Turn north when leaving Phuket airport and find a whole other world - a long way from the hedonism of Patong, writes Teresa Ooi.
You can't get more romantic than dining in splendid isolation by the beach with your own private chef and butler. The only distraction is the melodic sound of waves crashing on the sands.
Under a canopy of fluttering, white chiffon drapes held together by bamboo poles, the candle-lit table is covered with red roses and white flowers.
We are experiencing Dining by Design - a private, alfresco experience on the longest beach in Phuket - at Anantara Mai Khao, a luxury all-villa resort on the northern tip of Phuket, the largest island in Thailand.
Welcome to the other Phuket. A long way from Patong's bars, blare and mayhem. This is the refined Phuket. Apart from the Russians - and there are a lot of them - the place is all yours.
So here we are, a gentle breeze blowing and a brilliant night ahead. Just us and all that heavenly food, wine and beach.
We start with a glass of champagne, before tucking into an assortment of Thai appetisers: chicken satay, crab spring rolls and Thai fishcakes. They are followed by a green mango salad with local seabass, shallots and cashew nuts. Then a spicy tom yum soup of prawns is served before a main course of green curry Phuket lobster, sautéed asparagus, deep-fried pork tenderloin in Thai pepper sauce. For dessert, it's khao niew mamuang, the classic coconut sticky rice with incredibly sweet mango.
The resort of 91 exclusive pool villas is clustered around a lagoon in a southern-Thai-style "village". It overlooks a prime stretch of Mai Khao Beach where you can go for a horse ride with a personal trainer, perform yoga at dawn or simply swim in the clear, crystal water.
Villas are large, from 186 to 389 square metres, with private pool, a sundeck with loungers, an outdoor bath by the pool and a cabana with a daybed.
We stay in the Sala Pool Villa, a 206-square-metre open-plan bungalow. The bedroom has been designed with clean lines and a daybed by the window and a work (if you must) desk by another window.
The adjoining dressing-room has walk-in wardrobes, storage space and a dressing table and chair. This leads to a high-ceilinged wash area which opens up to the outdoor swimming pool. The marble bathroom has a powerful rain shower with Bulgari and Anantara Spa toiletries. It is an elegant villa designed for comfort.
Sun-lovers gravitate to the main pool which stretches the length of the beachfront. There are cabanas and a poolside bar - just swim up and order your fresh coconut or margarita. Bottled water, apples and sunscreen are freely available.
The resort is particularly popular with wealthy Russian, British and Chinese holidaymakers escaping their chilly winters. Many come with their families and book villas for several weeks.
For a taste of local gamesmanship, we sign up for a Muay Thai boxing class where the instructor teaches us how to spar, jab and kick Thai style. We quickly realise it takes more than a boxing glove to improve one's hip mobility and leg strength.
We lunch at the resort's beachside grill Sea, Fire, Salt which serves light salads and seafood dishes. The restaurant specialises in Himalayan salt-brick cooking where the minerals from the salt add an interesting depth of flavour to the grilled meat or fish - my seabass is delicious.
In the evening, we go to the resort's Tree House restaurant for an Arabic meal and are delightfully surprised. We start with cold mezze of hummus, mutabel (eggplant with tahini) and muhammara (a capsicum dip with walnuts), followed by hot mezze of kibbeh, falafel and meat fatayer and a main course of grilled shish kebab and chicken. What a refreshing meal.
In a bid to ease off the kilos piled on by eating too well, we have a 90-minute signature massage at the salubrious Anantara Spa which uses both Elemis and its own spa products. The masseuse uses traditional kneading techniques in a well-executed exhilarating massage. It also paves the way for a very restful sleep that night.
No visit to Phuket is complete without a private catamaran trip to nearby Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island where The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) was filmed. However, as the Thai Royal Princess was visiting the island, we drop anchor off the bay. We go kayaking with our own personal guide to view the amazing limestone outcrops. With the help of Captain Charlie we fish off the boat and catch several fish, all big enough to be eaten.
On our last day, we sign up for a Spice Spoons cooking class where we learn how to make Thai fishcakes and green curry chicken with Thai eggplants. Not only are the dishes delicious, we each walk away with a certificate, an apron and a wooden chopping board.
You can do as much or as little as you want at the luxury resort. There are free bikes, as well as two tennis courts, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. For an adrenaline hit, sign up for a sailing lesson on the resort's Hobie catamaran or a windsurfing or scuba-diving class.
Anantara Mai Khao villas are very special. It is an unspoilt, beachside haven popular with those wanting to unwind, whether by the beach or in the villa's private pool. Romance is inevitable in this hideaway.
Fly: Flight Centre has return fares to Phuket from Sydney with Malaysia Airlines/Qantas from $1223 and Singapore Airlines from $1232.
Stay: At the Anantara Mai Khao, a luxury resort of villas with private pools, prices for a Sala Pool Villa start from about $1283 per night including breakfast.
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