Fantasy Island, Thailand


phuket tours: Adventure Travel

 Fantasy Island
 

By Kit C. Cauw

The sun bursts as a brilliant duck’s egg orange yolk from the mountains across the water, its rays painting the dawn sky pink, casting lines of light and shadow down the faces of Koh Ma Island’s limestone walls, just offshore. Gentle waves lap the white sands just a few metres from our bungalow’s patio. The morning birds are singing as mist rises from land and sea; the scents of ocean and earth ride the first exhalations of breeze. I slip into the cool water, a chill shivering through my body as I adjust to the temperature and lie back in the shallows, floating, watching the sun’s slow ascension; watching as the clouds gain colour and turn orange and pink. I’m reminded of the first sunrise I ever saw, when I was a young boy travelling with my father to our summer home on Cape Cod. We were driving south-east through the mountains, and the clouds were practically on fire. I’ve never seen pinks like that since, yet every time I see the sunrise I recall the scene. Every time I wake early enough to enjoy dawn’s beauty I wonder why I don’t do this more often.

I’m wondering the same thing about this province of Trang, my favourite in Thailand. Why do I visit so infrequently? In my five years of living in the kingdom, I’ve made it down here only four times, less than once a year. Of course, I do live in Phuket, and one can get lazy about going on beach vacations when one is already shacked up in paradise. Down here, things are different, however. The islands are practically untouched. Phuket, for all its beauty, lacks the breathtaking views of limestone karsts and headlands. For years I’ve been extolling the magnificence of Trang’s islands to friends and travellers I meet; with few exceptions they nod their heads and feign interest, but remain set in their notion that since the province is slightly off the beaten trail, it must have little to offer. Actually, Trang is quite easily accessed by regular flights from Bangkok. A thirty-to-forty minute van ride delivers you to the pier at Pak Meng, where you take an hour-long boat ride to the islands.

I will concede this point: if it’s a party you seek, or if you prefer to clutter your beaches with kilometres of lounge chairs and plastic umbrellas; if you enjoy jostling for swimming room with legions of other tourists, fleets of jet skis and steady processions of dozens of loud, belching long-tailed boats, the islands here will not meet your needs. If, however, you spell romance with privacy, seclusion, wonder and tranquility, come to Trang, come directly to Trang, do not pass GO, do not collect $200, you will hardly need it anyway. Better yet, leave the Monopoly board and all of its connotations behind.

I look back at the shoreline, through the line of coconut palms, to the figure of my girlfriend, stepping out, towel wrapped about her, onto the slate flagstones of the patio, the tinted sliding doors of our key-lime green, thatched bungalow behind her. This morning and this island belong to us. We are the only guests, but even if the resort were full we would still have plenty of privacy and space.

All the bungalows along the shore are painted in bright pastels, blue, pink, yellow. Aside from their playful colouration, they have more in common with villas in up-market resorts than with the types of places where I used to stay, the bamboo mold factories where one paid three dollars a night (though up to $50 these days!) for the privileges of feeding local insect populations and contracting various respiratory ailments. Truth be told, it was after an earlier trip to one of these very Trang islands, when I stayed in an abandoned hut with no running water or electricity, no screens or mosquito netting, that I vowed to never stay in any little beach bungalows again. After a relapse of a horrible evening spent sweating into the mildewed sheets of a hot wooden box in Krabi a couple of years later, I reaffirmed my oath. No more bungalow "resorts."

Koh Hai Fantasy Resort is different, though, an exception to the rule. Here is a modest bungalow operation that is actually comfortable. Of course, its setting and views are without parallel. Now, the resort is closed for renovation and expansion; the grand reopening will be in October. Still, the beach, lawns, and gardens are swept, raked and tended regularly. The creamy-coloured coral sands are free of litter and garbage, in part because they face East and are thus protected from the south-west monsoon which blows flotsam and garbage onto Thailand’s west-facing beaches, but in part because of management’s sense of commitment.

While the pleasantness of the bungalows came as somewhat of a surprise, the amazing food was almost a shock. I’ve had really good food at small island resorts no more than three or four times and I would swear that I waited over an hour for each plate. I suppose that’s another reason I don’t leave Phuket more often; it’s just so difficult to get tasty food. I consider myself a fairly good judge of Thai food, but just to be sure, I always bring my Thai girlfriend along on assignments. One look at her face and I know whether or not the food is prepared properly. When we agree that a dish is of exquisite flavour, our judgments move from the realm of opinion to that of fairly universal verity.

