Villa Bliss at Banyan Tree


Established in 1994 by former journalist Ho Kwon Ping and his wife Claire Chiang, Banyan Tree Resorts has grown from humble beginnings to a destination treasured by travellers the world over. Laura Henderson samples the ‘Sanctuary of the Senses’ way in Phuket.

A brand synonymous with sumptuous private villas and tropical garden spas, Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts knows more than most about the hospitality with soul principle.

From the company’s first resort opening in Phuket back in 1994, the hotel group has since grown into something of a crusader of holiday karma, coaxing guests into stress-less submission both in beachside locations and more recently, moving their concept of ‘discreet luxury’ into an urban setting as well.

The resort name hails from the fishing village, Banyan Tree Bay on Hong Kong’s Lamma Island where Ho Kwon and Claire lived for three idyllic years. With its modest, rustic setting, it was a haven of peace from the nearby hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. The tree species embodied the shelter afforded by Asia’s tropical rainforests and the couple adopted the name for their resort concept, positioning it as a sanctuary for the senses.

“We saw the potential of a market niche that wanted innovative, private and intimate accommodation but without the expectation of glitzy hotels,” Ho Kwon explains. “Building individual villas with locally inspired architectural design and positioning the resort as an intimate escape for guests set our offering apart.”

Today, all Banyan Tree hotels and resorts are designed around the concept of providing “a sense of place” to enhance the culture and heritage of the destination. This is reflected in the hotel design, furnishings, landscape, vegetation and the overall service delivered to guests.  In Phuket, for instance, a couple can enjoy dinner on a traditional Thai long tail boat accompanied by Thai musicians instead of dining in the restaurant.

Another notable difference is the Banyan Tree Spa, found at every Banyan Tree property; a service that has pioneered the tropical garden spas concept. Like the resort itself, the spa experience comprises a loosely associated group of spaces that blend the indoors and outdoors, with multiple treatment rooms, private steam rooms, open-air showers and lounges, where feet are bathed and guests sip safflower tea and nibble on dried fruit. The range of services will satiate even the most spa savvy, with a blend of therapies that combine ancient eastern healing and relaxation techniques, with Western rejuvenation treatments.

What really sets the spa experience apart, however, is the quality of the therapists. With the opening of The Banyan Tree Spa Academy in May 2001, all therapists go through a rigorous 3-month course where they learn the transformative concepts of positive breathing, the proper use of body weight and energy (not strength) in massage, and energy healing.

Encircling the sparkling waters of a saltwater lagoon, Banyan Tree Phuket doesn’t go in for fanfare welcomes. With a lush, verdant entrance drive lined with shady casuarinas and palms, gardens bright with Allamanda blooms and the Bang Tao Bay sparkling in sapphire brilliance, the staff prefer to let surrounding nature do the talking.

While rest and relaxation are top of the ‘to do’ list - the resort offers distractions for guests of all persuasions. Sun-lovers will love the free-form pool with its winding ‘rivers’, and swim-up bar. Golfers will enjoy the 18-hole Banyan Tree Laguna Phuket Golf Course, or you can opt for tennis, sailing, wind surfing, cycling, canoeing, or a personal-training session in the fully-equipped gym. A shuttle boat will take you to neighbouring resorts to sample the beaches, or you can simply float around the lagoon on a private dinner cruise, with your own chef cooking up a selection of traditional Thai dishes.

“You could say I’m biased, but the resort truly is a haven of peace,” smiles Sriram Kailasam, Banyan Tree Phuket’s General Manager: “2015 saw us celebrating a new era with a new resort layout following a 6 month extensive upgrade. The finished result has transformed the estate into an all-pool villa resort with the welcome addition of private pools across our entire villa portfolio.”

Each property is exquisitely styled to reflect Thailand’s rich culture, showcasing elegant hand-crafted furnishings, and offering guests their own private garden, king-size bed and sunken open-air bath. Many villas also have outdoor Jacuzzis. And for the ultimate in luxury, several one and two bedroom villas come with Thai Salas for al fresco villa dining.

Personal in-room touches include monogrammed stationery, fresh fruit daily such as Chompoo (Rose Apple) and Som-or (Pomelo) with a turndown service gift each night such as a ceramic candle lit to welcome you home.

Also embracing change, are two of the resort’s most-loved restaurants. Saffron, the hotel’s crown jewel and signature dining experience is renowned for its authentic Thai cuisine. The Watercourt restaurant meanwhile, famed for its succulent seafood caught fresh from the Andaman Sea has also reopened its doors in a brand new venue which includes private lagoon-facing decks.

Adds Sriram: “Both Saffron and Watercourt are helmed by Banyan Tree Phuket’s Executive Chef, the immensely talented Alfonso de la Dehesa, who has worked extensively in some of the world’s very best restaurants including Michelin-starred El Bulli. Guests really are spoiled for choice.”

In days gone by, the Banyan tree provided shelter to weary travellers. Symbolising the relief and comfort provided by nature, the resort group adopted the name for their global group of hotels offering rest and relaxation to the world-weary.

Fast forward to today and Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts has grown into one of the world’s leading international operators in the hospitality and spa industry,managing more than 30 resorts and hotels, 70 spas, 90 retail galleries and three championship golf courses in 28 countries.

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