P a r a d i s e A t T h e R i g h t P r i c e
As a Londoner I'm aware of the privilidges afforded to me living in such a thriving city. However, I try to respect the body & mind's need to escape the concrete chaos once in a while. So long-haul flights to find something unique and bespoke are a small inconvenience. Which brings me to Thailand. Specifically Phuket, which offers an incredible array of possibilities as a no holds barred location for a range of lifestyle interests. Thai Kickboxing, shooting ranges, 24hr bars, shopping, cultural spectacles, spiritual enlightenment, world renowed cuisine, hedonistic opportunities, excellent value for money & of course some of the most iconic beach scenes on the planet. All the above made accessible & furthermore memorable by the existence of a premium island experience offering Danny Boyle's "The Beach" aesthetic, with 5 star accomodation.
In this iteration of the travel guides/reviews I'll cover Koh Racha, Wat Chalong, Chalong Pier, The Racha Resort & Spa, Island Wildlife, The Big Buddha Phuket & Patong Bay.
T h e R a c h a
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Enter the Racha or Koh Racha if you wish. An island a few kilometres south west of Phuket, home to 2meter length monitor lizards, soft white sand, a small community and an epic 5 star spa resort. Think Thunderbird island, minimalist architecture, excellent facilities & sumptuous food, all delivered with outstanding customer service. I stayed here for 2 weeks and left kicking & screaming. The daily routine of breakfast by the bay, honey squeezed from real honeycomb, omelets & fresh juice followed by speedboat rides to the mainland for daily adventures always ending with a satisfying ride home back to the island with a bag full of booty is quite addictive. It's excellent motivation to up your game in life & make frequent holidays of this calibre a possibility. If you have Children this is a trip they're never going to forget due to the obscure novelty of leaving & returning to a secret island each day.
J o u r n e y
The Airport may be a free-for-all ballet of organised chaos, but once you're in the care of the "The Racha" you're treated as the VIP you are. Look through the hordes of people looking for a cab and you’ll spy your very own driver. He'll welcome you into a marked company car with air-conditioning and scented chilled flannels to remove the sweat from your brow. The journey to Chalong Pier isn't long, & provides a passing glimpse of the landscape.
W a t C h a l o n g
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En route to Chalong pier you're given a choice of a cultural stop-off or a brief shopping trip to complement you're arrival. Opt for the temple! Wat Chalong to be exact. This is the largest temple in Phuket, so there's likely to be a fair few tourists. Built in the 19th Century and spread over three floors. The interior is beautiful, & adorned with murials depicting the life of Buddha. The view from the upper spires is worth the climb!
C h a l o n g L o u n g e & P i e r
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Once you arrive at the pier you'll register your arrival at The Racha's Chalong Lounge. Here you'll choose what scent you’d like for your room. Lavender, jasmine, I forget the rest. You’ll have some time to kill before your trip to the island so if you’re peckish you can eat at the pier's famous Thai Restaurant "Kan Eang", with post card perfect views out to sea & Culinary skills to match. This is likely to be your first experience of authentic Thai food in Thailand. I'm rather sentimental over Koi so this was a pleasant sight in the restaurant dining area.
Once you make your way to the end of a comically long the pier you'll board a private speed boat to find your destination. The sea turns from blue to turquoise as the water shallows. You'll pass a few smaller islands as you approach Koh Racha, & then moored boats appear in the distance as you approach the bay. Quite the event.
The formation of the bay cradles all boats in the vicinity like open arms. As your boat docks at the jetty you disembark on a floating pontoon. It's far more stable than it looks so don't be concerned. Arriving on a Saturday is a bad idea, as the island welcomes day trippers from the main land. During this time the main beach is swamped with people. This doesn't spoil your experience as the resort has an elevated boundary that day trippers cannot access. Neither can they use the resort's facilities. During your stay this divide & distance dampens the noise & bustle, But for your initial journey to Koh Racha its far better if the beach is clear. We arrived during the week, late afternoon & on the last boat to the island, so it was completely empty & quite spectacular.
C h e c k i n g I n
The customer service is 2nd to none. You're offered a refreshing drink & given a short induction, all in a timely manner with exemplary Thai hospitality. Once you're checked-in & given room cards, a golf cart arrives to escort you to your villa like Bond arriving at Scaramanga's island. This trip allows for your 1st survey of the grounds.
S p a P o o l S u i t e
Open the door, the scent fills your nose & you know you've arrived. The villas ooze opulence. BOSE sound entertainment system with sub woofer & mounted speakers, ozonated private pool & jacuzzi, outdoor overhead shower, 50 inch flat screen TV in the living room with an additional 40 inch TV in the bedroom that rises from its own housing at the end of the bed.
The bathroom features his & hers sinks, showers, maneuverable vanity mirrors and drawers! A generous offering of amenities. Finished in all white tiles with highlights of dark wood and green foliage. A very nice place to be. So much so, we spent an entire day just lazing about the room ordering room service, dipping in the pool with our playlists synced to the sound system. The room has other surprises I won't disclose, you'll just have to make the trip yourself!