The seafood at Fantasy is fresh, properly cooked and divine, or as we say, "ah-roy dee!" Our favourite dishes were squid in curry sauce; garlic prawns; steamed white snapper with lime, garlic and chilies and "gaeng som," a spicy/sour curry native to the region. The curries were toned down from the fare one finds in Trang’s city markets, but not at the expense of flavour. Oftentimes, I can’t even eat the food in restaurants that try to tailor Thai food to a Western pallet, but the slight alterations here worked, and I’m certain would receive high laudations from wide audiences. We were both delighted to eat three meals a day here, which is really quite a lot, if one thinks about it; we agreed that the food’s quality and taste matched that of our favourite Phuket eateries.

Currently the resort consists of three sections: a building of garden-facing rooms, with bright, sky-lit garden baths; the restaurant, lounge and deck area, built in the shape of a ship; and the vivid "fantasy" bungalows at the water’s edge. The new area, under construction, will be called Su Hai Raya. Raya means princess and Su Hai was the name of a woman who lived here over a hundred years ago. A Balinese-inspired terraced garden will rise up the hill, into the jungle, some twenty metres above sea level, encircling the new swimming pool and all the new buildings. Guests will enter Su Hai Raya through a reproduction of a classical Balinese gate, which, at eight metres tall, three metres deep, will make quite an impression. Ponds will lie on either side of the pathway and water will play a major role in the overall landscape scheme. The swimming pool will be positioned to the right, cordoned off for privacy and will be integrated into the garden. Tiles have been chosen to imitate the natural crystal pools that one finds in Thailand’s jungles. A pool bar will provide cocktails.

Once through the gate, the guest will pass a large, antique "rakang," or temple bell, which will sound to announce the beginning of dinner hour and other auspicious times. On the left, the largest building will be divided into two free-standing rooms which share a wooden deck, the first an air conditioned seminar room with space for sixty plotters and schemers, the second a health food restaurant which will feature fresh herbs from Fantasy’s own garden. All the plants, flowers and trees come from the resort’s own nursery and most of the interior decorations are products of the jungle and sea, including dried seed pods, coconut branches, nuts and massive pieces of dark, weathered driftwood. Farther up the path, bungalow duplexes and another larger building with four separate units are being built into the hillside. The views from these elevations are stunning, even more dramatic than ours is from the beach. From the upper level rooms, guests will look out through the tree tops, over the sea, the islands and rocks of the headlands and deep into the mountains of Trang’s interior. In addition, a spa is going in alongside a large pond near the seminar room. Guests will have the opportunity to come back from a long morning of snorkeling or jungle trekking and get all their creaks and cramps massaged away in this tranquil garden.

When I suggested to general manager Chitladda Rungsitsawat that it sounded as if she planned the upgraded Fantasy to resemble one of the five star resorts on nearby Koh Lanta Island, she bristled. "We don’t want to change our appeal," she said. "I think of us as more of a three-star resort, but one which is comfortable, and where nature plays an invaluable part." She gestured out towards the sea, the surrounding limestone islands. "Koh Lanta doesn’t have our views or much coral; their guests come to this area for snorkeling and diving and there are only three small resorts on our island. People come here for the peace, quiet and natural beauty. Many of our customers are returning guests; some have been coming for years."

Many of the ideas taking form in Su Hai Raya are the result of customers’ requests, so the addition should fit in nicely. Already unique to this area, Koh Hai Fantasy is on the brink of metamorphosising into a truly fantastic resort, offering the secluded beach destination for which romantics explore the seven seas. Very few places remain in Thailand that are this virgin, this pristine. Indeed, Koh Hai is a throwback to yesteryear, when the first backpackers claimed the Andaman’s shores; yet, with the addition of Su Hai Raya, the resort is poised to offer the latest amenities alongside its superb kitchen. It is, in fact, the manifestation of a most wonderful fantasy

 

 From Benjarong Magazine – September 2003, Volume 6 Issue 10

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 Thailand and Asia
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  Tropical Living Magazine
  Koh Samui
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 Benjarong Magazine - October 2005, Volume 8 Issue 10

 

In Association with

Kinnaree Media Marketing
Tel: (66-76) 263737-8 Fax: (66-76) 224113
E-mail:
info@travel-phuket.com    Website: www.travel-phuket.com
Web design by Andaman Graphics Phuket