Times change, however, and so has Phuket. The thought of venturing anywhere near the southern beaches of Patong and Kata now fills me with dread - to me it’s all just sleaze and open drains and ugly Australians and even fuglier package tourists (not mentioning specifics, at the risk of committing public racial slurs...)
I’ve just spent the last two days at the Dusit Thani at Laguna Phuket, with another two days to look forward to at the Banyan Tree. And after 26 years, I can honestly say that the concept of Laguna Phuket has come into its own. Now, a beach devoid of day beds and hideous development is a godsend; Bang Tao Beach is instead a blissful, deserted crescent of sand, lapped by clean warm waters and with just handful of bars, massage joints and restaurants to retain some local flavour. There are very few touts wandering the sands annoying sun worshippers, and the only sound you can hear is the pumping of the waves and tweeting of birds.
|Beautiful Bang Tao Bay|
Back in 1984, however, Bang Tao Bay looked very different. After years of tin mining, it resembled a moonscape, littered with abandoned machinery and devoid of any vegetation. It was considered unredeemable, written off as being “too environmentally damaged to have any development potential.”
After investing US$200million, Laguna Hotels & Resorts reclaimed the land, planted native trees, introduced recycling and water treatment plants, and built several low-rise hotels designed to enhance the environment. Money was also pumped into the local community, and even today, the complex prides itself on its charitable contributions towards sustainability, local schools and community enterprise.
Occupying a beachfront area, the Dusit Thani is one of the grander hotels in the complex, retaining its standards of luxury despite being 26 years old (the first hotel to open in the complex). During the last five years, it has added 22 three-storey pool villas in keeping with popular demand - and these are simply gorgeous, with spacious living area, two bedrooms and awesome rooftop pools.
|Living area of a Dusit Thani Pool Villa|
|The rooftop pool in a Dusit Thani villa|
The old Sheraton Hotel is now called Angsana Laguna Phuket and is practically unrecognisable, all slick and modern and boasting a very cool beachfront chill-out bar called Xana. Aimed at an upwardly mobile, younger demographic, the addition of the Angsana brand has given Laguna Phuket a much-needed ‘hipster’ injection, making it a destination to be seen at.
|Xana Beach Club. Pics: Julie Miller|
Yes, it seems like the foresight of the 1980s is finally paying off. This is Phuket as it should be - a beautiful tropical island where local culture and luxury live in harmony.