An abandoned tin mine on the Thai island of Phuket has been transformed into a resort that is the embodiment of tropical serenity.
A 20-minute ride from Phuket airport is an enclave bordered by Bang Tao Bay and inland waterways. The 400ha pocket hosts seven hotels, 30 bars and restaurants and a wedding chapel in a fairytale setting.
At first glance Laguna Phuket on the Thai island is a slice of paradise filled with orchids, frangipani trees, palms and ferns. But the lush greenery tells a story of environmental redemption.
The area was once mined for tin. In the 1970s, a United Nations Development Plan team said the Bang Tao area was “too environmentally damaged to have any development potential”.
Ho Kwon Ping, a former finance journalist, his wife Claire Chiang and his architect brother Ho Kwon Cjan took on the abandoned mine in 1984 at a time when it resembled a grey and pockmarked moonscape. K.P. Ho had vision to gamble on the basket-case site. Phuket was not yet the popular tropical holiday spot it is now but the new owners planted 7000 trees, determined to rehabilitate the area. It was the first step towards building a hospitality empire with 25 hotels and resorts and three golf courses in nine countries.
It’s hard to believe that my luxury DoublePool Villa at Banyan Tree Phuket was once in the middle of such a mess. Now the resort is the embodiment of tropical serenity. In 2015, Laguna Phuket achieved EarthCheck silver certification, a rigorous environmental management program for the travel and tourism industry.
Throughout my stay, the property’s rise from environmental disaster is repeated over and over by proud staff, an inspiring story.
The Laguna Phuket complex is home to the high-end Banyan Tree retreat, the family-focused Angsana hotel rooms and villas, Dusit Thani hotel, Outrigger beach resort and Cassia, a bright and bubbly option aimed at the youth and budget markets.
The properties are connected by boats and shuttle buses. Hotel guests can dine at any of the 30 restaurants and bars and sign the bill back to their room. There’s a shopping village selling everything from souvenirs to sporting goods.
Laguna abuts an 8km stretch of beach of Bang Tao Bay facing the Andaman Sea, although West Australians might find the “white, sandy beaches” don’t measure up to the coast at home. The Xana Beach Club brings the beach and party culture to Angsana.
There’s no reason to leave the Laguna complex and step into Phuket. It’s a hermetically sealed universe with Thai-influenced design and the warmth of Phuket hospitality but lacking the traffic, hawkers and street food you’d find in Phuket.
Everything you need is here.
While world travel is all about getting involved in local culture for some, there are many for whom this holiday model is a godsend.
Then there’s the type of travel that demands minimal fuss and disruption. For business travellers, Laguna has conference facilities and services. There’s also the promise of a team-building getaway and a golf course within reach.
The wedding chapel, resplendent in white, sits proud of the water for a stunningly picturesque venue. Chapel staff can pull together a wedding package, including hair, make-up, flowers, photography and bubbly, taking the stress out of wedding planning. The basic service starts from 40,000 baht ($1600). The gold service ($4000 and upwards) includes Angsana accommodation, a spa treatment and airport transfers.
Laguna is keen to compete with Bali as our favourite Asian getaway. But while there are no direct flights from Perth to Phuket senior staff say the resort, and Phuket more broadly, are at a disadvantage. Thai Airways flies from Perth to Bangkok, then it’s an 80-minute domestic flight from the capital to Phuket.