While I continue to recap the remainder of my endless summer, I’ve decided to jump out of chronological order and start sharing snippets of what I’ve been up to since I reached Southeast Asia this fall. Thanks for sticking with me!
I have to be honest — I never felt much of a pull to Phuket. My overall impression of the island was not a flattering one, an aversion that can more or less be summed up with the simple explanation that a Hooters Phuket exists… right next to the Hard Rock Cafe Patong. I love me an occasional chain indulgence (Panera, Chipotle, be still my heart) but that’s simply not the vibe I’m looking for when it comes to the Thai islands.
And then I found Cape Panwa. Or rather, Cape Panwa found me — Club Carlson invited me to take a look at the Radisson Blu Phuket following my visit to their sister hotel in Bangkok, and I couldn’t turn down the chance to visit an area Lonely Planet described as the “last vestige of Phuket as it once was.” Ian’s birthday and our arrival back in Thailand were the perfect reasons to make a little celebratory detour en route back to Koh Tao.
Regardless of how we ended up there, Cape Panwa is the corner of Phuket I didn’t know I needed to look for — perhaps I should have reminded myself that the island is 222 square miles, and the infamously sleezy epicenter of Patong is just one stretch of it.
Water droplets lashed against the window of our plane as it touched down in the Phuket airport, angry rain that rarely relented until the morning of our departing flight, five days later (about 90% of the photos in this post were taken that morning.)
At least our journey had been painless — after a quick cab ride to Don Muang airport (275 baht or $7 on the meter from hotel to airport), an hour-long flight from Bangkok to Phuket (just $51 each on Nok Air, including our baggage) and an equally long cab ride from one end of Phuket to another (750 baht or $20 from the airport to hotel; prices are mostly fixed in Phuket), we found ourselves staring at this view:
The check-in staff got us and our luggage to our room quickly and efficiently in water-protected golf carts. We immediately honed in on our spacious porch, and sitting down for a moment on the daybed to enjoy the sound and smell of the afternoon rain quickly turned into a multiple hour nap in paradise (we were still recovering from jetlag, after all.)
That porch became our new home base, and we spent hours out there reading, napping, talking, eating take away, and photographing the sunrise. Our deluxe room (the starting room category) was spacious and comfortable, if a bit dated — the pool villas are more recently renovated and modern, if you can spring for one.
I appreciated having a large closet to stuff our luggage in, as well as big bathroom with a luxurious tub, and a separate vanity area outside the bathroom.
Weather dictated we spent much of our trip holed up in our room, however, with grounds like this I have to assume we were an anomaly. It almost pained me to see how beautiful everything was on our final morning when the sun came out (though we did make a valiant attempt to sprint out to a sun chair every time my iPhone weather report predicted a slight break in the downpour, we were never very successful.)
With three pools, free use of kayaks and SUP paddle boards, an onsite gym with yoga and aquarobics classes, and a busy kid’s club, it’s easy to see how one could barely leave the resort at all, if they so wished.
If they did wish to leave, they could grab the free daily shuttle to Central Festival and Phuket Town, departing the resort at 2pm and returning from Central Festival at 5:35pm and 7:35pm, and from Phuket Town at 6pm. Considering the price of taxis on the island, I really appreciate the shuttle service and wish they’d add even more — nearby Phuket Town is the perfect destination for a hit of culture and history, and Central Festival is a high-end mall convenient for catching a movie or an international meal.
We had planned an extensive day of exploring Phuket Town’s arty cafes, hip galleries, and trendy restaurants, and I was pretty gutted when we made the tough call to forgo it due to weather. My friend Alana’s recent blog post convinced me it’s worth going back for.
Instead, we went for a more weather-appropriate combo of a gym and spa day. While we never made it to one of the resort’s official classes, we did make use of the extensive cardio and weight equipment.
After, we were off for an afternoon of indulgence at the Talay Spa. I decided that since so many of our proposed activities were being rained out, and since this trip was my birthday present to Ian, I was going to splurge on a two and a half hour couple’s package that included a honey foot scrub, a honey and sesame body scrub, a lunar massage, and a honey milk bath for two. Bring on the bliss.
I’m a bit of a massage addict, and I really feel like I’ve seen all ends of the spectrum when it comes to spas in Southeast Asia. So it really surprised me how impressed I was with the onsite Talay spa at Radisson Blu — from the moment we walked through the front doors into the spa’s extensive courtyard, I was wowed. Each treatment room was a private freestanding villa, and ours was larger than some hotel suites I’ve stayed in. From the tasteful decor to the outdoor shower, every detail was perfect. The package was a splurge, coming out to 6,600B or $180 in total, but for once I felt it was worth every last baht. We felt like royalty.
