Last December, my partner and I decided to hightail it out of the holiday madness overtaking Hong Kong (the life size Santa House in Pacific Place III with swarms of screaming children was the final straw.) As a much needed alternative, we found ourselves on a blissfully quiet and modern retreat in Thailand. After ridiculous amounts of time spent online poring over TripAdvisor reviews of luxury, but not of the Aman price point, stylish, but not to the point of gaudy cultural imitations or overly stark and modern, and beachy but not of the Patong party type, we finally chose Aleenta Resort which is a quick half hour drive over the bridge on the mainland from the Phuket airport.
Since we were aiming for a short, not too costly trip, and considering our total disappearance over Christmas would not score high with our relatives in Hong Kong and we still had to buy mountains of Christmas presents for family abroad, we booked with Agoda and flew budget airline AirAsia. Agoda is a lovely little site that can save you a bundle on hotel and resort rates, and despite what sites such as Kiwi Collection and Mr.& Mrs. Smith say, it really provides the best deals. If you don’t mind bringing your own meals, blankets and anything else that you might possibly need on your flight, AirAsia is perfectly sufficient.
Aleenta, as a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is a small boutique resort located in Pha Nga Province, just north of Phuket Island. Instead of the traditional layout of many resorts, where rooms and villas are collected around a central pool, the spacious and private accommodations at Aleenta all face the Andaman Sea and the pristine Natai Beach. All suites and villas come with a pool, either completely private or shared with one other villa. We opted for the beachfront suite and after arriving completely ruined from the previous hectic weeks in Hong Kong, we were delivered to our spacious, airy and view filled suite. The first day we were either draped over the pool deck, laid out on the beach chairs absorbing every ounce of peace and quiet or simply lounging in our suite with the floor to ceiling windows open, gazing out at the soft swells.
Booking a beachfront suite at Aleenta means just that…beachfront. And since Aleenta is one of only a small handful of resorts on Natai Beach, there are no party crowds, acres of beach chairs, hawkers selling riff raff or unruly packs of vacation crazed kids. Grateful for the sublime peace the place had wrapped us in and somewhat ready to be vertical again, the next morning we had a generous breakfast (included in the accommodation rate) under the palm trees at the hotel’s French chef run restaurant. A tower of fruit, cheeses, croissants, and charcuterie was accompanied by a Thai version of sticky rice cakes and traditional snacks. Very full and curious about exploring the nearby area, we checked in with the concierge. After a helpful discussion, we booked a snorkeling trip to the Phi Phi Islands which are about an hour’s drive south to Phang Nga Bay for one day and for the following day we rode elephants at a local elephant camp and visited the hotel-sponsored sea turtle sanctuary. Aleenta has several corporate social responsibility initiatives, including sourcing local ingredients and supporting a sanctuary that nurtures sea turtles for release in the wild.
Being an avid foodie always in search of my next street snack, we also arranged to be dropped off in Phuket Town so we could eat our way through the local food market. Famished by the time we arrived, from a day’s worth of snorkeling in crystal aqua waters, we wandered in amazement through the market and were soon pretty much buying one of everything in sight. For the cost of a latte in Hong Kong, I had a tangy, sweet and spicy Phad Thai which was prepared while I waited and also sampled more things than I could count that came on a stick. And then the desserts, oh my goodness, the desserts. They came in every color and were characteristically very sweet, my favorite being little glutinous rice balls wrapped in fresh coconut shreds with a chunk of palm sugar in the middle. Heaven, for me, is one big street market with stall after stall of international eats and that is what you will find in Thailand.
After two adventurous and amazing nature filled days exploring the flora and fauna of the local area and eating way too much, we spent our last day soaking up the positive ions from the sea and swam in the warm ocean in between taking naps on the honey colored sand. Back on the return flight, I felt completely rested and as if I had been a world away, despite the short two hours back to Hong Kong. Aleenta was just what the doctor ordered – peaceful refreshment for all the senses composed of modern simplicity on the beach with the ocean murmuring in the background and the opportunity to explore local culture through my favorite medium…food.