T h e G r o u n d s
Once you've moved past the novelty of the room. The grounds deserve a little exploration. The resort's Layout is harmonious with the landscape, manicured, minimalist & suitably exotic. As you can see, the level of care for the gardens and buildings is breathtaking. The Racha is considered one of Asia's finest small island resorts for this very reason. The Thai attention to detail is evident throughout each design feature of the resort. Both an architect & interior designers utopia. Each bar, restaurant, meal, room, even the toilets exemplify the most elegant & cleanest possible aesthetic. Regardless the weather or temperature, you're treated to memorable visuals and practicality that make leaving extremely hard. My partner & I seriously considered extending our stay. The staff are extremely tentative, & their temperament & levels of etiquette put most resorts i've stayed in to shame. Making an effort to learn a few polite phrases is the least you can do. "Sawadee" thank you, "mai bhen rai ka" your welcome , "khaab khun krap" thank you... kind gestures like these & any others you can command make all the difference. Also, learning a few names of the resort's staff that care for you & the island wouldn't hurt either.
This lounge area, I believe called the library with its small office & two guest PC's is a useful place for checking emails & news from the world if you need to. This space sits behind the infinity pool daybeds & offers respite from the heat and shelter during the odd spell of rain. This is a great place to hang out & read a book, or rendez-vous with other guests. To the right the view drops and all you can see are trees & plants hiding the balconies of hillside villas. I used the office as a little studio space and wrote some music on my laptop on occasion as It's rarely busy. During the evening this is once again a great place to lounge. The overall vibe around the communal areas of the resort is generally that of quiet. Most guests tend to stay in their rooms once the sun goes down. So when you're here it almost feels like it's exclusively yours.
On first impression, The Racha presents like a couples-only resort but it’s not. They welcome young families and cater for all ages with arts & craft activities. A smaller child friendly pool sits to the rear of the resort surrounded by a number of villas. Ask for one of these villas if you'd like to keep an eye on your young ones. For the adults & singletons, the resort's infinity pool (a selling point for me) is located above the breakfast dining area adjacent to one of the resort's restaurants. It overlooks the bay area, features arguably the best daybed positions on the resort, and allows for some awesome photo opportunities when the sun sets. Almost every night the skies here sport a spectrum of pastel colours behind vivid cloud formations. The silhouettes of palm & coconut trees flanked by lush hillsides make a photographer's pallet. & you're there sipping a fruit cocktail leaning over the edge of this pool without a care in the world.
N.B. Worth a mention are the ingenious buttons you can press on your daybed table that alert the resort staff you require assistance. Within a minute or two someone will appear and take your order for food, drinks or whatever you need. Brilliant!
I s l a n d W i l d l i f e
Whilst the manufactured confines of the resort provide all manner of convenience, you're not completely sheltered from nature. The greatest example found in the the form of the island's resident monitor lizard. These magnificent animals can grow to 2 meters plus in length and can inflict some serious damage with their muscular tails & sharp claws. So have you're wits about you whilst traversing the grounds. They may just wonder out of a bush across your pathway en route to breakfast. They do tend to mind they're own business and the resort wouldn't expose guests to dangerous animals unnecessarily, but as they don't fear humans, if you bother one you may be in for a thrashing. The sight of one of these things is enough to startle anyone, so be advised to find keep your distance!
Far less notorious are the exotic & quite large butterfly species that enjoy the trees towards the front of the resort. Enthusiasts & Lepidopterists alike will find Glassy Tigers (Parantica aglea maghaba) & Indian Crows (Euploea core gordatii) going about their business throughout the day.
A n u m b a S p a
The Anumba spa is once more a visual spectacle of function & presentation, they’ve nailed the landscaping which looks all the more calming at night via warm lighting. The rooms are styled nicely with all the expected amenities. In this area you'll also find the gym. Although I was far too lazy to pay it a visit. My partner & I opted for a couples massage. It being Thailand, The therapists here are masterful, with extremely powerful hands for persons of such stature. My therapist said she'd worked farming rice & land before joining the team here, so working muscles is effortless. They’ll send you into a deep state of samsara. So deep that my partner fell asleep & forgot herself enough to fart. One annoyance was the size of the men's brief. It was a G string with a less than paper thin tiny bag for your junk. I'd advise making your own arrangements in this department. You're unlikely to fit all three elements in.
I s l a n d E x p o r a t i o n
The Island features a great many secrets off the beaten track. You could spend a week discovering it's variety of beaches & hiking trails. Or scuba diving amongst the local reef's abundant assortment of Andaman sea fish. Of course there's always the option to hop over to neighboring iconic Phi Phi or Krabi islands. However, if you'd rather not venture beyond Koh Racha there is one activity I believe tops the other options & that's the ATV tours. As a self proclaimed petrol head, riding a quad bike up a tropical mountain dirt track, then through a jungle is an awesome way to spend your morning. During the tour, aside from the dirt track, you'll pass a small village, grazing water buffalo, picturesque coconut groves & the loading bay for the islands supplies. Have your camera handy, as there are some great high altitude views of the island along the tour.
If you're intent on exploring the island, the reception concierge can arrange detailed guides and advice. There are dangers of course but with caution there's little to worry about. Meanwhile back at the resort you may have the pleasure of joining the manager on the rooftop of the library for evening drinks & mingling with other guests. We found those we met were like minded individuals. Its quite a specific requirement of a holiday & resort which drew people here as opposed to any number of typical mainland hotels & resorts. We met a family and two couples who were all on our wavelength. So trips back to the mainland for shopping & other excursions became a group event, Which works out cheaper if you're sharing travel costs.
N.B - Patong Beach is a must do/see destination for all watch lovers. I died & found myself in Horology heaven!