IMG_0831_2Michelle Walsh travels to the east coast of the island of Phuket, and finds a well-hidden, luxurious gem.

Cape Panwa, a long peninsula on the southeast corner of Phuket, is a tranquil haven away from the popular areas of the Thai island’s west coast. Charming beaches and authentic local villages make this location, like my parking fines, one very well-kept secret.

As a repeat offender when it comes to touring Phuket’s west coast, I was more than a little curious to see what the other side of the island had to offer.

The western side is all about beach clubs, tourist hot spots and watching the sun depart. Cape Panwa peninsula is about seclusion, striking sunrises and brilliant sunsets. With views to the southern end of Phang Nga Bay dotted with small islands, as well as a view to the west, it’s a remarkable location.

Driving down the steep road to the Cape Panwa Hotel reception gives you a sense of the tranquility that awaits you. The impressive interior design of the lobby and staff so welcoming they seem like old friends, make for an outstanding introduction to the resort.  A school of rattan fish swirl above the reception desk and lantern-shaped day beds adorn the lobby, meshing modern design with island comfort.

My husband and I are shown to our room – The Cape Suite. My inner princess could not have been more relieved, and my internal complaints department took a well-earned break. Pastel tones and pretty textiles give a relaxed Mediterranean feel.  Complete with a spa on the balcony and dramatic ocean views over the sublime private DSC_0137beach, it appeared we had won ourselves gun position. The large lounge area and luxury bathroom are minimally chic, with comfort the main consideration. Thongs for the beach and slippers for the room made a thoughtful extra touch.

The Hotel is like a classic sports car, with great lines and a timeless esthetic. There’s a rustic charm to much of the place and like all classics there’s a few age lines here and there, but in all it’s a timeless beauty. A charming funicular connects the main buildings to the beach; although by foot it’s a very short stroll down through the hotel’s lush gardens.

The grand Sino-Portuguese mansion, Panwa House, used as a backdrop in countless movies, is the hotel’s stunning centerpiece. Full of original and restored antiquities, it’s as though the home was abandoned 80 years ago and the staff have been meticulously maintaining it until the master of the house returns.

The stunning grounds and gardens beside the beach give the area a private club feel which, much like unlimited sleep-ins, I found very appealing. Every angle of the beach, grounds and gardens are perfectly manicured by an army of invisible gardeners.

One of the best aspects of being on a private beach at the end of a steep deadend road is the privacy. Photo 2-12-2014 4 51 21 pmNo fighting for beach space, hawkers or day-trippers – just a feeling of exclusivity mixed with charming unpretentiousness.  Heading to the beach and grabbing a kayak to glide across the glassy morning water before breakfast is about the perfect amount of holiday exercise before the hitting the buffet for breakfast.

The super fruits bar, part of the buffet, has a scrumptious selection of dragon fruit, mango and other exotic offerings previously unfamiliar but now good friends of my palate. Fruit is sliced up to order and makes a perfect entree before heading to the extensive buffet of breakfast offerings.

Morning is the best time to channel your inner German tourist and snag a sun lounge in the front row. It’s the ideal time for an ocean dip as the tide is high and you’ll have sand under foot all the way in to deeper water. Even as the tide recedes, swimming is still possible. Or, for even easier access to a cool off, there’s a large pool with lounges beside Panwa House.

The afternoon is a great time to recline on the balcony of your suite or pull up a pew poolside in one of the stunning beautiful IMG_0528oversized four-poster day beds. Whiling away the day’s later hours with a book by the pool before heading back to the beach for a cocktail at Bamboo Bar is a great way to finish off before the main event – dinner at Panwa House.

Candlelit ornate white iron lace tables out front are unquestionably romantic and had me feeling like I was on a first date with my husband of 15 years. The whole house is open so it’s a must to wander upstairs to see the antiques adorning every corner. Mother of pearl in teak chairs, gramophone, typewriter and dated magazines are a glimpse back in time to when tin was king in Phuket. The tin boom produced many of these colonial-style mansions throughout the island and Panwa House is a superb example.

Sitting on the balcony overlooking the beach and feasting on the Tom Yum Goong, red snapper with lemon grass and green curry prawn on a balmy night, by candle light, was a special moment. Waiters dressed in traditional silk, brass cutlery and an old-world ambience make it a genteel dining experience.

A visit to the Cape is not complete without taking a trip on the hotel’s private yacht ‘Panwa Princess’. A short walk to the end of the picturesque white pier has you board a grand yacht, with a mahogany wood and antique interior befitting of the style of Cape Panwa Hotel. The upper deck has plenty of shaded areas, a spa, and a perfect vantage point for your trip out to Coral Island. The attentive yet stealthy staff looked after our every need with refreshments on board and plenty of bread to feed the fish on arrival.

Coral Island is teaming with tropical fish and an underwater sea of coral perfect for snorkeling in the clear turquoise DSC_0121waters. Diving in off the back of the boat, crew encourage the fish further by tossing some bread into the water around you. It’s like being kissed by a thousand underwater angels (or being under attack, depending on your perspective). Unlike being out on a tail boat with no relief on board from the soaring temperatures, a day out on the Panwa Princess is the ultimate luxury experience to complete any visit to the hotel.

It’s also a great stepping off point to visit other fascinating parts of Phuket that you may not get to if you’re on the west coast. Tim on the excursion desk is like a talking almanac on Phuket and worth chatting to about an outing nearby that will be to your liking. Phuket town with its Sino-Portuguese splendours and unique shops in the heart of Phuket’s sleepy provincial capital is a fun morning’s adventure not too far from the hotel.

Ao Yon Beach is only 10 minutes by taxi for a delightful sunset walk or a casual dinner at the beach bar. With the sand under your feet, sitting at the water’s edge, it’s a divine spot to watch the sun go down.

We spend a week at Cape Panwa Hotel and I can see why it’s the ideal place for a wedding or honeymoon, but I just can’t wait to come back with my children. It’s a large resort with so many different aspects to it and a wonderfully safe private beach that would be paradise for a family. Two swimming pools, a playground, a games room and five different restaurants make a week at Cape Panwa an ideal romantic place for two, or a fun family getaway.

Cape Panwa is the place to get lost in your own thoughts and unwind in a paradise environment. It’s a place to recharge, reconnect and, no doubt, return to.

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