And then came the treatments. I’m not exaggerating when I say my massage might have been one of the best I’ve ever received in Thailand — and was followed by the masseuse sweetly braiding my hair while I drifted in and out of sleep after. When we left, I had to restrain myself from hugging her — it could not have been a more perfect experience.
Radisson Blu Phuket has three onsite restaurants — Aqua, where we enjoyed the buffet breakfast one morning, Azur, an upscale dinner choice where we ate our first evening, and Edge Pool bar, a casual outdoor option where we enjoyed a rainy lunch under an umbrella, much to the amusement of our waiter.
The prices were on par with what you’d expect of a beach resort, and we enjoyed all our meals.
That said, I was pretty pumped that Radisson Blu’s location meant we could mix up eating in and out of the resort. While Cape Panwa felt deliciously remote, in reality there were plenty of diving options right within walking distance. Two of our favorites were Sawasdee for reasonably priced Thai food in a waterfront location, and Curry Night Indian restaurant for insanely good takeaway enjoyed from the beauty of our balcony. The Phuket Aquarium, several cheap massage joints and a charmingly rustic harbor are all also within easy strolling distance.
For our final night in Cape Panwa, the rain made way for some colorful clouds, and we decided to splurge on dinner and drinks at nearby Sri Panwa — again, walking distance away.
Our first mission was sunset drinks at the Baba Nest bar, one that frequently tops lists of the most beautiful in Phuket. I had my heart set on it from the get go.
Unfortunately getting there was a bizarre and strangely difficult experience — as soon as the rain cleared I called asking for a reservation (the website states they are strictly required, as is a 1000 baht or $28 per person minimum spend) and was asked for our room number to make one. When I explained we weren’t staying at the hotel, suddenly they were fully booked. Ian thought that sounded fishy and tried again, getting the same response — a pleasant booking process abruptly cut short when it was revealed we were staying at a neighboring resort. Considering the bar is openly advertised to outside guests (there’s a lower minimum spend for those staying onsite), I just couldn’t figure out what was going on. Knowing how much it meant to me to go, Ian insisted we show up and try our luck anyway. We did. Upon arrival, we explained to a baffled receptionist that we were hoping there might be a cancellation at Baba Nest and we’d be happy to wait just in case. After some consulting with a superior via walkie talkie, we were allowed in with a nod. Lucky us, we thought! There must have been a single cancellation we were lucky enough to catch! Aaaand then we walked into a half-empty bar that stayed half empty the entire time we were there. Um…. what?
Whatever. From the moment the elevator doors opened to this view, I didn’t care how we’d gotten there or why it was so hard to convince this place to let me pay for a couple wildly-priced cocktails. It was truly stunning — and the drinks were divine. We stayed, laughing and chatting, until the sun made its final bow, and the colors bleeding through the sky blended into a dusty grey.
Sri Panwa has several onsite restaurants, and we’d pored over the menus online trying to decide which to dine at. The birthday boy chose Iki, a Japanese grill. I couldn’t tell what was more impressive — the menu or the gorgeous restaurant design. Considering the quality of both, I was baffled by the fact that we were the only diners (and slightly unnerved, as I hate eating in empty restaurants.)
We almost died laughing when my Tepinyaki plate turned out to be a multi-course meal, and Ian’s sushi turned out to be finger food. But both were delicious, as were the sake cocktails we enjoyed them with. And quietly grumbling to ourselves about the weird service we’d received, of course the lovely night receptionist had the golf cart driver bring us not just to the entrance of the grounds but all the way back to the door of our hotel. Yes, our evening at Sri Panwa was somewhat bizarre, but it was the perfect note to end our time in Phuket on.
Rain happens. While we were obviously bummed by the majority of our vacation getting washed out, I really think we made the most of it. We read, we relaxed, we watched movies, we went to the gym and the spa, we ate fantastic food and we even braved a drizzly day trip to Phang Nga Bay (post coming up later this week!). I reminded myself that I will be back to Phuket someday, and I’ll have another chance at sunny days then.
Cape Panwa was exactly what I thought I could never find in Phuket — laid back, low key, and lush with charm. And Radisson Blu Phuket was the perfect base to explore it, regardless of the weather.
Have you been to Cape Panwa? How do you make the most of rainy trips?