Imagine a quiet, secluded bay, hidden from the hustle and bustle of a major tourist destination, set back amidst cliffs, crystal clear seas and green foliage, yet close enough to (personally) one of the best beach bars in the region and options for equestrian sports. Imagine this spot as the perfect luxury getaway, where things will be prepared before you even want it prepared but welcome it all together. Imagine this palace of peace, within easy reach.
That basically spells out the Amanpuri for you: decadent luxe without being over the top, where you have to know where you’re going if you’re looking for this spot. This hidden appeal is pretty much the standard modus operandi for all Amans I’ve been to.
Palace of Peace
Located on Pansea Beach, a small, hidden cove between Surin and Bangtao Beaches, this hidden spot is, well, hidden: you need to enter through the boom of The Surin Hotel to get to the Amanpuri. The low-rise setting, amidst tall trees, soaring high roofs and clustered pavilions greet you suddenly, as you make a left turn down the hill, to be greeted by a great main pool terrace and the dramatic steps to the beach and sea below.
The hidden setting and its location tucked well away from prying eyes will guarantee you utter privacy in this palace of peace. Staff in crisp uniforms shuffle about discreetly, as well-dressed guests in elegant Resort Wear glide around the grounds, enjoying this oasis of tranquillity.
Pavilions on pavilions
The rooms in the Amanpuri are well appointed, with well-appointed wooden features, well positioned mirrors and doors that open dramatically to the view of the sea outside. In the pool villas, you can enjoy a nice, quiet private dip away from the environs of the main pool, not that its crowded, and in the larger private villas, there are villa staff ready to assist you.
At times, you feel as if your privacy is intruded with the thought of staff on-call, but they have a way of appearing and disappearing just as you need them and when you want privacy. On one morning swim, I decided on a private swim in the private pool, not expecting any staff to be up, but just as I was finishing my laps as dawn broke, the deck chair was prepared, my towel laid out properly and a glass of water on the ready, and I did not even notice it being done.
One of the welcomed features at the Amanpuri is the daily afternoon tea in the tea pavilion, by the main hotel area, fronting the pool. At around 4pm, small Thai snacks are prepared by the staff, who helpfully explain what the items are, and prepare you a variety of local tea infusions.
Bottles of water are always prepared by your deck chair, be it by the beach, or in one of the three pools around the main hotel area. Fruits or ice cream might make their rounds depending on the time and day, and staff regularly spruce up your spot if you decide to go for a swim in the pool or the sea.
Sea Sports Suggested
Among the many things I like about the Amanpuri are the options of sea sports available: from water bicycles to kayaks. The cove is well protected from large waves and the sea is crystal clear, enabling you to see the fish just under the surface.
The staff are always ready on hand to assist, and I am proud to say that I learned how to stand-up paddle at the Amanpuri after a quick lesson from the sea sports personnel and his 2 suggested YouTube videos.
If you feel like lazing around, there are 2 sides of the beach to choose from: the beach by the grand sea stairs or the restaurant beach, tucked away under lush, tall trees (and neighbouring the Surin Hotel).
Lounge and Dine
Now, I did not take the opportunity to dine in the Amanpuri’s three restaurants, but I did, naturally, try out the bars. There are 3 lounge bars to choose from, all against the sea terrace, leading down to the beach. The drinks are well made, the lounges have great views out to the Andaman Sea, all in all, the perfect spot to relax and do almost nothing.
While the bustling beach bar area at Surin Beach is now, sadly, gone, they have moved to the next beach up along Bangtao Beach. One of my all-time favourite bars, Catch Beach Club, has relocated from its Surin perch to lounge along the wide expanse of Bangtao. Drinks are good, lounge area super comfortable, beach frontage unrivalled and it has a good spot to watch the sunset, as the DJ spins beach house chill.
The Phuket International Horse Riding Club is further along Bangtao Beach, in the Laguna district, and has good horse riding facilities and options if you feel like going on a trot. One of my regular haunts in Phuket, the horses are well tended, and the handlers very skilled. Be prepared to be part of a wedding photoshoot as you trot along the beach, and wear white, just to fit with the resort setting.
