Thailand has always been on the top of my list of places to go, and luckily my partner and I recently had the opportunity to visit tropical Phuket in the southern part of the country. Our trip began with a 16-hour flight from New York to Hong Kong, where we spent three days exploring the city before boarding Thai Airways for the 3 1⁄2-hour flight to Phuket. This was our first trip to Asia, and we wanted to take our time and enjoy every moment and all the wonderful people and great experiences that this journey had in store for us.
When we arrived in Phuket, we were met at the airport by a car and driver from Paresa Resort (www.paresaresorts.com), where we would be staying for six nights. The forecast for our week in paradise was sunny and in the low 90s every day—what a relief from the relentless winter of snowstorms and frigid temperatures in New York!
The 45-minute drive took us through small, traffic-filled towns, and along winding roads that revealed glimpses of beautiful beaches. This well-known tourist area has grown considerably in the past decade, and along with that growth, new luxury hotels and condos now offer travelers a great opportunity to experience this unique part of the world in style and comfort.
Paresa (meaning heaven of heavens in Thai) is located high in the hills overlooking the beautiful Andaman Sea. The stunning property was built to blend into the natural environment, and it’s a wonderful combination of contemporary design and Southern Thai architecture.
The 49 luxurious suites and villas were created to be an integral part of the natural surroundings of lush tropical vegetation. Built around several magnificent banyan trees, the resort is an incredible feat of engineering and construction. It is at once dramatic and sublime, allowing unobstructed views of the sea and surrounding hills from your suite.
All rooms at Paresa feature king-size beds with luxurious linens, feather pillows, and duvets, while private exterior verandahs come with daybeds or sun loungers. If you need to do business while you’re here, as we managed to do for a couple of hours each day, they provide Wi-Fi, a TV with DVD player, an iPod dock, and the much-appreciated pod coffee machine.
Our Aqua Pool Suite came replete with its own private infinity pool, indoor and outdoor showers, as well as a spacious balcony, lounge chairs, and a dining table for alfresco meals and cocktails. Having the opportunity to shower outside every day was a wonderful experience, and just thinking about how relaxed and free I felt makes me want to pack my bags and return to Paresa.
Next time, I may chose one of their Dima Spa Suites with its own exclusive infinity pool, steam room, and island bathroom surrounded by the pool. In addition to the luxuriously appointed bedroom and living spaces, spa treatments are also provided within each suite’s private outdoor treatment sala.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in luxury living, the Cielo Residences are one of the best options on the island. These come with a large infinity pool, living and dining pavilion, large verandah, indoor and outdoor bathrooms, fully equipped kitchen with wine cellar, and a personal butler is available to cater to your every desire. With lots of space outdoors to relax and relish in the natural beauty all around you, this is a great choice for a romantic get- away or honeymoon.
Larger groups or families will welcome the ideal setting featured within Paresa’s Four Bedroom Grand Villas, that can accommodate 8-12 people in style and comfort.
Whether you visit here for some much-needed rest and relaxation, a chance to explore the culture and landscape of Southern Thailand, or for a romantic honeymoon, Paresa and its angels (as the staff is called) will make sure you have many wonderful and memorable experiences.
Every morning we dined outside on the huge verandah at the Diavolo restaurant that overlooks the clear-blue ocean water from its hillside perch. The angels who work here always greeted us as Mr. Robert and Mr. Don, and their huge smiles and friendly personalities made us feel completely at home. Unlike some luxury resorts where staff members are efficient but distant, everyone here treated us like a friend. They took the time to answer any questions we had about the menu, told us about their favorite beaches on the island, and encouraged our attempts to speak a few Thai words.
When we informed the resort that we wanted a gay guide to show us around Patong, they arranged for someone to take us into the city one night and introduce us to the bars and clubs that are popular with LGBT visitors. Our personal guide, Aye, pointed out where to go and what shows to see. He introduced us to the people and places in the Paradise Complex, a one block-long street that is home to most of the gay places in Patong. During our night out with Aye, we saw some amazing performances on the street and in the clubs. The performers here range from go go boys and strippers to dazzling drag queens lip-syncing everyone from Britney, Madonna, and Lady Gaga to Shirley Bassey. We met many wonderful people here during our visit and every night we saw a different show with some very talented performers. When planning your night out, Paresa will arrange for a car to take you into Patong (about a 20 to 30 minute drive) for a nominal fee.
After a night out in Patong, we usually slept late, began our day with a swim in the resort’s beautiful infinity pool, and ate lunch on the verandah at Diavolo. The lunch and dinner menus offer excellent Mediterranean- and Thai-inspired dishes, and the staff is happy to recommend their favorites.
Alternately, the resort offers private dining with customized menus in an intimate venue with ocean views for up to 12 guests. For those looking to learn more about Thai food, the resort also hosts daily traditional cooking classes.
During the day, guests have many options for excursions or activities. Paresa will arrange for a luxury SUV to take you to the shops and markets on the island where you’ll find some unique boutiques that feature Thai handicrafts you can buy as gifts for your friends back home.
Another option for those feeling adventurous is to rent a private yacht for a half- or full-day excursion to some of the idyllic small islands in the area where you can enjoy snorkeling, swimming, or a tropical lunch on a deserted beach.
If all you want to do is relax in the sun, get a massage on the beach, or enjoy a Thai lunch under a palm tree, Paresa provides free shuttle service to beautiful Kamala Beach where they have a private section for their guests. We spent many afternoons swimming there in the warm waters of the Andaman Sea.
After the beach, if you need to sooth your skin from too much sun, head to the spa at Paresa for one of their signature treatments. My favorite was their coconut moisturizing massage and body wrap where cool coconut oil was applied all over my body, leaving my skin soft and sensual.
For those looking to enjoy more of the seaside pleasures of Phuket, head to the resort’s ZAZADA Beach Club (www.zazadabeachclub.com) at the north end of Surin Beach. Here you can watch the sunset and enjoy one of their signature cocktails, including their delicious Thaitini (vodka, lychee liqueur, ginger, fresh lychee, and chili salt).
As magic hour sets in, prepare to have some of the best food on the island. Their Munchies menu (served until 11:30 P.M.) includes pork short ribs with tamarind and plum marinade, a bucket of local, chilled fresh prawns, and cheesy nachos served with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream. Or you can opt for their full dinner menu (served until 9:30 P.M.). Order a bottle of Champagne and ask the chef to pick some of her favorites for you. The night we were there the chef started us off with a mouthwatering chicken and watermelon salad with Cajun-spiced chicken, watermelon, pistachios, mint, raisins, lettuce, and a Greek yogurt dressing. For our main courses we devoured the Thai red curry with roasted duck, pineapple, and red grapes, as well as the delectable grilled lemon and garlic sea bass served with sautéed bok choy and bean sprouts.
The staff here went out of their way to make sure we had a wonderful time. Our host that evening, Bond, gave us a Thai lantern to light on the beach and make a wish. It is considered good luck to release a Thai lantern, and as we set ours free into the night sky it took with it our dreams of returning often to Phuket and Paresa.