Much has been written about the secluded beaches of Thailand, but their seclusion is often an illusion. Pull back from that close-up of a padded chaise or private bungalow with an infinity pool, and you’re likely to see more chaises and more bungalows nestled tightly together. Pull back farther and you’ll see the whole crowded coastline. This is especially true on the island of Phuket—fantastic resorts like Amanpuri and Trisara notwithstanding—which is why we were particularly surprised to find such serenity at the new Six Senses Hideaway on Yao Noi, an island just a 40-minute boat ride from Phuket’s shores.
But what a transporting 40 minutes it is. Our captain seemed to use only the soaring limestone cliffs to navigate his way across Phang Nga Bay, and soon the island appeared before us, dense with forest and seemingly little else. But as we neared, huts perched on stilts and built into the hill came into focus: the resort’s 56 large, open-air villas constructed mainly from bamboo and salvaged hardwood. General manager Marco Groten greeted us—as he does with all guests—in a white linen shirt and Bermuda shorts.
It’s tempting to describe the jungle around Six Senses as lush, but “unkempt” might be more apt. The resort is built on an old rubber plantation, and many of its trees remain. Designers created the authentically wild ambiance with indigenous plants that they let grow, well, wild, and there are overgrown reeds and huge plants everywhere, some threatening to obscure the paths to our villa.
“It feels like the middle of nowhere,” says Sonu Shivdasani, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Six Senses Resorts & Spas, whose other properties include four additional Hideaways in Asia as well as the Soneva resorts in the Maldives.
Nowhere it may be, but Six Senses has a definite sense of place. There are the requisite ultraluxe amenities (plunge pools, flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations), but there are wonderful site-specific details, too. Some of the bungalows’ terraces and outdoor showers are built into the rubber trees; signage is constructed from recycled wood. For guests who choose to sleep with the doors and windows open, a mosquito net draped across the bed and an environmentally friendly, fragrant-free insect repellent keep the bugs at bay.
It’s a luxe jungle experience, with some aspects back-to-nature, others back-to-nurture. There’s a spa (get the Six Senses fusion massage), three wine cellars (plus a wine fridge in each villa), and 50 varieties of homemade sorbet and ice cream (don’t miss the blue-cheese—no, really—and gin-and-tonic flavors). Butlers cater to every need. The regular bungalows are fine, but the five Pool Villa suites with private spa facilities are the ones to request, while the two-bedroom Retreat villa and the six-bedroom Hill Top Reserve are for special occasions.
The open-air concept is adopted everywhere, from the bar overlooking limestone outcrops to the all-day casual dining restaurant the Living Room, where tables eight, nine, and ten provide the best sunrise views. For those who like their mornings more meditative, there’s yoga at dawn on an outdoor hilltop platform, and actual meditation can be arranged on a patio in the middle of a mangrove forest. Guests love the tables by the mangroves at the resort’s intimate fine-dining spot, too. Boats and a helicopter get guests to and from whatever their pleasures might be—the active can island-hop, scuba dive, fish, even golf. But here’s a hint: If you do absolutely nothing at all, Six Senses transports you from frenzied urban life to the easy pace of island living that much faster. From $1,030 to $12,900; 949-487-0522; sixsenses.com