Friday, April 26, 2013

Hotel Review: Anantara Rasananda Villa Resort and Spa (Koh Phangan, Thailand)

Anantara Villa Resort and Spa, Koh Phangan, Rasananda
A few things:
  • Our garden pool villa was booked about a month in advance. They seem to book relatively quickly so DO book well in advance if you want to ensure a room, especially one that you want!
  • All of the villas are stacked upon each other, so if you have a bottom villa, your upstairs neighbors will be able to see everything you do in the courtyard, so no topless sunbathing or pooling! The bottom villa also gets minimal sunshine, so DO get the ones on top if you can for maximum privacy and sunshine.
  • The garden pool villa we had booked in advance is nice, but shaded. We opted to upgrade to a beachside pool villa on the second floor, which meant we got way more sunshine and were located right on the beach. This was perfect as we only had to walk downstairs and a few feet down to reach our reserved beach lounges. The villas face east, so sunshine will be strongest in the morning. DO get the rooms numbered 3 or 58.
  • There is private transport from Koh Samui airport arranged by Anantara Rasananda, in the form of either a group transfer or private speedboat. DON'T try to arrange your own transportation via taxi/bus and ferry. The island of Koh Phangan is a lot larger than you'd think, and in the end, the transportation costs and headaches will cost way more than the transportation arranged by Anantara Rasananda. Additionally, they really make the travel seamless with all the luggage carrying. Don't even try to carry your own luggage across the beach and through the water.
  • The breakfast buffet is a fantastic investment, and the sheer variety and quality of foods and drinks available will astound you. DO include it in your package. DON'T eat or drink at Anantara Rasananda if you can help it, eat at the various small restaurants in the cute little village located 2-3 minutes walking distance from the resort. There are a great deal of delicious restaurants that are WAY cheaper than Anantara Rasananda. See my review of them here.
  • DO take advantage of the free kayaks they offer at the beach hut. You sign a few liability and consent forms, and then the staff will bring you your kayak and paddles for you to explore the craggy rocks and crabs dangling on the lichen at the opposite ends of the beach. 
  • DON'T forget to leave housekeeping a tip for a fabulous job done. It can't be easy cleaning up all that sand in all the nooks and crannies of your room! The rule of thumb is $1-2 USD per day for extended stay, $3-5 USD per day for shorter stays, a little extra if you think they did a great job. Don't forget to leave a little note to indicate the tip is for them, and not just money left behind!
  • DO read up on Thai culture and customs. Touching, reaching over, or pointing to people's heads, especially children, is considered incredibly rude as it is considered the most sacred part of the body. Thais are super serene and relaxed so don't get upset if they take their time. DO take off your shoes every establishment you enter if there is a mat on the front step. You can read more about Thai culture here
Enough tips. On to the pictures!!

After arrival of the airport at Koh Samui, we were taken by van to the Anantara Waiting Lounge to await the private speedboat that would take us to Koh Phangan. 

Welcoming drink at the welcoming Anantara lounge on Koh Samui. Sweet lemongrass water and jasmine-scented cold towels for our faces. 

We were taken by private speedboat to the beach near Anantara Rasananda. I think we were supposed to arrive directly onto the Anantara beach, but we arrived late and the tide was too high for the speedboats. The private speedboat cost extra, but we didn't share with anyone, and we also got sparkling wine, both there and back.

Cold peppermint-scented towels and welcoming drink of sweet sugary something (sorry! I was too excited about the color to pay attention). If you squeeze the lime into the brilliantly blue drink and stir...

...it becomes purple! Beautiful beautiful beautiful. Whoever came up with this drink is very imaginative and it really set the tone for a magical stay.

One of the two pools in the courtyard. I thought this was a fountain for the first few days and didn't venture into it, but it's a fairly deep pool and stunning to take photos in because of the infinity edge. 

Salt and Pepper Squid: "locally caught squid dusted in cracked black pepper and sea salt, then deep-fried and served with roasted garlic aioli and a wedge of lemon". I think I chose it because I loved the wording of "dusted in cracked black pepper", but it actually was delicious. The garlic aioli was yummy. 320 baht ($11).

Spicy Tom Yam Khoong: spicy and sour soup prepared with fresh herbs, black tiger prawns, mussels, squid, and lime juice. The seafood was super juicy and plump, but I hated the chunks of lemongrass pieces that would slow down my eating pace because I had to fish them out. 240 baht ($8.20).

