After a ten minute drive from Phuket airport, heading towards Nai Yang Beach, down a dusty road lined with sleeping dogs and a few desultory shops and cafes, take a quick detour to enter the imaginative world of the Indigo Pearl, for a truly unique stay.
If ever a hotel has earned bragging rights, this would be the one– racking up hotel awards like billiard balls. Last year alone, they won not only the World Travel Awards (considered ‘the Oscars of the travel industry’) for “Asia’s Leading Design Hotel” but also the World Luxury Travel awards for both “Best Luxury Beach Resort in Thailand” as well as “Best Luxury Resort Spa in Thailand”, and deservedly so.
To understand this truly unique property you need to know a little about its history. Hundreds of years ago, tin was discovered in Phuket. This “black gold” was so valuable it was used as money up until 1932. Paying homage to his ancestry, Wichit Na-Ranong, owner and Managing Director of Indigo Pearl, was inspired to incorporate the remnants of a century-old tin mine (with the aid of uber-cool architect/interior designer, Bill Bensley) into a Garden of Eden resulting in this creative junk-yard jewel.
Imagine rough wooden beams, oversized metal screws and rivets, recycled scrap metal sculptures and textured concrete walls juxtaposed with the finest Thai silks, artisan glass chandeliers, smooth leather banquettes and vibrant flower arrangements, highlighted by indigo lighting, nestled in a tropical island rainforest.
There are six different room grades from which to choose, with all the mod cons including; layered feathered beds, luxe linens, complimentary high-speed internet, satellite TV, air conditioning, mini bar, a generous supply of bottled water, oversize bathrooms and quality branded toiletries.
Each of the seven private pool villas are designed around a particular theme, with the crème de la crème being the sumptuous Bensley suite complete with a private pool, suspended sundeck, garden sala for in-suite spa treatments and an outdoor tub where you can watch the sunset over the Andaman Sea.
Cool off in any of the three Swimming pools (two are adults-only infinity pools) or follow the path to the beach where the hotel has its own private seating area as well as a beach club. Stroll along the white sandy beach or head down the street to shop for clothes, knickknacks or chow down on some ridiculously inexpensive seafood at the various beach cafes.
Keep in shape at the state-of-the-art fitness studio which offers a wide variety of classes, from Muay Thai boxing class to yoga. Many classes are complimentary.
In keeping with the rest of the “pushing the envelope” spirit that embodies this hotel, the award-winning Coqoon Spa might just be its most precious pearl. There are six deluxe treatment rooms cuddled in the rainforest but the real wow-factor comes into play when you book a transforming treatment, which utilizes a collection of rare plant essences, Andaman elixirs and Thai herbal spices. The treatment takes place in the “The Nest” – a bamboo spa suite suspended high in a treetop canopy.
With a handful of tempting restaurants to choose from, you never have to leave this Shangri-la because of hunger pains.
Standouts include dinner at the achingly romantic Black Ginger, designed in the manner of an ancient Ayutthaya sala, mystically floating in a candlelit lagoon, which can only be reached by a magical raft ride. This is the best spot to taste the authentic food of Phuket.
newbie Rivet Grill
Rivet Grill has super cool fashionable décor filled with polished old leather, horse carriages, recycled railroad planks, mining lamps, floor to ceiling windows overlooking dramatic palms, flickering candles set in oversized bolts, and signature blue lighting. The restaurant would make a perfect backdrop for an edgy Vogue model shoot.
The menu includes almost every gastronomic delight backed up by an extensive list of New World wines. The prix-fixe “one+one+two+side+dessert” began with a freshly baked mini loaf of bread in a little terracotta pot along with herb butter, followed by a “cold dish” of divine Phuket Lobster Salad with hazelnut soil and truffle dressing. The hot starter raised the bar even higher, with an inspired pairing of Blue Swimmer Crab with silken Chang Mai Gnocchi – the area being famous for their organic potatoes.
The Black Cod Giranda with miso sugar cane glaze was a little too rich, even for the eager. Another option on offer was the enticing Waygu Beef Tenderloin that is self-grilled on a 500-year-old Himalayan salt slab. A warm chocolate with toasted biscuit accompanied by a side of tobacco-scented and malt ice creams provided the perfect ending to a memorable meal.
The varied breakfast buffet at the outdoor Tin Mine offered assorted tropical fruits and a wide array of freshly baked pastries with various homemade preserves. There were stations for made-to order omelettes, stir-fry Thai noodles and fried rice.
The extra crispy crêpe was turned into a work of art by the crêpe-maker, who embellished it with fresh honeycomb, banana jam and a couple squirts of lime. The Tin Mine also has a famed Sunday Brunch, which is hugely popular with the local ex-pats and includes endless drinks such as Bloody Mary, Lychee Martini, sparkling wine, draft beer and more exotic foods cooked in tandoori ovens or on the teppanyaki grill.
Whether you’re ready for a spot on Top Chef, or, like me, a complete klutz in the kitchen, you should definitely sign up for a cooking class in Moo’s Kitchen with Chef Ann. (She can also include a prelim market tour if you’re so inclined.) Not only will you learn all sorts of insider tips for cooking Thai food, you’ll also have more fun than you can imagine.
Ann explained everything perfectly, even giving copious suggestions for substitutions if you couldn’t find certain Thai products back home. She never lost patience with me, even though my knife skills left something to be desired, which was most apparent in my not-so-finely chopped green papaya salad. But my little group of three managed to turn out some damn tasty food, if I do say so myself, although maybe not yet World Travel Award caliber. We left class with a signed certificate, full set of recipes, a photo with Chef Ann and her adorable sous-chef, Prae, and a Moo’s apron.
Indigo Pearl also offers a tempting variety of cultural classes, tours and water sports, more than enough to fill a week. I loved the dramatic flower arrangements sprinkled throughout the hotel, so next time I’m definitely going to sign up for a floral arts class, and the Morning Alms monk tour looked like a photographers dream, as is the sunset bike ride, and the waterfall hike, not to mention the weekend market….