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Lessons in sustainability
IT IS 6.30am at Trisara, the perfect time, coffee in hand, to observe an Andaman sunrise. The sea, mirror-still, the sky, aglow. The only movement comes from the crest of a palm tree, where a rangy figure cuts coconuts for the breakfast table. His blade makes a gentle thwack thwack thwack accompanied by the rhythmic hooting of bulbuls and barbets.
There's nowhere quite like Trisara, an exclusive boutique hotel set on Phuket's less-visited north-west coast. Jaw-dropping ocean views roll out from every villa over a sparkling half-moon bay, begging to be snorkelled. With a name that lives up to its translation, "the garden in the third heaven", it comes as little surprise that the well-heeled journey here from all over the world.
Privacy is the unspoken rule. Aside from the peaked red rooftops which intermittently pierce the jungle, you feel completely alone. Elegant and understated, each villa has its own infinity pool screened by lush hedges of vivid birds of paradise flowers. It makes the outdoor shower an irresistable, gloriously secluded, morning ritual. (Side note - Trisara has been listed as one of the world's best places for a skinny dip).
Understated it may be, but Trisara is not lacking accolades. The main restaurant - PRU, which stands for "Plant, Raise, Understand" - just earned a Michelin star. It is a nod to the genius of head chef, twenty-something Dutch-born Jimmy Ophorst who is delightfully easy-going. It also makes PRU the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Phuket.
PRU describes itself as farm-to-table but this doesn't do it justice. Chef Ophorst's dishes are unusual. On our six-course tasting menu, we're surprised to see that a carrot constitutes an entire course, but of course it's the best carrot we've ever tasted. "The carrots tell the best story of what Pru stands for, I think," says chef Ophorst, and by that he means sustainability.
The menu is made entirely using products sourced from around Thailand's coastline, and Trisara's enormous farm, located in the island's north-east, where chickens range freely and restaurant leftovers are used in composting.
In fact, everything at Trisara translates into sustainability. There is the anti-plastic policy in the villas (sleek glass water bottles line the fridges and bathroom toiletries are kept in elegant wooden bottles).
There is the upcycled Thai antique wood furniture in the rooms and the grey-water recycling systems which keep the grounds lush and green. But you know you must be doing something right when you have two large green-backed sea turtles returning to your beach after a decade, to lay their eggs.
As we stroll along the white sands one evening we observe several cordoned-off dents in the beach. On closer inspection, vigilantly protected with netting, fences, and a large sign advertising a nightly security patrol, are eight precious turtle nests.
Intermittent hatchings spark ripples of conversation between strangers. Over breakfast each day we are updated on the progress of the baby turtles, and which nests are yet to hatch.
For a luxury hotel that prides itself on its sustainability, to have turtles nesting on your beach is a great coup, says director and general manager, Anthony Lark. "It is incredible as they are very sensitive to light, noise, people and chemicals from gardens," says Mr Lark. "There were about 300 little baby turtles starting their lives from Trisara," he adds.
Mr Lark joined Trisara right at the beginning when the family-owned hotel was still in design stages. An alumnus of Amanpuri, a job for which he was personally hired by founder Adrian Zecha, he has been instrumental in Trisara's evolution.
Mr Lark is also the president of the Phuket Hotels Association, and last year drove through a ban on single use plastics on the island. As part of an effort to ensure a sustainable future for Phuket, the association got all of its members to sign an agreement to ban plastic water bottles and straws this year - cutting out literally millions of plastic items per year.
It's a philosophy which is tangible at Trisara, something which gives you a warm glow long after your holiday is over. W