Solitude in the city: Sri Panwa, Phuket
Katie Milton spends a few indulgent days at Sri panwa in a secluded corner of Phuket.
By Katie Milton | Published #68, Summer 2017
The air was hot and humid when I stepped out of the airport, the driver handed me a wet towelette and a bottle of water as I climbed into the charcoal grey Mercedes. Outside helmetless locals zipped through traffic on mopeds with passengers and families piled on the back. Telephone poles tangled thick with black electrical wires lined the highway and stallholders were selling produce from beneath the corrugated iron roofs of their roadside markets. Inside the air-conditioned comfort our tour group zoomed through Phuket city to a soundtrack of smooth jazz. As we came to Sri Panwa, a man in a yellow cap saluted us and rolled back a waist height gate emblazoned with the resort’s signature S.
Nestled in the landscape of Panwa Peninsula overlooking the Andaman Sea, Sri Panwa is a secluded 52-villa resort spread across 40 acres of tropical rainforest. Manicured paths wind throughout the lush grounds, the roads catering to the personal tuk tuk service that transports guests throughout the resort’s facilities.
Due to the enormity of the site, Sri Panwa is being built in phases, with the newly opened Habita an enclave of 30 luxury suites and penthouses, restaurants and an Olympic-size outdoor infinity pool.
Wan Issara manages the property; a vivacious family oriented man whose enthusiasm is reflected in the beautiful team of young staff. Issara’s vision is that of a party paradise, the five-star resort hosting weekly live music events and attracting a clientele of high-profile celebrities, the Thai Royal family and, during my visit, the cast of the reality television shows WAGS were in residence filming a proposal.
The next morning I woke to the sun bursting through the panoramic windows of the Tiger Villa. The infinity pool that wrapped around my room glistened in the early light and the continuous chorus of cicadas was the only sound that broke the stillness. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? Designed to resemble private houses, the villas contain two separate living spaces each furnished with an abundance of daybeds and traditional handcrafted furnishings. The vibe is sophisticated tropical paradise. Glass walled rooms and a colour scheme of navy blue and terracotta recurs throughout. The grey stone floors encouraging guests to slip straight from bed and between the pool, in-room sauna and outdoor rain shower, all set in the upmost of privacy.
Breakfast each morning is hosted at Baba Pool Club, an outdoor maze of infinity pools and seating booths designed to give the illusion that the level is floating in mid air. The breakfast buffet, a spread of fresh fruits, Thai cuisine and freshly baked pastries, is served indoors. There are eggs and pancakes to order and irresistible pain au chocolat topped with a chocolate S, a special Sri Panwa touch. It’s the same with the rocking chairs at the dining tables. As I lean back, belly full, and start to rock back and forth employee Suli says, “we want it to feel like home.”
Baba is the Thai word for blend and it is this concept of fusion that underpins Sri Panwa’s dining experiences. The recently completed Habita houses two of the eight on-site restaurants each specialising in a cuisine. At Baba Hotbox the chefs grill meaty prawns the size of my fist on the specialty Spanish grill, affectionately referred to as “Josper”. In Baba Chino, Thai Iron Chef, chef Pom, treated us to a tasting menu of modern Chinese featuring silken tofu and mushroom broth, and artfully crafted dumplings served in miniature bamboo steamers. Seated on bar stools in Baba IKI, we sipped on espresso martinis as fresh sashimi is grilled on hot charcoals right in front of us.
While the weather outside turned and the wet season rains bucketed down against the glass restaurant walls, we sampled our way through the extensive signature cocktail menu; my favourite, the sparkling jelly sake. Our Thai cooking class was moved indoors to Baba Soul Food, Sri Panwa’s modern twist on Thai cuisine. Outfitted in a pink and white check cooking apron and matching bandanna, head chef Ta leant over me like a mother teaching her child how to cook. The scent of chili was thick in the air, my attempt at Thom Yum soup orange and bubbling on the portable stove.
Music, you begin to notice, is a core element of the resort. Each room is enlivened with a funky beat and each villa fitted with a high quality sound system pre-loaded with playlists made by Sri Panwa’s resident DJs. As is customary, the golden hour was spent at Baba Nest; a spectacular rooftop platform bordered by infinity pools and occupying the highest point on the southeastern peninsula. Sinking into plush nautical cushions, I tentatively tried a shrimp shot as we watched the pastel sky – changing colour to the live bass line beats of DJ Dan Buri.
The next morning at sunrise yoga atop Baba Nest dark clouds hovered menacingly over the sky and slight winds made me topple as I tried to balance in warrior three. Save for the chirruping birds the silence was meditative, but as we twisted in the slow hatha flow I could feel the sake from the night before sitting uneasily in my belly. Lucky for me I was scheduled in for a spa treatment.
Entering the newly refurbished Cool Spa was like stepping into a tranquil utopia. The open-air waiting room sat under a thatched roof, scented with soothing aromatic oils and surrounded by trees, infinity pools and rectangular ponds filled with lily pads. Even the light drizzle outside complimented the ambience. After rubbing a range of the homemade exfoliating butters on my wrist I decided on the sweet-smelling signature (and edible) scrub; a mix of fresh mango, natural yoghurt and local mint.
I was led down a staircase revealing the multi-level spa and into a private glass walled room. My masseuse gently washed my feet in a warm water footbath before I entered and I felt all my worries exfoliated away with the buttery scrub. I began to doze as she began the Aromatic Thai oil massage, drifting off to the scent of lemongrass and the rushing sounds of the waterfall outside.
Sri Panwa is its own private bubble of paradise. The staff (who all live on the grounds) wander around in shorts and polo shirts with the trademark S on them, leaving little notes of affirmation on your pillow and brightening the resort with their renowned Thai hospitality. Employee Moni initially came to the resort on a holiday with her family and fell in love with Sri Panwa. It is, after all, the type of place you don’t want to leave.
As the charcoal grey Mercedes chauffeured us out of the grounds, a soundtrack of smooth jazz playing through the speakers, a man in a yellow cap saluted us farewell and rolled back the waist height gate emblazoned with the resort’s signature S, sealing the gates to paradise.
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