By Audrey D. Brashich
A family vacation that doesn’t compromise comfort for convenience
The phrase “family vacation” usually conjures up visions of over-chlorinated kiddie pools, all-day passes to Disneyworld, and bargain breakfast buffets. Amanpuri in Phuket, Thailand, approaches things a little differently. Although an ultra deluxe resort with a serene spa, superior service, and world-class cuisine might not seem like an ideal destination for a family of two sophisticated grandparents, one young married couple with two toddlers, another newly-engaged couple, and two hip twenty-somethings, it turns out that everyone enjoys being pampered in paradise.
Forget Las Vegas-style pulsating fountains and parades of Saturday morning cartoon characters – Amanpuri’s excitement lies in its breathtaking natural surroundings and elegant, simple décor. At the center of the resort lies a dramatic black stone infinity pool flanked by the terraces of the main restaurant and an open-air bar perched above the Andaman sea on Thailand’s west coast. Terraced stone steps lead down to a host of padded chaise lounges shaded by generous umbrellas and a wading pool nestled on crescent-shaped Pansea Beach. Shaded by palm trees, there’s also an informal waterside café that serves light meals and snacks, and a fitness center with elliptical trainers, a treadmill, free weights, and nautilus equipment – all with an unparalleled view.
Instead of fairy castles and theme villages resembling the Bavarian Alps, Amanpuri features pavilions with noble peeked roofs, each with an open air porch-like relaxing area called a sala in Thai. Individual guest bungalows feature classic wooden Thai furnishings, large beds with sumptuous sheets, walk in closets with dressing areas, and lots of fresh jasmine flowers. There’s also plenty of room for folding cots for children. Guests seeking a little more luxury – or space for energetic children – can book one of the resort’s thirty private “villas,” which are actually mini-compounds of several individual bedroom bungalows grouped around a lounge pavillion, a private pool, and an outdoor dining sala complete with its own private chef and staff.
Regardless of age or interest, there’s plenty to do at Amanpuri – even without roller coasters and adventure rides. Jet lag made it easy to motivate at the start of the week; we attended the early morning guided meditation and yoga classes held in salas overlooking a sparkling aqua cove, which are enhanced by birdsong and tradewinds. Most mornings, my fiancé Chris and I took advantage of the empty twenty-seven-meter fresh water pool or hit the fitness center before enjoying fresh pommelo fruit (a citrus as large as a grapefruit and as sweet as an orange) and toast for breakfast. My future in-laws, Leif and Lottie, started their days with beachside croissants and coffee, while Ted and Louise, the young parents on the trip, took early morning swims in our villa’s pool before joining the beach staff for a motorized raft trip out to a swimming platform anchored several hundred yards from shore to feed schools of tropical fish – a ride even Disney can’t beat.
Traditional beach activities like Hobie Cat sailing, bathing in the sun, reading paperbacks, and slurping down fruity drinks served in hollow coconuts filled our days on the beach while the children amused themselves under their own personal parasol with the hotel’s basket of beach toys. Late afternoon meant teatime, where the international clientele came together poolside for fresh lemongrass ginger tea and mini fried banana cakes. We’d sit and chat with guests who had traveled from Washington, D.C., London, Paris, Los Angeles, Sweden, and Hong Kong before grabbing a pre-dinner nap, or walking through the surrounding villages filled with shopping stalls, mopeds, and mosques.
Evenings were spent playing backgammon and sipping Caipirinhas at the bar before enjoying authentic, local specialties like fish steamed in coconut milk, green papaya salad, and sweet sticky rice balls for dessert. Guests can choose between the Terrace, Amanpuri’s main restaurant that features Thai food in an all-day casual atmosphere, or the intimate Italian trattoria. Those guests lodged in villas can also choose to take meals privately and work with their assigned chefs to create customized daily menus – which also allows for fewer spices in meals prepared for children. After eating, the “adults” in the family played cards and board games borrowed from the resort’s library, while the children enjoyed DVDs on a portable player in our lounge pavillion. “Thai culture really welcomes children,” explains the toddlers’ mother, Louise, referring to the warm welcome she and the children experienced everywhere from the airport to the beach. “That makes kids relax and feel comfortable – which means parents aren’t always correcting or chastising them. We’ve gotten a chance to unwind, too.”
And there isn’t a better place to unwind than the Amanpuri spa. With two yoga salas and six individual treatment rooms, the spa caters only to hotel guests, and uses local techniques and products tailored to their individual needs. The extensive menu includes traditional Thai and sports massage, lymphatic drainage, and a host of indulgent beauty treatments like a fruit facial featuring regional produce and herbs, and a pre-sun coconut body conditioner. And don’t worry about the kids feeling left out: there’s also a Junior Massage for children age six and older that uses oils mild enough for young skin. Unlimited time in the steam room is also complimentary to all hotel guests. Several international specialists trained in practices like Reiki, sound healing, and acupuncture are also available for intensely therapeutic sessions – making an experience at the spa as quietly elegant and exceptional as everything else at Amanpuri.
The men in our family all indulged in body treatments like the Oriental Oil Massage and the Aromatic Massage, which use fragrant, thick oils and a combination of Thai and other techniques. The women in our family experimented with more innovative treatments, like the Sole to Soul, a half-hour destressing shoulder, scalp, and neck massage followed by a half-hour relaxing foot massage, and my choice: the spa’s signature body treatment, Lob Pra Kob, a traditional Thai massage performed with a heated herb-filled pumice.
After starting with an Aman Elixir, a light ginseng, cinnamon, and honey tea to revitalize cells with its antibacterial properties, I was escorted to a steam shower in my own private, sun-filled treatment room. I soaked for ten minutes and was then offered a cold face towel (infused with lavender and tangerine oils) and ice water with cucumber slices to drink. The practitioner then led me to the oversized treatment bed and began an intensive massage focusing heavily on the center of my spine. As my muscles loosened, the practitioner took the hot sachet from a warming bin and began to slowly press it into the areas she was working on, gently forcing the heat deep into my tissues. The effect was relaxing, comforting, and blissful. She finished by dedicating considerable time to a head and neck massage before suggesting that I steam again for ten minutes then finish with a cool shower. After snacking on fresh mango and rehydrating with ice water, I slipped into a robe and my aesthetician applied a nourishing Rosemary and Aloe Vera Hair and Scalp treatment – a warm, deep conditioner infused with coconut oil. She left the treatment on while she administered a gentle exfoliating and moisturizing facial that included lavender gel and avocado serum, to gently moisturize my suntanned skin. Many of the products used for treatments are available for purchase, and all are handmade with essential oils from organic herbs and wild plants for the Aman spa.
“There’s so much hype today around new and trendy treatments,” laments spa director Ian Bell. “But eventually everyone gets back to basics – to what works.” And the Aman approach definitely works. At the start of the week it seemed far-fetched that the whole family could be happy at the same destination given our diverse interests and the small children, but Amanpuri proves that deluxe comfort and convenience can coexist. That’s why they call it paradise.
Aman Spa Season runs from June through August, during which customized three-day retreats including two spa treatments, three meals per day at the resort, and access to all facilities and services (minimum stay is three nights) are available. Rates from November 2003-October 2004: $650 USD-$7300 USD; 60-minute Soul to Sole, $100 USD; 60/90-minute Oriental Oil Massage, $100/$145 USD; 90-minute Lub Pra Kob body treatment, $145 USD; Rosemary and Aloe Vera Hair and Scalp Treatment, $60 USD. (65) 6887 3337, www.amanresorts.com