Another side of Phuket
IT HAS been 10 years since I last experienced Phuket.
Back then I was a doe-eyed backpacker, embarking on a six-month adventure exploring the natural beauty of South-East Asia.
After just one night in what could only be described as a cesspool, I high-tailed it away from the teeming masses in search of a more soulful location.
This time around after landing at the Phuket International Airport, I am greeted with a personalised sign, a box of chocolates and a glass of sparkling wine.
Not a bad welcome after a nine-hour flight and certainly a refreshing change from hitching a ride in an overcrowded bus that seemed to have misplaced its suspension.
That crucial change of direction opened my eyes to a side of Phuket I had missed out on all those years ago.
No neon lights, no pole dancers, no drunken, debauched scenes from Hangover 2.
Just pure bliss.
Aleenta Phuket Phang Nga Resort and Spa is sprawled along one of Thailand's most beautiful sandy white beaches - Natai Beach.
It features three restaurants, gym, spa, yoga pavilion, an impressive library of CDs and books, boutique and free WiFi throughout.
There is no shortage of luxury accommodation options available at this boutique, eco-friendly resort.
Chic and stylish, the ocean-view lofts are split-level suites with double-height ceilings and glass walls opening on to a private sun-deck with a large, shared swimming pool and magnificent sea views.
Each suite comprises a downstairs living room, an upstairs bedroom and an ensuite with a shower.
The ultimate in private luxury, the villas feature a separate living room connected by a large secluded pool and garden. Forget the swimwear - you can work on erasing those tan lines.
Aleenta also offers an escape for close friends and family in their five ocean-front grand villas just a kilometre from the main resort.
This is my favourite option. I stayed in the Grand Villa Satis, a luxurious four-bedroom villa with all modern amenities and full western kitchen facilities.
The large 1000sq m open-plan villa overlooks an expansive pool and outdoor lounge area that fronts a secluded beach.
This outdoor area includes a seaside gazebo and a good-sized grass area for cricket or frisbee.
It is a perfect playground for a hens' party weekend, family vacation or milestone birthday getaway.
The staff at Aleenta are friendly and attentive. And although there is little reason to stray far from the butler serviced sunlounge by the Grand Villa Satis pool, they are happy to organise a range of activities.
You can sharpen your culinary skills with Aleenta's Thai-cookery course, which starts with a guided tour of local vegetable markets and culminates in sampling your creations.
In the evening you can try out your mixology skills with master cocktail and mixing classes on the villa lawn.
I whiled away hours in the luxurious Spa IV where treatments revolve around the sun, the moon, earth and sea. It is worth requesting the treatment room overlooking the seaside.
Sunrise or sunset yoga and tai chi are also favourite pastimes here under the watchful instruction of a personal and qualified instructor.
Although Phuket is Thailand's largest island, covering about 543sq km - about the same area as Singapore - it is hard to believe Patong Beach and the raucous Bangla Rd is only 60 minutes away.
Aleenta feels a lot like heaven.
Getting there: Thai Airways, Air Asia, Scoot, Qantas, Jetstar, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines all fly to Bangkok. From there you can fly domestic to Phuket.
Don't forget to bring: A few magazines (to indulge in by the pool), a digital camera (often baby sea turtles can be seen in the sand dunes), a loved one (to share the amazing sunsets).
Good to know: Australian residents can get a visa on arrival. The currency is the Thai Baht. Most Thais will accept a handshake but their traditional form of greeting is the wai - a prayer-like gesture where the palms are pressed together. Thais regard the head as the highest part of the body (literally and figuratively) so avoid touching people on the head and try not to point your feet at people or an object. It is considered very rude.