It’s been just over a year since the devastation of the tsunami but with government help for the much needed tourism industry, I was hard pressed to see any of the ruin and destruction in Patong on Phuket, Thailand.

However instead of a new start, they re-erected the loss with the same edifices which now once again, deface the beachfront.. If only one could be parachuted into Kata Beach’s Mom Tri’s Villa Royale, The Gourmet Hotel, without going through Patong and Phuket Town, one could avoid the eye sore of tacky bars, kitchy stalls filled with cheap clothes and knock-offs, tattoo parlours and young Thai girls on the arms of ‘farang’ old geezers.

Superstitious Asians once a huge important and much look-forward-to hunk of the tourist industry, remain reluctant to return because of the “ghosts” haunting the island.

But on the south west coast of Phuket Island between the sandy beaches of Kata Noi and Kata Yai, where there was a little water damage to only a few beach front hotels and

homes but no casualties, one oasis was happily missed. Mom Tri’s Villa Royale Hotel was once the private residence of a Thai born, Harvard- educated architect Mom Luang Tridhosyuth Devakul a.k.a Mom (title), Tri (an abbreviation of his name).. Also to be noted on his CV is that he is a descendent of Rama IV, who was the king of “The King and I’. Tourism Authority of Thailand has officially designated Mom Tri’s Villa Royale as a destination in itself.

Mom Tri , a pioneer in the development of Phuket’s tourist industry, was initially involved in the building of Club Med, The Phuket Yacht Club and Le Meridian Hotel to name a few.

At Villa Royale, the residence became the catalyst for the small luxury hotel. From the lobby there is a series of cascading ponds which soon end and tropical plants and mature gardens begin, all ending at the shores of the Andaman Sea. It’s one of the most outstanding properties on the island and the Thai style original building is the centerpiece of the lush greenery.

The ROOMS

Each of the 63 suites is different. But certainly the two most beautiful are #4 (Dao-A-Dung) and #5 ( Toey Talay)- the former with it’s large living room and dining room where 2 storey floor to ceiling windows face the azure waters of the Andaman Sea and horizon. The beautiful shiny teak wood floors and paneling are offset by the ivory white silk upholstery of the L shape sofa and chairs from Mom Tri’s Chiang Mai’s silk factory. Even the veranda chairs are off- white, the perfect canvas for the various tropical thick leafed trees and colorful flowers.

The entrance to the bedroom has hand painted sliding gilt on either black and burgundy doors. Look up and in a pyramidal niche of the cathedral ceiling is a large seated bronze Buddha.

Since this was once Mom Tri’s home, of course the bedroom is king size as is the firm bed, closet space and surfaces.

Room #5, once Mom Tri’s office and wine cellar and a guest house for snoring friends, also sits high on the hilltop just below the former residence and overlooks the sea and salt water pool. Here the room, is smaller and divided by book cases filled with notable objects and tomes. But the most interesting aspect is part of a huge exposed rock in the corner. A gilt sliding door conceals the entrance to wine cellar containing 500 labels of very fine vintage shelved in the rest of the rock. It’s probably the largest mini bar in the world. Actually, each morning it’s checked and bottles are counted.

All the other suites may not be as sumptuous but are stunning replicas of Thai architecture and design.

BATHROOMS

The bathroom in #4 is large – an eye catcher with oversized tub, separate shower and double sinks on granite flooring. More than enough doe- skin soft towels are available, never having to phone for more.

As stunning as this bathroom is, the smaller suite #5, happens to be even grander perhaps because Mom Tri originally spent more time in these rooms drawing up new ventures. This featuring a rock garden just behind the huge tub. The black, décor is more reminiscent of Italian rather than Thai interior design.

AMENITIES

Thai products of lotions, shampoos and conditioners are representative of the reason Thai products are much in demand. Most are produced in Thailand.

The turn down service is so specific with each crease, seemingly pressed to perfection. Mattresses are firm and my only complaint was the foam filled pillows which I’m told is the preference of many clients over feathers. Not mine. I love to have my head sink into feathers and not bop around for placement.

Hidden in the hills is The Spa Royale, a retreat within a retreat. After passing a finely carved antique Thai gate, a hidden in the vegetation standing Buddha in a suitable niche, are two large-ish buildings separated by a pool. One side is for massage treatments while the other are for shorter sessions like foot reflexology. The spa’s credo is a philosophic union of nature, mind, luxury and being pampered by experts. The ancient knowledge of Thai remedies is said to produce calm “and awaking and balance the body”. It did.


Handcrafted door at Villa Royale

ROOM SERVICE

When you’re in a small luxury hotel that has won wine and food awards for their Mon Tri’s Kitchen, I had to think long and hard about room service. With the menu of classical and contemporary Thai food and choices of rare wine, most nights I opted for a table at the low rise, open sided, restaurant with an outstanding view of both the sea and the mature garden. And the wait staff was always ready with their ” Thai Smile”. Room service is an option but regrettably not as expert as it would be at a large, city hotel. They certainly couldn’t bring the salt coated grilled Sea Bass or the Massaman curry. But with willing staff will try to accommodate any demand with their ‘‘can do” attitude. One very wealthy English matron, after checking in, phoned for tea and a muffin. The startled kitchen staff member who spoke only broken English, suggested to the surprised guest, that perhaps instead of morphin, she would like an aspirin.

THE CROWD

First you see them then you don’t. With all the villas being so separate and the various outdoor seating and swimming options, the only time you really see the crowd is at meals. At the pool side café, the many young savvy and obviously affluent Oriental men and women who sat in their designer label sports clothes and swim suits, never even dipping their toes in the water, added a casual and youthful element.

In the evening, the restaurant was the meeting place for equally well dressed guests from other hotels, or locals from surrounding areas and of course, clients of Villa Royale. Smart and chic casual wear are two words that come to mind to describe the all- age crowd. In Thailand especially Kata, it could be a billionaire from Australia here for the annual and well attended King’s Cup Regatta which Mom Tri sponsors along with a magnificent beach party for over 1,500 friends and sailors or a spy taking a rest from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, less than an hour by air. The yearly regatta is a birthday tribute to His Majesty.

Bar stools an adjunct to the multi level restaurant, are always filled and the chit chat so intimate be it between adoring couples (Villa Royale is a most romantic place and weddings are easily arranged) or business people.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The downside are the dozens of narrow stone rail-less steps down to the white sand beach. For me it was a mirage that I could never grab. So close and yet so far but too scary for this scribe but there was a dare devil aspect that I wasn’t up to taking.. The alternative is to visit Mom Tri’s other hotel, The Boat House, about 3 minutes by hotel shuttle car or as I did, opt for the pool.

Since this enclave is off the well worn paths of Patong and Phuket Town, the hotel offers shuttle/taxi service but rates are low. Best is hiring a driver and car who can take you throughout most of the island for about $30 for half day. On check- out, the staff makes guest feel that they are leaving home and will be awaiting their return. It isn’t a difficult concept to want to remain in this green filled, bird tweeting, wave lapping along the shore environment for a much longer time.

Room rates which change with the high season, peak season and summer season. With about 40 Baht to US $1, the rooms are from 5,000 Baht in summer to12,000 Baht, Peak Season from13,000 Baht to 25,000 Baht and High Season from11,5000 Baht to23 Baht plus 10% service charge.

Distance to airport is 26 miles, about 45 minutes.

To Phuket Town is10 miles about 20 minutes

Air conditioning, color TV and satellite with international programs, hair dryer, fully equipped mini bar, art gallery and cooking classes at the nearby The Boat House Hotel.

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