Now, Phuket is a fairly large island, and you will eventually have to make a decision between lounging in the resort and its immediate vicinity or exploring the island. If you have to go somewhere, Promthep Cape, at the southern tip of Phuket is an option, as the drive down along the western coast is one of the most dramatic seaside drives.
There are options, from rowdy nightlife in Patong to family-friendly settings in Kata-Karon to jet-set luxe in Bangtao. Personally, I would stick with Bangtao and anything within a 30 minute drive away: the Amanpuri just makes you want to stay in one spot, and only occasionally head out if the need arises.
Southeast Asia without a doubt a memorable destination: from futuristic city skylines to decadent beach bars, from jungle terrace retreats to riverine vistas, there is bound to be something interesting for everyone. This is Jay’s take, Part 1, because let’s be honest, there will be more as we travel and discover unique spots.
Catch Beach Club, Phuket
Images of an idyllic island retreat usually includes either a fancy lounge or a small hut serving coconuts. This particular spot definitely qualifies in the former category, and then some.
The previous location of Catch on Surin Beach was iconic, as it was fringed on one corner by large rocks and on another by the beach, with the most realistic entrance via the beach. The new location, as of early 2017, is on the next beach up on Bangtao Beach, with an equally stunning view, and arguably a better spot for a sunset.
The crowd has also gone upmarket, with a fantastic, single storey setting and with a very euro-white theme all-around. Naturally, there are magnum bottles of Moet everywhere, and the cocktails are really, really good.
rGrab a spot around 5pm to get a good seat for sunset, and stay a while longer as the beach-club lounge house beats set your beach escapade soundtrack.
View: West, towards the Andaman Sea. Fantastic setting for the sunset
Drinks: good selection of drinks, cocktails are my favourite here
Price Point: Reasonable. THB 300++/drink
Feel: come by in the late afternoon onwards. Perfect, chilled atmosphere. Also: if you happen to be staying at the Twin Palms Surin, there is a shuttle service between Catch Beach Club and the Twin Palms.
Address: Choeng Thale, Thalang District, Phuket 83110, Thailand
(Tel: +66 65 348 2017)
Helipad @ Heli Lounge, Kuala Lumpur
While Marini’s takes the cake as the highest bar in town, and SkyBar has the unrivalled view of the Petronas Twin Towers, the Helipad is among the few places where you can say ‘oh, the helicopter dropped me off’ as you chat someone up by the lounge. When it isn’t used as an outdoor terrace, this place still functions as a helipad.
The views here are stunning: an unrivalled 360* view of Kuala Lumpur, all the way to the Titiwangsa Range and beyond. The spot is high enough for you to enjoy a view of the city, but just right for you to feel as if you are still surrounded by other buildings, giving you an urban feel.
Happy Hours are not exactly present, but the relaxed atmosphere, where you can walk around in shorts, gives it a chilled feel. After 9pm though, you need to wear trousers, and there is a minimum spend, and there is a live band on some evenings. The chilled lounge beats from 6pm provides a nicer, more relaxed setting, as you watch the world go by while the sun changes hue at dusk.
View: 360* view of Kuala Lumpur, from the Twin Towers to KL Tower to everything else in between.
Drinks: Good cocktail selection, and the usual beers.
Price Point: Reasonably priced at the MYR 30++ point.
Feel: This is a somewhat popular place, for both locals and visitors. Come by around 6pm to get a good seat and watch the sun set from 7pm.
Address: 34th Floor, Menara KH, Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
(Tel: +60 3 2110 5034)
How about a craft brewery 33 floors above the city? This is what LeVeL33 is all about, as you are greeted by bronze tanks as you walk through the bar. With a nice, wooden feel and an east-facing terrace, Level33 is definitely one of the more unique watering holes in Asia.
The beer selection is eclectic, with sampling options if you can’t decide which brew tickles your fancy. The good selection of beers and ales, coupled with a reasonably priced happy hour selection makes this a regular after-work haunt for the bankers, lawyers and finance-types that populate the Marina Bay and Raffles Place towers next door.
