Sri Panwa Resort
The world is full of vacation spots with great restaurants. Take a stunning vista, find a decent cook, put the two together, and people will come.
So, then, what differentiates a culinary destination from a pretty resort with good food? What makes a hotel something more than a place to sleep and eat and play? At Phuket’s Sri Panwa, the answer is joy — a love for food and drink that starts from the moment you enter and surfaces in hundreds of unexpected, charming ways.
Check-in comes with fresh juice on ice — pineapple, watermelon or bright green guava — and cool face towels that tingle with mint and lemongrass. After that, it’s a quick tuk-tuk ride to one of the hotel’s 52 vast villas, which outside smell of frangipani and the sea and inside, thanks to an infuser hidden next to the bed, like lavender and spices.
Each villa comes pre-stocked with a full refrigerator and minibar — all of which, except for the Champagne, is free to taste and try. There’s enough to keep an adventurous snacker occupied for days: ice pops in the freezer, Phuket beer in the fridge, salted broad beans on the side table. Even the bath is full of culinary touches, with mint body wash and salt scrubs waiting by Jacuzzi tubs and outdoor showers.
Full room service is available in-suite, but with seven different restaurants and bars it’s a waste to stay indoors. The names of each of Sri Panwa’s offerings start with “Baba,” the local term for a little boy of mixed Thai-Chinese-Malay heritage. It’s a perfect name for a collection of restaurants that blend the owners’ Thai aesthetic with Japanese, American, Italian, and even Mexican tastes.
At Baba Pool Club, start with the crispy chicken wings with lemongrass and chile (managing director Wan Issara says there was public outrage when he tried to take them off the menu) and the ghoong sarong: meaty shrimp wrapped in green vermicelli. Follow up with the tom yum pizza, a cheeky take on the traditional spicy and sour soup.
Spend an indolent afternoon at Baba IKI, the Japanese restaurant that’s Sri Panwa’s latest offering. The inside is beautiful — all sky-blue swirls and driftwood — but it’s hard to compete with the outdoor seats and their view of the sea. Order Champagne and endless plates of thick, quivering sashimi, and try to forget you’ll ever have to be anywhere or do anything outside of this one glistening moment.
As the sun sets, head to Baba Nest, the exclusive rooftop bar ranked second on CNN’s World’s 50 Best Beach Bars. Bright beanbags litter the wooden platform, which provides a 360 degree view of the city, the sea, and the islands. Enjoy the tiny nibbles that float around the bar, washed down with lemongrass-infused “sri-jitos” and a drink that mixes fresh local lychee with Grey Goose vodka.
Finally, if you can find room — and it’s worth it to make the effort — wind down the night with dinner at Baba Soul Food. Don’t be fooled by the lush surroundings; this is Thai comfort food, satisfying and unfussy. The “hell chicken” is the same dish Wan ate as a homesick schoolboy in England, and the crab meat in yellow curry is a recipe gifted from renowned Phuket chef Madam Rose.
There’s more to do at the resort than eat, of course, but no matter where you are on the grounds, flavors still meet you. At Cool Spa, the luxury spa club around the corner from Baba Nest, guests are greeted with a glass of cool chrysanthemum tea and invited to choose from dozens of treatments based around fruits, grains and spices. Papaya, honey, carrot, tamarind, turmeric, sugar: nearly everything that smoothes and scrubs and relaxes at Cool Spa is edible. And after treatment, there’s the tea again, this time warm to ease you back into the world outside.
In a saturated market, culinary travel destinations tend to be about fancy cocktails and avant-garde plates. But a trip to Sri Panwa is something different. Come for the villas, the placid sea views, the perpetual sunny days — but stay for its thousands of things to nibble and sip and luxuriate in, each carefully chosen for no other reason than to be enjoyed.