The king-sized bed had a gorgeous draping that I didn't realize until Day 4 served as a mosquito netting.

The couch was super comfy and perfect to drape on while watching the 50+ movies pre-downloaded by Anantara Rasananda on their Apple TV. Absolutely necessary for sudden downpour afternoons, and in hindsight, a beautifully thoughtful inclusion into the rooms.

I loved the complimentary fruit basket they gave to us on the first night. It held some unique fruits indigenous to Thailand. Clockwise from left: mango, dragonfruit or pitaya, rose apple, and custard apple. 

There were two of these altars on the grounds of Anantara Rasananda  These spirit houses are in the shape of miniature houses and have flowers, foods, candles, and lit incense given as gifts to the spirits. They can only be built by expert spirit house builders. These spirits also got water in celebration of Songkran.

For Songkran (Thai New Year), all the guests were given a smear of white talc on their cheeks at breakfast as a blessing of luck for the new year. Never you mind where his eyes are looking!

The Songkran festivities held by the staff and management. The general manager is the one in bright blue. I found this a very good indication of the emphasis placed on a harmonized staff, which is 1000% reflected in the warmth, care, and helpfulness of the staff to the guests. 

Eggs Benedict with crab and homemade Hollandaise sauce. The Hollandaise sauce was a bit on the sour side (too much lemon juice?) but the eggs were beautifully poached. I disliked the buns though- they were hard and didn't soak up the runny yolk as nicely as toasted English muffins. That didn't stop me from having Eggs Benedict every day- sans bread.

Roasted zucchini, marinated black olives, roasted tomatoes, roasted capsicum (red bell peppers), bacon, sausage. 

Croissant with homemade banana, papaya, strawberry, mango, coconut, and pineapple jams. Divine. Of course, the requisite Nutella, which tasted amazing when mixed with the coconut or banana jam. You may be asking how one teeny croissant could have enough surface area for all those jams? It didn't. Some days, I ended up just eating jam. Don't judge me. 

Mini dumplings, roasted capsicum and zucchini, bacon, beans, and a chunk of cheddar cheese. 

The mini dumplings were so delicious, I had to get a bowlful topped with soy sauce and chives (green onions), washed down with my daily watermelon juice.

These previous five pictures were some of my breakfasts from the prepaid breakfast buffet that was part of the package we got. I would definitely recommend getting the daily breakfast buffet because it was so delicious and cost-effective. Some of the foods we ordered for lunch a la carte were delicious but incredibly pricey. We did eat the dinner buffet once as it was the Songkran specialty dinner buffet but to be frank, it wasn't very good. I found very few of the items to my liking, which is unusual in a buffet.  The stir-fry station was unmanned and there were dirty dishes still left to soak in the grease, and the staff started to clean up before we were finished. We may have been the last to arrive, but it's still a bit rude to clear up before we've left, no? 

The Anantara Rasananda Spa. I got the Thai massage, body scrub, and facial package. The staff are courteous, attentive to your special requests of areas that you want focus on, and super professional. Nothing will ever top Noah Stone Spa and Resort in Cebu, Philippines, my absolute favorite spa in the whole world, but this one came close.

The setting is spectacular as well; the massage rooms are stacked above each other and the walk there is shrouded in greenery and wildlife- slugs and frogs and such. Very peaceful- if you avoid stepping on the slugs. Squish!

Every night, after the turn-down service, Anantara delivers their version of the chocolate on the pillows with a unique twist: a homemade traditional Thai sweet. During the seven nights spent there, there were two repeats of two treats. There were some hits and misses. This homemade caramel sesame stick was enjoyed twice.

Thai flower mixed with mung bean flour. This was the most beautiful but also the weirdest tasting. It tasted like sugary flour. 

My absolute favorite of the treats, these golden eggyolk drops were rich and buttery. They practically melted on my tongue. 

I got this two nights in a row, but the homemade sticky banana candy really stuck to your teeth, so I ate only one of the total eight received.

Dried shaved Phangan coconut, pretty good. You know what I really appreciate? The grammarist within me loves the fact that Anantara staff didn't merely copy-paste their little messages. Notice how they used different forms of wishing us "good night" every evening? That is superb attention to detail! *claps*

One day, the ocean was so calm and exposed quite a bit of the sand on the beach.

