If you have ever dreamt of the perfect holiday destination where the water sparkles, the accommodation is sublime, the food divine, and the experience is paramount, then look no further than the paradise found at ÀNI Thailand.
Sometimes, the unexpected invitation turns out to be the experience of a lifetime, and with an opportunity to travel to ÀNI Thailand, there was the chance to discover an extraordinary private resort that is breathtaking on every level.
ÀNI Private Resorts is the brainchild of Tim Reynolds, and he has not only created bespoke resort holiday destinations but also conceived the ÀNI Art Academies, where local artists receive education, a daily meal, and material support.
ÀNI Thailand was established in 2016, however, a rebrand in June 2022 now sees the resort at the pinnacle of luxury travel, ensuring its place as a premium destination for a discerning clientele. It is not merely an island resort, but your private sanctuary set within expansive and lush tropical gardens, where everything is tailored to the guest’s needs. It is also worth noting that the resort is entirely accessible for those with mobility issues.
Before my arrival, itineraries and details are organised with General Manager, Andrew Gianfranco-Cotel and Operations Manager, Suthathip Sakorn. All experiences, cultural immersions, spa treatments, food, and beverages are included in the cost, ensuring a carefree holiday.
Arrival and staying in paradise
My first trip after an enforced travel hiatus, courtesy of the pandemic, sees me packing my swimsuits and heading to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport to board a flight to Phuket, Thailand. My destination is the island of Koh Yao Noi, a 35-minute speedboat ride from Ao Po Grand Marina, Phuket, and with a short transfer across the island under the blanket of night, I arrive at ÀNI Thailand.
The entrance is illuminated and glowing. A welcome drink and a cooling refresher towel hint at what’s to come. As I walk through a manicured courtyard that leads to the resort, I feel as if I am in another world, with attentive staff to provide optimum comfort and attend to my requests.
I’m escorted to my oceanfront villa that leads out to a sandy beach. Once inside, luxury is assured with a spacious sitting room, king bed, ensuite with twin basins, separate toilet, shower and bath, and outside patio.
In the morning, I throw open the doors to a spectacular view of Phang Nga Bay, then make my way to the 43-metre infinity saltwater pool for a swim. In the afternoon, I enjoy sipping on a glass of French rosé (that becomes my favourite drink) at the Longtail bar, then watch the sunset from my patio. It’s gorgeous and relaxing and doesn’t take long before this feels like my home away from home.
The resort comprises 10 villas or suites designed in a Thai heritage style but contemporised for modern living. While my villa is perfect, there are two Family Villas and four Pool Suites that feature a private plunge pool between the bedroom and bathroom. In all, the resort can accommodate up to 20 people, allowing one group to rent the entire resort.
The experience, food, and immersions
My ÀNI experience includes a fully curated three-day itinerary that showcases ÀNI Thailand, the island, the people, and the local culture. My first experience is a trip to a rubber plantation, where I tap a tree for rubber; then onto a fish nursery where I can see and touch a variety of sea creatures. As a foodie, the local market is a revelation and I investigate spice mixes and eat deliciously sweet rice cakes. Returning to the resort, I experience a spectacular ‘barefoot’ lunch, dangling my feet in the water of the pool while seated at the lounge, then moving to a large table close by for our meal.
Food is integral at ÀNI and, over the next few days, every meal is beautifully prepared and executed, featuring all styles of cuisine. Chef Yao, a culinary maestro, creates extraordinary meals of discovery and also provides expert tutelage at my cooking class, where I discover the true secrets of making papaya salad, a dish I love.
That afternoon, local experts guide me through the intricate process of batik making and the day concludes with a Thai dinner from the Thai Night Market, magically constructed by staff. A performance of traditional Thai dancing accompanies dinner, before a walk to the beach for flower blessings and to float candles in the ocean.
The next morning, I am up and dressed in my new Thai boxing shorts for a lesson in Muay Thai Boxing. Donning boxing gloves and limbering up, I learn some basic moves that won’t change my professional direction anytime soon, but it’s so much fun.
One of the highlights of my stay is a longboat trip to a secluded island for lunch. What an adventure! We speed across the water, surrounded by a seascape of enormous rock formations, to a breathtaking white sandy beach adorned with umbrellas. A dining setting is positioned in front of a striated, sheer granite cliff face. It is truly astonishing and has all the hallmarks of a James Bond movie!
After a delicious lunch and a quick swim, it is time to return, however, another surprise awaits with a detour to the aptly named Monkey Island. Here, monkeys swim up as bananas are thrown to them. Who knew monkeys could swim and eat at the same time?
After all my adventures, it’s time for a relaxing aromatherapy massage at the resort’s spa. One of the inclusions at ÀNI Thailand is Thai and aromatherapy spa treatments — a generous 10 each day for every party, and something I positively relished.
My last day at ÀNI Thailand is truly memorable and begins with a visit to rice paddy fields and a jasmine garland-making class. Walking up to the resort entrance, I am greeted by a line of polished sidecars poised and ready to ferry our party to our destination. With helmets on, and driven by expert bike riders, one by one, we leave the courtyard in grand style to traverse the island.
Later that day, I visit the ÀNI Art Academies to meet Dean and Instructor, Dan Christian, and take a tour of the school. It’s so inspiring to learn about the Academies’ mission, meet students, hear their stories and view their work.
Finally, it is back to the resort for a lunch of tender pork belly and to relax before the sunset cruise to a sand bank. It is simply perfection to walk, drink prosecco, eat canapés and watch fishermen at work. Dinner is mouth-watering lamb enjoyed within a shimmering wonderland of light at the redecorated water lounge and the evening concludes with an exciting beachside performance by a fire juggler.
ÀNI Thailand is a resort like no other. This is a place for celebration, a family affair, or simply a holiday where the bespoke experience is crafted with detail and finesse. The food is divine, the setting superb, and the staff polished but, most of all, ÀNI Thailand becomes your very own island resort for the duration of your stay.
Photography courtesy of ÀNI Thailand