In recent years, Phuket has been quietly trying to shed its stigma as Thailand’s party capital; a sort of Neverland where ‘farang’ or foreigners go to let loose in more ways than one. But the truth is, such a scene is merely a smudge in a very vast and beautiful paradise.
Ten minutes from Phuket International Airport - Thai Airways ies daily from Hong Kong, China - and one hour away from the Singha beer singlet-slinging, vodka in a bucket-drinking crowd of Phuket’s southern shores around Patong is Nai Yang. Here, turquoise waters melt onto a pristine, tropical forest-fringed white sand coast. Here lies Indigo Pearl, a spectacular resort and oasis sitting on what used to be a tin mine in the 1930s.
Indigo Pearl offers 177 guest rooms, and even the most basic rooms on offer are extremely generous in size with impressive amenities including a walk-in closet, a vintage-inspired bathtub, separate rain shower and spacious balconies – yes, plural – overlooking lush, tropical jungle views. For travellers who love a bit of luxe, Indigo Pearl has seven Pearl Shell Suites, each individually designed to a unique theme, eight private pool villas and the spectacular Coqoon Spa Suite, a pampering haven complete with private pool, personal steam room, sauna and Vichy shower, modelled after the resort’s multi-award-winning Coqoon Spa.
The jewel in Indigo Pearl’s crown, Coqoon Spa sits just near the main entrance of the hotel, welcoming guests with two gargantuan lantern-shaped ‘nests’ suspended from an ancient Banyan tree. These avatar-like dwellings are private treatment rooms for two, designed to bring guests closer to nature as they indulge in the Spa’s menu of treatments from traditional Thai massage, wraps and scrubs, to head-to-toe rituals.
Booking the nests in advance is recommended; otherwise one of the Spa’s private treatment villas is an option. They each include a porch to take off your shoes, soak your feet in a warm oral bath and enjoy a cup of herbal tea - ‘very good for digestion and detox’ my masseuse tells me – music to a city girl’s ears. The villas are spacious with well thought-out details and comforts, like a walk-in closet which serves as a separate dressing room, a private en-suite bathroom and outdoor showers guarded by high walls to ensure absolute privacy and serenity.
The land, still owned by a third generation family of miners, has been beautifully restored and reimagined by Bangkok-based American architect – or ‘starchitect’ as he’s often referred to – Bill Bensley, who continues to reign as the name behind some of Asia’s most visually stunning getaways including the St. Regis Resort Bali, the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle and the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort.
“We created what I call an ‘industrial chic’ look to the resort,” says Bensley of Indigo Pearl. “We built the entire property on the history of the tin mine, which was a gamble, but it is the true history of the place, not contrived. I think it’s important to bring layers and layers of knowledge to a resort when we can, not just palm trees and Pina Coladas.”
The result is an otherworldly, steampunk-esque masterpiece. Everywhere remnants of the site’s days as a tin mine, rich in history and charisma, are present. The name of Indigo Pearl’s saloon-like bar and pool hall, ‘Tongkah Tin Syndicate’, is named after the rst ever organisation in Phuket and is lled with fascinating memorabilia recovered from the Na-Narong family mines; salvaged family portraits adorn the bathroom walls, air conditioning is replaced by rows of oversized original Punkah fans that once upon a time kept miners cool and one of many eco-friendly initiatives installed by Bensley at Indigo Pearl. At every turn are catalysts for conversation to be enjoyed with a glass of whisky, which the bar specialises in, serving only the best and rarest from around the world.
“Most of the seven food and beverage outlets have a strong industrial theme. Our most formal grillroom is called ‘Rivet’, and the above bar is ‘Rebar’. ‘Rivet’ has steel oors and columns, steel furniture, French 1940s factory lamps, leather ‘cone of silence’ love seats, glass doors on four sides and a seven metre high architectural ceiling,” wrote Bensley in his designer’s statement for the property. “We built right after the Tsunami struck Phuket, so we reused much of the debris that was washed back up to shore. As a result, almost no new wood was used.”
The restaurant I found most impressive, however, was ‘Black Ginger’. Floating majestically in the middle of a delicately lit lagoon, it is accessible only by a pully- operated raft and the Friday night buffet – and before you roll your eyes at the thought of another hotel buffet, hear me out – is spectacular. The resort invites handpicked vendors from local markets to feature their delicacies at ‘Black Ginger’ in a traditional Thai night market atmosphere. Each station offers made to order specialities, from favourites such as Tom Yum, Som Tam and Pad Thai to exotic local dishes such as Bua Tod (deep-fried shrimp and vegetables) and Mee Hun Gang Poo Bai Cha Plu (noodles in crab curry), bringing guests a truly authentic Thai street food experience.
Here, we are reminded again that Indigo Pearl is more than just a resort; it is its own world, a fantasy – and not the Patong type – but truly a product of unmatched creativity and careful consideration for the environment and the Thai community.
The Slate (formerly Indigo Pearl)
Nai Yang Beach and National Park, Phuket 83110, Thailand