It’s a destination, the first and only stop in an unforgettable itinerary, and there isn’t much reason to leave after checking in. The stately Cape Panwa Hotel stands as a Phuket landmark. For over a quarter of a century, it has quietly filled its receiving shoreline with guests staying long and short. Quietly is the key word: the property occupies a brilliant jade bight on the island’s laid-back southeast seaboard, providing two essential ingredients to idyllic getaways — peace and privacy.
With 205 rooms spanning Junior Suites to the commodious Panwa Lodge, the hotel offers discerning holiday-makers a bevy of accommodation options. In truth, it’s hard to go wrong. Each room type includes its own unique amenities. For example, the Cape Signature Suite provides an extended sun deck as well as an outdoor whirlpool, and the Cape Absolute Suite comes with privileges typically reserved for the likes of Mick Jagger: 24-hour butler service, a private lift, in-suite breakfast with a personal chef, complimentary use of the hotel’s Mercedes-Benz, and, for stays of five days or longer, a trip on the hotel’s private yacht, the Panwa Princess.
While rock-star bacchanalia has its moments, a more humble, yet still lavish, vacation awaits those who book a stay in one of the resort’s six private pool villas. Renovated in 2013, the two-bedroom villas feature natural wood floors, walk-in showers and bathtubs, tasteful furniture in several shapes and sizes ranging from disc-shaped pool loungers to plush couches, and, the cherry on the sundae, infinity-edge plunge pools. In keeping with the hotel’s all-embracing seaside motif, each villa is finished with rattan and wicker décor such as pandurate lampshades in shades of brown and aquamarine.
The pool villas feel like home, like the home many wish to have. The buildings are large enough to cater to families or groups of friends, and yet intimate enough for couples. From the surrounding garden rises the smell of fresh grass and saltwater, while the view from the balcony takes in coconut trees, red-orange heliconia flowers, and a vast silver sea. It’s a postcard-quality setting. Even when the beach beckons from below, departing for the sand proves to be a challenge, as the sun shines brightly on the deck and music streams from a portable iPod dock. But spending any amount of time at the hotel without leaving the room ignores the many activities that Cape Panwa has to offer.
The Cape Spa sits next to a curiously placed tailor in front of the Junior Suites, connected to the lobby by a narrow walkway that meanders past banana plants and papaya trees. At the foyer, guests are greeted with a rich fragrance of lemongrass, orange peel, and lavender. Inside, the spacious treatment rooms, aglow in amber light and adorned with lotus flowers floating in porcelain bowls, feel more like palatial chambers than places to go for a Thai massage. Top to bottom, the spa deals in service. Starting with traditional massages and extending to more advanced remedies, like enzyme therapies and body scrubs, the scope of treatments is vast and necessary. A hotel like Cape Panwa should pull out all the stops, and it does, with discreet attention at every turn.
In the morning, guests flock to Café Andaman for the expected breakfast buffet. Stocked with creature comforts pastries, eggs made-to-order, fresh fruit, endless coffee and tea, and dim sum the buffet doesnt disappoint, but the café is a better choice for lunch, when the kitchen opens for orders (Thai dishes, in particular the roasted duck red curry with grapes and pineapple, stand out among relatively mundane international options). For dinners, drinks, or a change in routine, the hotel does have ten other venues to try, including Panwa House, its quintessential beachside venue.
Set in a nineteenth-century Sino-Portuguese mansion, Panwa House is an impressive sight, radiant with preterit romance and glory. It calls to mind images from the reign of Rama V, an era of candle-lit banquets, dinner suits, and utensils crafted from precious metals. A chandelier dangles above a wide central staircase. Faded paintings of pastoral scenes hang on the walls. Restored teakwood chairs sit on sepia-toned rugs, bounded by antiques like elephant tusks and ranad ek, a wooden xylophone native to Thailand. The cuisine fits into the august theme, too. Rock lobster with fried shallots and roasted chilli paste; fish sautéed in a dry tom yam paste; nam prik ghapi, a dip made predominantly from shrimp paste and chillies and paired with boiled vegetables — the meals become period pieces themselves in light of the ambiance, with a string band playing and food served on fine chinaware.
After dinner, a ride in the creaky funicular to the top of the hill provides a couple of options for drinks and music. The first is the Lighthouse Bar. Low-key and casual, this maritime-themed dive is a cult classic popular for its pool table and live entertainment. On most nights, a band plays from one corner of the bar while patrons hang out on the patio or linger beneath the cupola. Otter’s Bar, on the other hand, attracts crowds looking for a more patrician setting. A strict dress code requires visitors to appear suitably groomed before entering this piano bar, but it’s by no means discriminatory. According to General Manager Thomas Hain, some long-stay guests come back every night for the tasteful ambiance of Otter’s Bar and the fine French cuisine at neighbouring Top of the Reef restaurant.
Beyond the bells and whistles and myriad venues, Cape Panwa also enjoys beautiful natural attractions. The kilometre-long private beach is filled with white sand as soft as talc, the kind that guests would no doubt rest on if it weren’t for the collection of free-use sun loungers. Between the beach and hill, coconut palms grow in shady groves, a reminder of the property’s former incarnation as a coconut plantation. With gentle rolling waves lapping the shore and the horizon flecked with green islands, the setting is, in a word, perfect.
The east side of Phuket often gets overlooked on holiday itineraries. While it doesn’t have the immediate glitz and glamour of the west coast, it appeals to those who appreciate raw beauty and tranquillity. On an island whose selling point can also be its downfall, Cape Panwa Hotel is a gem.