Mai Khao Keeps on Rocking!
Let us introduce you to the burgeoning northwest corner of Phuket which is growing in popularity and status as a distinct unspoiled destination for local residents and visitors alike.
Peace and quiet are becoming rare on Phuket and are now only be found in a few places, of which Mai Khao is definitely one. Here is a vision of a tropical island as it used to be. The sand stretches for miles, palms sway in the breeze, barely another person can be seen and the sea is begging for you to swim. There are a few big-name Mai Khao resorts now but on the whole the area has yet to be overtaken by development. Part of the reason is because Mai Khao is actually part of Sirinat National Park and as a result, much of the land is protected. The National Park is a fantastic attraction spread over 90 square kilometers and comprising a saltwater mangrove forest, a nature trail with a huge wooden walking platform and a wide variety of plants and animals.
Mai Khao remained undeveloped and largely ignored by tourists as late as the turn of the Millennium and only two visionaries seemed to see any potential in ‘White Tree Beach’ …one reptilian and the other human.
Leather back and Ridley’s Sea Turtles have laid their eggs on Mai Khao since time immemorial …literally so, since this 850 kilogram species has been around for at least 150 million years.
The second Mai Khao visionary was William Ellwood Heinecke Chairman of the Minor International Group who opened the JW Marriott there in 2002. While seeing the great potential of Mai Khao, Heinecke was aware of the need to conserve the unspoiled environment as a major attraction to visitors that would become increasingly compromised in other parts of Phuket as unregulated development proceeded.
During its opening celebrations in March 2002 JW Marriott donated two million Baht to launch the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation to raise funds and awareness for the plight of the giant leatherback turtles and continues to work closely with local authorities to support their efforts and awareness of their work.
In addition to its strong environmental initiatives the JW Marriott was a pioneer in other ways that set the bar for, and became signatures of, subsequent Mai Khao development. A flair for superb landscaping and design in extensive tropical grounds was one; dedication to sport, health and wellness was another; and a passion for fine restaurants in romantic settings was the third.
The Sala Follows On
The second cab off the Mai Khao rank was the Sala Resort and Spa which opened in December 2007 with 79 pool villas and suites, 63 with private pools. The resort combines historical Sino-Portuguese architecture with modern five star facilities such as a luxurious spa and gym, three beachside swimming pools, extensive lawns and a breezy open sala restaurant where Chef Jan Hollister serves delicious but uncomplicated cuisine that combines the flair of a French bistro with the ultra-healthiness of a Californian beach club which the Wine Spectator-awarded cellar complements perfectly.
A New Brand from Bill Heinecke
Not content to sit upon his laurels Bill Heinecke created a new brand in 2001, named Anantara, literally “without end” in Sanskrit, positioned as an affordable alternative luxury brand and having an ethos of introducing guests to the delights of Thai culture which Heinecke clearly reveres.
Launching in October 2008 Heinecke again asked his favorite architect Bill Bensley to work his creative magic in landscaping and designing the 83 pool villas spread around gorgeous pools and lagoons with wooden walkways, fountains and even splashing ducks.
Complementing the luxury resort’s inviting accommodation is a host of services and facilities of the highest standard, including premium restaurants, bars, a spa and leisure options including diving in pristine waters, to learning the ancient art of Thai cookery.
The beachside areas are particularly beguiling with a huge infinity-edged pool, extensive lawns and a very cool sundowner bar with huge loungers, chilled sounds and a great drinks menu. Close at hand is the signature restaurant, ‘Sea.Fire.Salt’ serving delectable seafood-based cuisine served up by a fiery beachside barbeque and with a tableside Salt Sommelier who helps you select from dozens of blended salts to give your meal an amazing finishing touch.
A Renaissance in Mai Khao
The Renaissance Resort and Spa was next to open in October 2010 and was well named as it represents both a revitalizing extension to the Marriott parent brand, as well as another luxury endorsement for Mai Khao
The new 150 room, plus 30 suites and a single pool villa Resort was the third Renaissance in Thailand and is positioned as an ultimate escape for intimate vacations, executive retreats and romantic honeymoons.
The Resort offers no less than five restaurants that cater to every palate, social occasion and visitor sector .The philosophy of the Resort’s fine dining restaurant Loca Vore is, as the name suggests, to emphasize dishes that feature the best of local food from seafood to meats, to spices, fruits and vegetables.
