Asia was born with good holiday genes, with thousands of islands encircled by white sand beaches rolling into tropical seas and a multitude of hotels all desperate to capitalise on these natural assets. However, such a wealth of choice often means countless hours spent trawling the Internet and obsessing over Trip Advisor in an effort to ensure we find the perfect refuge; considering the scarcity of free time amongst most of us, it’s nonsensical to think that we devote so much of it to the process of holiday planning!
This time around I took a shortcut. I phoned Mr & Mrs Smith. Not Brad and Angelina but rather a global hotel website dedicated to sourcing the world’s most luxurious hotels, in all price categories, perfect for romantic retreats for you and your own Mr Smith. They have done the legwork, imposed stringent quality controls and negotiated fabulous perks that results in the most inspiring collection of properties guaranteed to deliver your ideal vacation. A quick explanation of my holiday demands (within 3 hours of Hong Kong, abundance of serenity, a quality spa, a bedroom to obsess over etc) was followed up with an email suggesting six different properties that matched my description and had availability on my dates. I wanted to stay in every single one! After reading the amusing and informative personal reviews of the hotels on their website, I set my heart on one very special hotel – the Amanpuri in Phuket. Mr & Mrs Smith took care of the booking, including the free perk (a bottle of in-room champagne) that gets thrown in for all of their users, and all I had to do was book the flights.
Six weeks later and I am lying on a white sand beach atop insanely fluffy beach towels deciding how best to cool down. Do I amble towards the warm sea for a brief dip? Scale the stairs up the hillside to the swimming pool for a cooling respite from the beachside heat? To be frank, my brain is set on too low a frequency to make an informed decision! As if reading my mind, a member of the Amanpuri beach team strides over to my lounger armed with a glass of iced water and selection of fresh tropical fruits. Whilst I devour the watermelon, my umbrella is expertly manipulated to keep up with the roaming sunshine.
I am now positively revelling in my choice to trust Mr and Mrs Smith’s expertise – not only was my booking experience stress-free, but the resulting holiday is far better than anything I could have booked myself. Aman hotels have garnered themselves an unbeatable reputation by understanding that there is a lot more to creating the perfect holiday than just the constituent parts of the hotel. Don’t get me wrong though, the constituent parts at Amanpuri are phenomenal and at times, breath-taking. You enter the hotel and are immediately faced with a perfectly still swimming pool; on one side of the pool, housed in striking Thai style, are high roofed pavilions, the Thai and Italian restaurants. Dark wood dominates the buildings creating cool, intimate atmospheres perfect as a backdrop to the exquisite food on offer.
As you approach the far end of the pool, the vista starts to transform. The level setting of the swimming pool dissolves into limestone steps leading downwards towards the stretch of private beach set amongst a wall of powerful natural boulders. Etched into the rocks is the casual lunchtime restaurant offering up seafood salads and Thai favourites as you sip a cocktail in the shade provided by century-old trees. All the restaurants were equally impressive, offering subtle lighting, emotive Thai music and flickering candles, which could make even the shy amongst us brim with romantic declarations.
Aman properties take what in another hotel could just be a large hotel room and give it a twist. Every pavilion room has its own sala, an outdoor dining area perfect for in-room breakfasts or a pre-dinner drink. The room with a crisp white sheet clad king-size bed offers every possible comfort and convenience. The dressing and bathroom dish up his and hers sinks and wardrobes, a cavernous shower, deep bath and sumptuous toiletries too good to resist sneaking into your suitcase.
Exceptional as they may be, these are still just constituent parts. Aman ensures they are accompanied by world-class service and unforgettable experiences. No matter how full the hotel is, you often find yourself operating in your own romantic bubble, unobserved and uninterrupted and service is at the heart of everything that the Amanpuri does. Their staff to guest ratio is testament to the value they place on spoiling everyone who stays with them; your every need is intuitively catered for and nothing is ever too much trouble. Should you feel lazy and prefer not to walk up to your room, a resort buggy is on hand to drive you. Feel like a quick dip in the pool? Emerge and a perfectly folded towel is already waiting for you.
The staff want to convert every single guest into an Aman-junkie, a phrase for those so spoilt by their impeccable offerings that you will never want to stay anywhere else. When I called room service for some hot water one morning, by the afternoon a kettle had been subtly placed in my room. Every afternoon, delectable Thai pancakes, banana cake and regional fruits is laid out by the swimming pool alongside refreshing ice teas. The free morning meditation class held at the spa was truly transformative, as an ex-Buddhist monk imparted words of wisdom, whilst the spa itself offered a glorious retreat from an afternoon downpour in the form of an oriental massage in my own spa pavilion.
I was only there for three nights but became instantly devotedly loyal to the Aman brand based on these faultless experiences. Beachside hotels are plentiful, those which so exceed your expectations are not. The food was for me the only slight downside – whilst most dishes were delightful masterpieces, there was the occasional uninspiring dish. The problem is that the Amanpuri was a victim of its own perfection – we had become uber-snobs! We did draw the line at blaming them for the fact that as the seasons were turning, the normally inviting sea had transformed into a turbulent wave machine, a point worth considering if you’re a devout sea bather.
Nevertheless, I quite appreciated the slightly stormy weather – it gave me the perfect excuse to slink back to my luxurious room, sneak onto Mr & Mrs Smith and get lost in a world of travel heaven! Aman hotels are at the very upper range of any travel budget, but they have a host of other temptingly described hotels waiting to capture your heart. But, deep down, I knew I was now a true Aman-junkie… but until my budget becomes limitless, I am glad to have discovered Mr and Mrs Smith’s time-saving expertise and have resolved to never book another holiday without their help again!
Photo credit: Amanresorts