While it may not have as iconic a view as the outlets at the Marina Bay Sands Skypark, you get an unrivalled view of the Marina Bay Sands in one end, the financial district of Raffles Place on the other end and the iconic colonial buildings and Esplanade Theatres right in front of you.
View: 180* view of the Singapore skyline, with parts of Raffles Place, all of Marina Bay and of course, unobstructed views of the Marina Bay Sands.
Drinks: Expansive beer selection, from craft brews to special editions.
Price Point: Reasonable by Singapore standards, especially at happy hours. SGD 11 at Happy Hour, SGD 17 after.
Feel: Business casual. Expect lots of professional types, but not too stuffy as a venue.
Address: 8 Marina Boulevard 33-01, Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1, Singapore 018981
(Tel: +65 6834 3133)
Red Sky, Bangkok
Located at the top terrace of Centra at CentralWorld, this bar tops off the dining and entertainment selection in this large tower. While not as popular as Lebua at State Tower, this particular perch has unrivalled views of Bangkok with its city centre location.
From here, you can see the iconic pixelated tower of the MahaNakhon in the Silom-Sathorn financial district, the office towers along the Witthayu diplomatic enclave, and the never-ending expanse along Sukhumvit Road. Did I mention this is a 360* view? While Vertigo at Banyan Tree also has a 360*, this feels a bit more grounded as it feels wider, with a lot of terrace space to walk and lounge around.
Drinks are pretty good here, and cocktails can be quite stiff. There is, naturally, a champagne lounge, and the terrace seating is conducive for lounging. Definitely a good perch if you want a convenient bar after all that shopping downstairs, especially around 6pm, in time to catch the sun setting.
View: 360* views of Bangkok.
Drinks: Good cocktail selection, and can be strong.
Price Point: Reasonable by Urban Asia-Pacific standards. THB 400++, and there is a decent happy hour which includes a buy-one-free-one promo.
Feel: Very dressed down and casual in the daytime. Relaxed atmosphere with chilled music just makes you want to do absolutely nothing but relax.
Address: Centara Grand at CentralWorld 56F, Thailand
(Tel: +66 2 100 6255)
River Terrace, Mulu, Sarawak
This spot is definitely the odd one out in this list, but how many times can you lounge on a super large and comfortable day bed with a glass of wine looking at limestone cliffs, a clear river and the very edge of a UNESCO World Heritage Natural Wonder?
With a fine, wide veranda, a small garden fronting the river and pebble beach, the Paku River meanders against a sheer limestone cliff, as the peace and quiet of the jungle lets you unwind for a moment. Oh, and this is one of the few spots in the hotel where you get reliable cell reception and the only few places with WiFi in all of Mulu: this place was designed to be remote.
Drinks selection are good, but let’s be honest: the main reason why we chill here is for cell reception and WiFi. The stunning jungle views, occasional boat that plies the river and comfortable jungle luxury setting just adds on to the ‘plus’ column.
View: Nature, jungle, river and the quaint, rural idyll, set in a 5 star resort, yet you don’t feel too decadent somehow.
Drinks: Good cocktail selection, and generous carafe options for wine. Good options, considering this is the middle of the jungle and provisions need to be flown in.
Price Point: On the lower end of average upscale Asia-Pacific establishments. MYR 25++
Feel: Relaxed atmosphere and extremely chilled. You may just fall asleep on the day bed, it is that comfortable.
Address: Mulu Marriott Resort & Spa, Sungai Melinau, Box 1145, 98008 Mulu, Sarawak, Malaysia
(Tel: +60 85 792 388)
What is my criteria?
-View: do I get a unique insight to the city? And is the view majorly obstructed?
-Drinks Selection: Beer? Wine? Cocktails? Variety helps with the view.
-Price Point: Rooftop bars are known to charge a premium, but is it reasonable?
-Feel: Now this is hard to quantify, but a fantastic view can be spoiled by that intangible thing called ‘feelings’
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.