TRAVELLERS seeking out the traditional Thai holiday experience needn't look further than Anantara Phuket Villas, a luxury Phuket resort with the ubiquitous thatch-roofed villas and sprawling lily pond that stretches from the lobby right to the hotel restaurant.
That sense of exotica is noticeably absent in its new sister property across the road - Anatara Vacation Club - with its contemporary villas and apartment block that project a more cosmopolitan, family-oriented image compared to its more genteel older sibling. The difference, explains general manager Lyndon Ellis of the Bangkok-based hotel group, is that each property caters to a different demographic. "Europeans come into Thailand and they love the Thai houses and architecture, but when Asians come here, they want more contemporary facilities," says Mr Ellis. "Most of the owners - nearly 20 per cent - are Chinese nationals, followed by the Thai at 16 per cent, and the rest are mostly made up of people from Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong."
He says "owners" because Anantara Vacation Club operates on a timeshare concept, where buyers commit to purchasing a certain number of points each year for 30 years, which can be used to redeem a certain number of days at the vacation club. Notwithstanding the dubious reputation of timeshare properties in the early days (thanks to a number of scams linked to it), the timeshare concept has slowly but surely gained popularity in recent years. "The credibility of vacation clubs and timeshares has definitely gotten a lot better," Mr Ellis notes. "If you sit down and do the numbers, you realise that buying a timeshare has greater value than staying at a hotel if you come to Phuket on a yearly basis."
Since the owners return every year, Anantara Vacation Club makes it a point to make their villas and apartments as family-friendly as possible. For instance, each villa and apartment suites come with living and dining rooms, washers and an equipped kitchen, full with crockery and cookware, so it feels a lot more like a home than a hotel stay.
Even their in-house activities are rather, shall we say, domestic. For instance, there are Thai cooking lessons over at the hotel restaurant, Chaam, and a Kids' Club that will keep children well entertained through the day.
For the less domestic-inclined, there's plenty to do outside the vacation club, such as a boat ride out to the famous James Bond Island, which was featured in 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun; a bicycle tour through a coconut and rubber plantation; or a jaunt across the road to Turtle Village, a small shopping centre with a handful of eateries, souvenir shops and luxury brand outlets.
You could also opt for a car ride out to Mai Khao beach, which, unlike the famed Patong beach further south of the island, is a quiet stretch of sand devoid of pesky hawkers and booming beach bars. In fact, our cycling guides share that speed boats and road vendors aren't allowed at Mai Khao - not because of any law or regulation, but because the locals are adamant about keeping the beach from transforming into a second Patong.
"If you built a restaurant or bar on the beach tonight, it wouldn't be the police stopping you, it'd be the locals coming over and telling you off," Mr Ellis laughs. "They've sold the land, but they still live here, and they want to keep it clean, simple and non-commercial."
In keeping with the Anantara philosophy of offering up an authentic Thai experience, Mr Ellis adds that there's plenty of Thai-ness in the service and hospitality of Anantara Vacation Club to make up for the lack of traditional Thai architecture. For instance, he shares that the staff always tries to give guests a story to go home with. "It could be something small that our housekeeper does for our guests," he says. "Like if an employee hears a guest say in passing: 'I really miss hamburgers' or if they're homesick for something, we'll get them that and leave it in their room with a note."
Of course, that's not always feasible. But don't be surprised if you return from a long day out in the Phuket sun to find a dainty slice of pandan cake laid out nicely on a plate on your dinner table.
It's all just part of the warm, welcoming Thai hospitality that Thailand is so known for, and which Anantara has become so adept at providing - that even with a more up-tempo, contemporary design, Anantara Vacation Club manages to bring out the distinct Thai flavour - and make you feel right at home at the same time.
The writer was a guest of Anantara Vacation Club