with a fresh frangipani lei, floating orchids fill your bathtub that is surrounded by lit candles, there is package on your pillow bearing a gift: a white silk scarf, white orchid plants punctuate your room, and fresh fruit and cookies are always left on a tray. Service is silent and they time it so you never see it happen.
Although you can go into Phuket to eat, it’s easier to dine at the resort. Although there is swift room service, we started every day with breakfast in the main pavilion facing the Olympic sized, black tiled pool, that is surrounded by grey chaise lounges. The food here is on a par with the Carlyle in NYC or the Rosewood in London, with freshly brewed coffees and teas and homemade
breads and jams. There are lots of healthy choices; try the fresh fruit smoothies, egg white frittatas, or the open-faced Tai omelet. That said, I couldn’t help but miss the lavish buffet breakfasts you find in European hotels, but the Amanpuri is far quieter than a normal five-star hotel and you never wait for anything. You can choose from three separate restaurants and cuisines, The Tiger restaurant serves Tai food but if you want a hamburger, it’s done just like at home. Their Italian restaurant offers perfect pastas and a heavenly Tagliatelle lamb ragu. Puri Naoki serves Japanese fare; order all the sushi, the grilled yellowfin tuna and the tangy hot and sour soup with a floating shrimp. To work off the calories head to the hotel’s state of the art gym, which sits on top of a bluff. Every treadmill offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of the sea and long stretches of beach. You can hire a trainer to put you through your paces or there’s a yoga master who conducts a class in the mornings. Sweat in Nirvana. Recover in the elegant spa. It is a quiet oasis and all they want to do is pamper you. Order up: The Royal Thai massage, invigorating facials with local herbs or expert mani-pedis. My favorite treatment was the foot massage with Andaman sea salt and roasted coconuts. After lunch, nap in the shade, then rent jet skis and go exploring. They offer all the watersports here, from snorkeling and waterskiing to sailing and paragliding. As I swam in the sea it was hard to envision the tsunami that hit the area 15 years ago in 2004. Thankfully there are very few signs left of the devastation that it wrought.
Between 4:30 and 5:30 pm there is a not to be missed ritual in the teahouse overlooking the pool. A gaggle of maidens makes traditional Thai pancakes, the size of silver dollars, over a charcoal stove while a musician softly plays an indigenous instrument. These tiny treats are beyond yummy; try the banana, mango, and chocolate, or go rogue and have one made with sweet onions. They melt in your mouth so you have to be careful not to eat too many. The ladies also serve cold ginger tea with mango juice and offer pumpkin and banana bread and coconut cookies if you want to switch things up. Luckily, tea time is exactly one hour or you’d need to wear a caftan to the beach. We went swimming at sunset; the water was warm and the sun’s last rays reflected off the ocean as we body surfed and played in the waves like happy seals. Later, the lapping waves lulled us to sleep in our beds. Amanpuri, the stuff dreams are made of. aman.com (66)76-324-333