Published on February 9, 2008
It's always nice to be asked back. Even better if it means returning to a place you enjoyed the first time around. When the engaging, highly experienced Frenchman Jean-Pierre Dousse of Ayara Hilltops in Phuket, formerly Treetops Arasia, asked me in January last year to "come back in a year", I replied "love to", and promptly forget all about it.
True to his word, he called me up last November: "Well, are you coming?" Over lunch on my return he noticed I had a different camera than on the previous trip, and even remembered the make of the old one.
Good management lies in focusing on the details. And that's what Ayara Hilltops is all about, really. Details. Making sure everything is just so. In a competitive market, the little touches count.
With a commanding view of Surin Beach, the Andaman Sea and surrounding bays, Ayara Hilltops is a three-and-a-half-year-old, five-star resort with 48 suites, nestled in a hillside, jungle-terraced landscape: ponds, steps and waterfalls add a geometric edge. You are way above everything. The traffic, the noise, the people. Ayara has a relaxed, exclusive air but without pretension or snobbery.
Yet, driving past Ayara you wouldn't know it was a resort. There are no gaudy signs announcing its presence. If you dare take your eyes off the road - an extremely risky thing to do in Phuket, which has the worst driving standards outside of Libya - Ayara resembles a comfortable jumble of private villas set into a peaceful, palm swaying, wooden-roofed hillside.
For discerning couples who want laid back, pampered, yet homely privacy, Phuket is all about finding the right enclave in the right place for the right price. In this sense, Ayara makes a fine choice. It ticks all the boxes.
"The image of Surin Beach is changing," said Jeanne Pierre. "There is now a lovely pavilion dedicated to His Majesty the King, and landscaped lawns and gardens just behind the beach - yet Patong is just 15 minutes away."
Although there are four different types of suite to choose from - and all very comfortable in their own right - the Rachavadee Pool Suites further up in the hill are simply the best. A seven-by-3.5-metre infinity pool divides the large bedroom and a private lounge. Bliss. I have now spent many happy hours there sipping Polish vodka, absorbed in a self improving book, occasionally looking up to take in the glorious view, or to just fall into the infinity pool.
As I wrote on my first visit and see no reason to change now, "The rooms in all three choices of suite are airy, light, tasteful and simple: white walls, dark wood, Thai shutters. The ceilings are high, making the lights look like distant supernovas. The bathroom is the size of the bedroom - exquisitely chiselled and shaped in granite and marble. Six suites have their own pool - tiled in distinctive blue - and size depending on price."
Since my last visit there have been subtle but important improvements. The suites are now even more private. You can see everything but no one can see you. The spa is among the best I've encountered. Focused and well organised, the sheer range of carefully chosen treatments and massages reads like a spiritual dinner menu.
As Jeanne Pierre has excellent contacts, a professional connoisseur is teaching staff deeper subtleties of the extensive wine list. The food, always good, is now even better. Training does pay off.
The Araya Hilltop at a glance
High points: Classy, comfortable, great views
Low point: Crossing the road to the beach
Pay for it: Bt8,700 upward
Find it: Ayara Hilltops, 125 Moo 3, Surin Beach, Srisoonthorn Road, Tambon Cherngtalay, Amphur Thalang, Phuket 83110
Phone it: (076) 271 271
Fax: (0 76) 271 270
Browse it: Treetops-Arasia.com