Our view to the right. The red beach umbrellas indicate the private beach lounges for Anantara Rasananda villa guests. We all had two assigned to each pool villa. 

So... ahem... this is the structure that they build if you decide to plump for a Dining by Design. They have a variety of options such as a sunset dinner by speedboat or something, but I was surprised with a dinner beachside. I witnessed the staff build this entire thing from scratch, oblivious to what it was for. I literally saw them spend 3 hours digging the posts into the sand, drape the sheer fabric over the posts, sew it together, cut the branches of palm leaves to bind to the posts, attach the flower arrangements to the drapes, dig massive holes into the ground to root the leafy structures that created the pathway, set up the table and chairs, the beanie bags with lit mini-table, the heart shapes into the sand to contain the candles that would light them up, and chase the dogs away who sauntered near to consider pooping by the structure. 

The table setting for dinner taken during the daytime.

The structure from afar. I seriously thought it was for a wedding because of the care and attention to detail paid to building the structure.

Beautiful sunset that evening.

Before dinner, we had a bit of apple-mango hookah (waterpipe/shisha) on the beach. We were told by the assistant manager that it was a new addition to Anantara Rasananda but definitely one that brings a glamorous and unique edge to the resort. I love!

The food for Dining by Design was absolutely delicious. I wish I had taken better pictures but because it was so dark and the pictures with flash are rubbish, I will spare your eyeballs and satiate your curiosity with mere descriptions: spicy white prawn salad, pomelo salad with soft shell crab, tom yam talay (hot and sour soup with poached seafood), whole grilled sea bass stuffed with herbs, blue swimmer crab with garlic and black pepper, king mackerel fillet with chili and ginger, baby arrow squid with sweet basil rub, lemongrass-marinated tiger prawns, jasmine-fried rice with yellow curry and cashew nuts stuffed in a pineapple, coconut ice cream with gingersnap biscuits and mango. Suffice it to say that the meal was enough to feed a small village, and we had to be rolled out.
*
The service for that dinner was amazing, as it was for the duration of our stay in all other aspects. The staff attended to our every needs, and the general manager and assistant general manager came by during dinner to ensure everything was perfect. We were offered to have the men performing the fire show come and give a private show, and were given a sky lantern to light and set afloat for good luck. It was utterly gorgeous. I would highly recommend any gentlemen out there to organize this for their special lady, and as far as I know, you just tell the staff which Dining by Design you want, and they do their utmost to make it truly memorable. 

On our last day in Koh Phangan, we packed our bags, went to eat breakfast, and came out to board our private speedboat. Our bags were effortlessly loaded and the management came to the beach to wave goodbye. The general manager and assistant general manager are second and third from left. Absolutely attentive and always came by our breakfast table or during the day to ensure that our day was nothing short of perfection, if they could help it. They even continued to wave back about a minute after departure because I didn't stop waving. They only stopped when I did. Their arms must have felt like falling off. 

You can see the red beach umbrellas and the clean white sands of Anantara Rasananda. The tuquoise waters were clear and sparkling.

Our complimentary sparkling wine on the boat. The return also included a plate loaded with pastries but I couldn't fit anything else in my stomach after I loaded up on breakfast. The boat crew were also super nice, offering to take lots of pictures for us. 

We did a lot of research on which resort to stay at on Koh Phangan prior to the trip, and I have to say that TripAdvisor is my travel Bible. I'd read the excellent reviews written by previous guests, and entered the resort expecting similar excellence, but in reality, my expectations were surpassed. I think that yes, the facilities and location was above average, but what took Anantara Rasananda over the edge was the impeccable service of staff and management. I got the sense that everyone who worked there truly enjoyed their job. To me, it seemed that they didn't approached their jobs as one of drudgery,  but rather strove to improve and outdo themselves on courtesy and service. Anantara Rasananda Resort embodies a 5-star hotel without the 5-star price, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a luxurious and tranquil holiday in Thailand, sans ping-pong shows and ladyboy shows.

5/5 Moo 5 Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach, Baan Tai
Koh Phangan, Surat Thani, Thailand
+66 (77) 239-555
Email: rasananda@anantara.com

If you go, tell Patrick Both, the General Manager, that I said hello, and enjoy yourselves!

*This was not a sponsored post. These are my honest opinions, and everything was paid for personally. 

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