The Mai Khao Express Accelerates
Just three months ago the 246 room Holiday Inn was launched at the southern extremity of the Mai Khao region as a flagship in the famous brand’s much-publicized global renovation and re-launch program.
The resort sits opposite another natural lake and the grounds are verdant and extensive with a huge pool, gym, spa, kids’ club and a beachside Thai-Italian fusion restaurant.
Most recently the Centara Group has taken over management of the five star West Sands resort set in 47 acres of lush tropical landscaping, bordering on 500 meters of pristine beach frontage and located so close to the airport that plane-spotters will be delighted.
It is a huge development with a wide diversity of accommodation from 115 deluxe rooms, 97 one-bedroom suites, 36 one-bedroom grand suites, 18 two-bedroom grand suites, 12 three-bedroom penthouses and 38 beach and pool villas. A second phase is to be completed in October 2012 and a third phase in October 2013 which will take the total number of accommodation units to 784.
Dining and bar facilities include a beachside BBQ and a Thai restaurant, while leisure facilities include a Spa Cenvaree, fitness center, tennis court, and a kids’ club. Perhaps most bizarrely of all the resort also boasts the Splash Jungle Waterpark which covers 6,400square metres and cost US$4 million to build.
Shopping in Mai Khao Beach area was a bit lacking in the past but nowadays thanks to the opening of Bill Henencke’s Turtle Village, holiday shopping is readily available. Located a short walk from the Anantara and JW Marriott this uniquely designed ‘village’ has two levels and covers over 3,000 square meters of retail space. Here you can find gifts, Thai souvenirs, clothing and it even has its own Coffee Club and Bill Bentley Pub.
Then there’s the infamous Convention Center with its winning design in the shape of a sea turtle….and the possibility of it actually being built seems to move as slowly as one.
A member of the Democrat Party’s shadow cabinet recently said the project has been studied for 15 years already and was long overdue for MICE tourism in the run-up to the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. Who knows if this ‘giant turtle’ will make that deadline?
The North Phuket Resorts Alliance
The managers involved in the luxurious resorts around Mai Khao are nothing if not forward-looking and innovative, so starting in October 2009 they formed an Alliance, not only to market and promote the region, but also to best manage its sustainable development.
The GM’s and Executive Chefs comprise the Alliance committee which meets regularly to develop an ongoing program of marketing and promotion for the entire Mai Khao region.
The latest promotion is the North Phuket Culinary Arts Festival which will run from Friday December 2nd to Sunday December 4th and features an abundance of sumptuous food, wine, music and fashion events to titivate and excite.
On Friday 2nd join Phuket’s epic “longest dining table” stretching along the beach between the Sala and Renaissance Resorts for a dinner under the stars that you will never forget
On Saturday 3rd head on over to the Anantara Resort’s stunning Sunset Grill for a gourmet experience on the glorious outdoor wooden pool deck, with one of Phuket’s best sunset locations spread languorously behind you along the beach. Cool DJ sounds will help you dance the night away after the delicious fare.
Savor Sunday 4th at the venerable JW Marriott Resort with their “Brunch of Your Life” featuring a bounty of sensational tastes and libations from their kitchens and cellars for the entire family right on the beach.
Prices are 1500 bat net per person for each event, or 4000 baht for an entire weekend pass to all the events. Children under 12 are half price and children under seven are free.
Holiday Inn Promotions
1 – Family Retreat Promotion
Overview: The ultimate treat for you and your family. The package includes one night’s stay in a Deluxe Garden view room with breakfast buffet for two people and a resort credit of THB1,000 per day and free internet access.
The resort credit can be redeemed at Restaurants and Bar, Tea Tree Spa and the Resort Center.
Rate: Rate starts from THB 4,649++
Validity: Valid from 1 November – 19 December 2011
2 – Wedding Package
Overview: A “Stay Romantic” wedding package can be arranged in both Western style and traditional Thai style, on the beachfront or in the garden. The package includes an overnight stay in a Deluxe Ocean-Facing Room, complimentary breakfast and various trimmings for an international-style wedding ceremony – including a flower arch, bridal bouquet and a wedding cake.
Rate: Starting at THB75,000 net per couple
Validity: This package is valid from now until 31 October 2012
3 – Themed Night Buffet Dinners
Overview: There are three themed night buffet dinners at J’s Caf? & Restaurant on a weekly basis.
Tuesday & Saturday: Seafood Night
Thursday: Thai & Asian Selection
Friday: International Favorites
Rate: Depends on each themed night, starting from THB799++
Validity: now until December 2011