What a fantastic hotel lobby, I thought as I arrived at the Anantara Layan resort in Phuket. Descending a flight of stairs into a cool stone courtyard—welcome refuge from the sweltering heat of Thailand—I took in a view of an infinity pool stretching out over a length of 69 feet beyond a scrim of palms, with the shimmer of the Andaman Sea down below. The space was expansive; the flow, graceful. Purple chaises and a sala with cushions beckoned. But first: being ushered into the living-room pavilion to do a little basic check-in paperwork.
As the hotel manager who greeted me handed me over to a butler to continue the welcome and tour, it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t in a hotel lobby at all. This was all mine. Including the butler, who would be sleeping in staff quarters downstairs and whom I could summon 24/7 throughout my stay. (Having to interact with different staff during a vacation wouldn’t be sufficiently luxurious, general manager Sascha Hemmann told me, and larger groups get multiple butlers.)
I was in one of the resort’s 15 “residences”—villa doesn’t begin to convey the scale or the level of luxury, and besides, that word is already used to describe the resort’s less lavish multi-room accommodations in freestanding bungalows. (Those are lovely but nothing unusual in this part of the world.) Trailing up a hillside at the top of the property, the residences made their debut around Christmas last year with three to eight bedrooms apiece. Even the smallest sleeps nine (and goes for around $3,000 per night) and has bedrooms in separate pavilions, plus shared pavilions for dining, living, entertainment and work. And then there are those highly inviting hotel-size swimming pools.
The new development is part of the Thailand-based Anantara hotel group’s mission to change the common perception of Thailand as a less-than-luxurious backpacker destination. The scale of the residences is epic, and the style is a modern take on traditional Thai motifs. Their technology, from the massive, heavy curtains that open and close at the touch of a button to the Toto Washlet toilets, is top of the line. They feel, well, residential. That was the goal, as the resort’s owners hope to sell them as private homes (that may remain in a rental pool). But for now, they’re well set up to vacation as a group—in supremely high style. (Disclosure: I recently stayed in one as a guest of Anantara.)
To be sure, they’re designed as self-contained private cocoons—the butlers cook breakfast and can coordinate room service deliveries for other meals—but they have easy access to the resort’s other pleasures. Layan Beach is a short golf-cart ride away, along with an extensive spa, an outdoor stadium for Muay Thai kickboxing lessons with a fun instructor, a pavilion for yoga, a kitchen set up for Anantara’s popular Spice Spoons cooking classes, and sophisticated Thai and Mediterranean restaurants. Another hallmark is Anantara’s brand-wide Dining by Design program, which lets guests arrange private dinners with set menus of their choosing in locations around the resort. A romantic dinner with your feet in the sand and a sound track of lapping waves is a compelling reason to leave the sanctuary.
Getting there: Ever since Thai Airways suspended service to the US last year, there has been no obvious way to get to Thailand. An excellent option is to go east. Qatar Airways has daily, very comfortable flights to Doha from Philadelphia, Miami, New York, Chicago, DC, Houston and Dallas, with an easy connection from there to Phuket.