Open in 2010, it was first property to enter the Ritz-Carlton Reserve portfolio, an elite group of one-of-a-kind resorts that seamlessly incorporate the aesthetics and spirit of each location. The second Ritz-Carlton Reserve property, Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, opened in 2012. Later this year, Mandapa will open in Bali, Indonesia.
As the company notes, “For the most discerning travelers seeking a personalized meaningful escape, these resorts feature chic, relaxed and intimate settings that weave indigenous flavors with highly responsive individualized service.” You sense this the minute you arrive at Phulay Bay, where a group of staff stands ready to greet you with a fresh orchids and iced lemongrass tea in an immense temple-like welcome pavilion set in a reflecting pool and reached via a path of stepping stones.
Every guest at Phulay Bay is assigned a personal butler to handle their needs during the course of their stay. The first night of my arrival my personal butler thoughtfully prepared a fresh orchid bath and ordered some sweet ands savory nibbles, knowing I had traveled far and might welcome a hot soak and snack before bed. Indeed, I did, and soon fell asleep refreshed and sated to the chirp of crickets and sweet scent of frangipani.
Thai architect Lek Bunnag designed the property, which has fifty-four villas spread out on fifty acres of landscaped gardens overlooking the aquamarine waters of Phang Nga Bay. The main buildings use local and sustainable materials, like teak and stone, as well as stucco painted rich hues of aubergine and apricot. Each temple-like villa has teak and cream terrazzo interiors accented with Lanna Thai art (think dancing Thai women in red silk outfits). Enormous thirteen-foot beds, soaking tubs, and expansive patio lounge beds exude luxury and comfort, while ocean views, private pools, and hidden outdoor baths and showers connect guests with nature, but in a discreet way.
With so many things to do at Phulay Bay it's hard to know where to start. My first morning I took a boat to several of the 130 area islands, where I strolled along the soft, white sand before picnicking on fresh lemongrass salad packed by the resort.
Another day I hiked with a guide up Naga Mountain for breath-taking views over Krabi, a mountainous region of lush jungles and limestone karsts hugging the coast. I kayaked through the mangroves under the curious eyes of small honey-brown monkeys and took a sunset yoga class on the beach. I also relaxed at the resort.
Phulay Bay has a gorgeous infinity pool with private cabanas for two. It also has an Asian-style spa comprised of three traditional Thai pavilions housing eleven treatment rooms in soothing tones of beige and dark brown.
In addition to using body products from the British company ESPA and Thai-based DIVAN, the spa incorporates resort-grown fruits, plants, and herbs known for their rejuvenating and healing properties into their treatments. My Thai Herbal Infusion Ritual, for example, utilized garden herbs in the warm poultices that were placed on my shoulders and back to ease tension. Later, an oil infused with Prai, a rhizome from the ginger family that has been used for centuries in Thailand to condition skin, was massaged onto my scalp.
When it comes to dining, you will eat well at Phulay Bay. The pool bar, Sunset Lounge (a must for sunset drinks), and Sri Trang restaurant, specialize in spicy southern Thai food, such as pungent curries, fresh seafood and chile-laced salads. Lae Lay serves elegant French fare and Jampoon offers Mediterranean and western dishes, as well as a bountiful breakfast buffet each morning. You can dine al fresco at all venues and even arrange for in-villa dining or a table for two on the beach.
Guests interested in learning more about Thai cuisine can join the resort's Thai chef on a tour through the nearby Maharaj Market, packed with exotic vegetables, fruits, and seafood. Then back at the resort, with recipes in hand, you'll learn how to turn these indigenous ingredients into fresh spring rolls and zesty Thai salads–easy dishes to make home when you're hankering for a faraway taste of Phulay Bay.