I hadn’t expected to return to Phuket for the second time in the same year, but what’s a girl got to do when two dear friends meet at my wedding and then announce they’re having a destination wedding in Thailand?!
I’m slightly ashamed to say that on both visits to Phuket, we bypassed the main town and all of its glorious street hawker stalls, and were chauffeured straight to the resort. It’s not my usual travel style as I love nothing more than seeing what the locals have for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but in both cases, the lure of ultimate bliss at luxury retreats won me over. Phuket, I promise I’ll be back for your incredible street food and cheap and cheerful massages.
Sri Panwa is a luxury hotel perched high atop Cape Panwa and spreads out over 40 acres of tropical rainforest, high above the Andaman Sea.
As we climbed up the stairs to Baba Nest, the rooftop bar that was reserved for the wedding, we tried our best to remain unaffected by the sweltering heat. We were presented with chilled ice-cold towels and refreshing lemongrass ice-teas that went down a treat. Speckles of sweat began dripping down shirts, oh, how I felt sorry for all the men in long sleeved shirts. Paper umbrellas did little to shield us from the heat so we too dashed back downstairs into the air-conditioned bar, waiting for a signal to move upstairs when the bride arrives. With friends and family flown in from all across the world for this wedding, not even the humidity could ruin the magic of Sri Panwa.
By the time the wedding commenced, the sun had begun to set and a cool breeze swept over us. Large arrangements of stunning white orchids framed both sides of the white carpet and 360 degree views of Phuket’s many islands twinkled around us. Every angle was breathtaking and literally postcard perfect. As the sun continued to dip into the horizon, the glistening waters faded into exquisite shades of pastel that blended into the sky. I don’t have words to describe just how beautiful and surreal this moment was.
By nightfall, we were transferred by tuk-tuks to the reception room nearby. A long table stretched down the centre of the restaurant. White and gold lanterns hung from the ceiling, accentuating the candle-lit reflections from the mirror centrepiece along the table.
We feasted a traditional Thai banquet, starting with yam neur, a spicy Thai beef salad with just the right amount of tang; next was tom kha kai, an all-time favourite of mine – a fragrant soup of coconut milk with chicken and local herbs; main course included a red curry duck with lychees and tomato, pla neung manao, steamed snapper with lime, chilli and garlic, followed by an array of fusion creations such as lychee duck, beef with truffle paste, garlic, butter and white wine, and grilled salmon and tuna steaks with ginger soya sauce, and a side of Pad Thai Sen Lek noodles, vibrant with tamarind sauce, enclosed in a delicate egg net.
Outside in the courtyard, a live band played as we danced beneath a blanket of bright stars. Champagne flowed plentifully as we indulged in the desserts of sticky rice with mango, chocolate dipped strawberries and a rose & lychee wedding cake.
We were lucky enough to also stay at Sri Panwa after the wedding. On the day of our arrival, our penthouse suite wasn’t ready yet so we were taken to the Baba Poolclub to chill out.
After a short ride across the jungle-covered hillside in the motorised tuk-tuk, we approached an open pavilion which led our eyes onto a sun-filled sundeck with luxurious outdoor seats sunken into a landscaped pebbled pond. Longtail boats glided 40m beneath us in the perfect blue sea.
It was about 12 noon, which I’d expect to be prime-time but both the pool and bar were empty. I soon realised all 65 rooms, from airy one-bedroom villas to mansion-like five-bedroom villas, all boast large private infinity swimming pools so you can skinny dip to your heart’s content. Even when it comes to the shared pool facilities, there are a few to choose from.
The dining options here are aplenty. There’s the Japanese restaurant Iki, flame-grilled eatery Baba Box and Baba Hotpot, Chinese restaurant Babachino, Thai restaurant Baba Soul and of course, the rooftop bar, Baba Nest. The term ‘baba’, being an ode to the early 1800’s Peranakan Chinese settlement who commonly refer to themselves as Baba-Nonya.
The Poolclub menu was a fantastic introduction to Sri Panwa as it contained a taster of all the dining venues. Naturally, we opted for a local taste. Baba’s infamous crispy wings (฿328) were conveniently halved down the mid-wing, allowing us to easily pull off the succulent lemongrass and chilli infused meat with one bite; the goong salong (฿348) were marinated prawns wrapped in crispy noodles, served with a plum sauce but not needing much more than a squeeze of lime juice to accentuate the fresh flavours. The grilled duck fresh rice paper rolls (฿338) were deliciously light, complemented with a sweet and salty lychee soya sauce. The larb ped (฿488), a familiar minced duck salad with roasted ground rice and local herbs became a substantial meal on its own with sticky rice, lettuce cups and fresh cucumber. The tingling chilli notes on our tongues were numbed with Zen smoothies (฿280) containing lychee, matcha green tea and condensed milk and local Phuket beer (฿208)
The entrance to our penthouse suite was inconspicuous but once inside, nothing quite prepares you for the extremity of this lavish residence. The floor-to-ceiling glass doors made it impossible to take our eyes away from the uninterrupted view. With an iPod preloaded with laidback tracks, we effortlessly switched off from everyday life and made a beeline for the outdoor daybed.
Back inside, we took advantage of the kitchenette which was stocked with complimentary snacks and beverages including instant Mama noodles, fresh fruit, Pretz biscuits, roasted seaweed, salted broad beans, crackers, ice teas, soft drinks, water, beer and even icy-pops and a trusty Nespresso machine!
From the kitchenette to the living room, the master bedroom to the bathroom, natural wood textures united with stone floors and intricately patterned wall tiles. Pops of yellow, sea green and gold added a contemporary chic touch. Our penthouse was breathtakingly tranquil and serene, and extremely private. It was easy to imagine we were the only people at the resort!
Although all the food options are available via room service, we couldn’t bypass Baba Soul Food for seriously authentic Southern home-style Thai cuisine. Many of the ingredients here are sourced from the organic farms of H.M. The King’s Royal Project in Northern Thailand.
The restaurant ambience took on a completely different vibe to the rest of the resort. There was an unexpected mature sophistication in an edgy space. As we rocked back and forth in the rocking chairs (all the dining chairs appear to be rocking chairs — you’ll either love it or hate it – we loved it), we excitedly browsed the menu of tom (soups), phad (stir frys), thod (fried dishes), gaeng (curries) and nam prik (dips).
We were welcomed with an amuse bouche of a spoon carved out of fresh pineapple, topped with a deep-fried pork meatball, a sprig of coriander and a thin slice of chilli. This was a punchy awakening of the senses being spicy, sour, salty and sweet all at the same time.
As the menu is designed for sharing, we ordered haphazardly, choosing a few dishes from each section. The hoi jor (฿488) turned out to be similar to the Hokkien / Teochew five spice rolls that I’d grown up with. I loved the familiarity of the flavours of the crab, shrimp and pork mince, and the deep-fried crunch of the beancurd sheet. These however, had taken a Thai route with the spicy chilli dipping sauce. Also on the snacks menu were Tao Hoo Hed Hom Thod Bai Magood (฿388), deep-fried soft tofu and shitake mushroom with garlic, shallots and kaffir lime leaves. The earthy notes reminded us that we were indeed devouring vegetables and the crunchy texture was indulgently moreish and deeply satisfying.
I was also drawn to the naam prik ghoong sod (฿388) because of the six chilli symbols beside it (haha)! This dip is a local speciality made of shrimp paste, fresh minced shrimp, chilli, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice; sort of like an Italian bagna cauda. The pungent and potent flavours of the shrimp paste and fish sauce definitely aren’t for the faint-hearted. We dipped the assortment of raw and steamed vegetables — cucumber, Thai eggplants, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, okra and cabbage — and it delightfully brought out more delicate nuances in the dip. Using the vegetables to tone down the heat of the dip, I was in an addictive trance alternating between the dip and the greens. I could snack on this all day, you’ll just have to excuse my garlic breath afterwards!
Onto the main course, we shared the phad kha-na moo krob (฿528), stir-fried kale with crispy pork, the gaeong poo (฿628) a delectable yellow curry with generous flakey chunks of Andaman crab meat, the khai jiew poo (฿388), a crab omelet – because there’s no such thing as too much crab, and the pla sum ree thod & yam mamuang (฿1,288), deep-fried kingfish served with a spicy green mango salad. I loved the homely warmth of the omelet, particularly the deep-fried crisp edges. If you’ve never had a Thai omelet before, put it on your to-do list because it’s simply sensational how a few ingredients can create such a fluffy and tantalising creation. The green mango salad was also delicious and refreshing with the balance of flavours spot on. Plus the crispy pork was faultless — each piece was perfectly marinated and tender to bite, heightened with the earth-shattering crunch of the crispy crackling — soooo good!
We barely made it to dessert but we contently squeezed in the jackfruit cheesecake with black sticky rice (฿328) before hopping back to the lush confines of our luxury penthouse within the new The Habita enclave.
Breakfast at the Baba Poolclub (you may recognise this as the venue of the wedding reception earlier) is no ordinary affair at Sri Panwa. Although not as expansive as some of the buffet breakfasts I’ve had at other resorts in my lifetime, this one ticks all the boxes with a spread of exotic hot foods (such as pickled lettuce soup with spare ribs, pea-fried shrimp, etc), fresh fruits, pastries and my favourite part, local Thai cuisine. I started daily with an iced Thai milk tea sweetened with the caramel notes of condensed milk and a spicy and sour tom yum noodle soup.
When not eating or swimming, we were off exploring Sri Panwa’s vast tropical surroundings. With eight of the most beautiful islands in the Phuket archipelago within easy reach: Racha, Maiton, Phi Phi, Coral, Lone & more are all 15-40 minutes away by boat. World-class cruising, beach-hopping, snorkelling and scuba diving is literally minutes away from your doorstep. That’s if you even decide to leave the room at all.
88 Moo 8 Sakdidej Road, Tambon Vichit, Muang, Phuket
Cape Panwa, on the scenic South Eastern tip of Phuket
Phone: +66 (0)76 371 000
I Ate My Way Through stayed as guests of Sri Panwa