Getting A Clean Slate in Thailand

Whispers about The Slate amongst Thailand’s upper echelon social circles of well-heeled urbanites led me to uncover and discover this delightful hidden gem of a resort in the Andaman locale. Situated just a mere stone’s throw away from Phuket International airport, The Slate which used to be named the “Indigo Pearl”, is easily accessible by car in just under 10 minutes. In spite of the resort’s close proximity to the airport, there is fortunately no audible noise from any planes taking off or landing as the trajectories of the air traffic is diverted away onto a different flight path that does not infringe upon the serenity of the surroundings of the resort.

The award winning resort, designed by famed hotel architect and landscape designer Bill Bensley, is strategically located right in front of the sandy shores of picturesque Nai Yang Beach, and nestled amongst manicured gardens and lush tropical landscapes along Phuket’s less commercialised and touristy north-western coastline. This truly unique and one-of-a-kind hotel is a massive sprawling compound that took us two separate stays to fully explore.

The entire complex is so gargantuan that only on our return stay did we managed to cover all of the grounds and see everything. During our second stay, we finally got to glimpse at the cute organic gardens, tennis courts, Tin Box Kid’s Club playgrounds and the nicely decorated Tongkah Tin Syndicate bar cum billiard room – all of which we completely missed out on during our first stay.

Dubbed the “Willy Wonka of design”, Bill Bensley’s eccentric and playfully mischievous style, artistic sensibilities as well as stamp of approval are clearly evident in every nook and cranny of The Slate. The surreal looking family friendly resort resembles a juxtaposition of a few distinctive themes jumbled up together, and can best be described as a whimsical tin-mining amusement park meets steampunk industrial revolution chic meets Thai tropical paradise. The reason that The Slate is reminiscent of an otherworldly realm is largely due to the fact that this is Bill Bensley’s first hotel project that he had total creative freedom and innovative liberties in all areas and aspects from start to finish.

The Slate’s original concept is a nostalgic nod to Phuket’s former tin mining glory. In fact, the enormous 23 hectares of land that the resort sits on used to be an actual working and functioning industrial tin mine that was owned and operated by Phuket’s former governor Khaw Sim Bee Na-Ranong. His descendants, Krystal “Khun Moo” Prakaikaew Na-Ranong and her father, decided to pay homage to their ancestral lineage by basing the overall aesthetic look and feel of The Slate to amply reflect Phuket’s rich cultural heritage, history, and the good old heydays during the island’s tin mining boom.

Guests are spoilt for choice and have the option to stay in a wide selection of 177 quirky looking suites with spacious balconies and terraces, as well as 7 well furnished luxurious pool villas complete with high walls for maximum privacy. Each room, suite, or villa at The Slate widely ranges in size from a decent 56 square metres to a whopping 1,000 square metres. Rooms have raw concrete walls and wooden parquet floors. Bolts, rivets, and industrial detailing adorn the bathrooms and living spaces. An additional standout feature of all of The Slate’s pool villa suites are the special standalone black bathtubs, as well as the not to be missed Punkawallah style ceiling fans that sway hypnotically in-sync from side-to-side.

Mr William Daguin, the smiling hotel manager of The Slate enthuses, “Our Bensley Residence villa is truly unique and renowned in all of Phuket. It is where Bill Bensley himself stays at whenever he visits. The core design of Bill’s vision for The Slate is the signature trademark DNA of the hotel. Since its conception over a decade ago, nothing has changed, and the property is still pretty much the same as from the very beginning.”

Visitors to The Slate get to fully immerse in Bill’s avant-garde imaginarium of art and design while relaxing and unwinding in one of three large glistening cerulean pools. Time stood still for me as I basked and marvelled at the numerous landscaped gardens bursting with the brilliant hues of exotic tropical flowers such as heliconias, hanging birds, bromeliads, birds of paradise and orchids.

For one evening, I even had the opportunity to be entertained, beguiled, and transported into a dreamscape fantasy spectacle while attending Bill Bensley’s “Faroese Chronicles” musical theatre production and charity auction dinner in aid of the Shinta Mani Foundation. The wacky one-night-only theatre production held in the hotel’s ballroom was a collaborative effort together with the talented Junkyard Theatre Phuket, and it felt like an eclectic smorgasbord of burlesque, cabaret and circus all rolled into one. In conjunction with the evening’s performances, an immersive art exhibition featuring 38 of Bill’s brightly coloured paintings that were all up for auction were also being featured around the hotel’s grand lobby and foyers as well as inside the resort’s own Shades Gallery.

The crowning jewel of The Slate is, hands down, their enigmatic Black Ginger restaurant. Renowned and famous throughout all of Phuket, this award winning Michelin Guide recommended traditional Thai restaurant is without a doubt one of the best fine dining restaurants on the island. People come from far and wide over to The Slate just to wine and dine at this ravishing masterpiece that floats in the centre of a romantically incandescent torch lit man-made lake. The fun and funky way to reach the restaurant is via a wooden raft that is physically operated by an ingenious manual rope-way pulley system. We rode up and down the lake a couple of times on the raft just for the sheer thrill and wonderment of it.

The Black Ginger is helmed by executive sous chef Anongrat Mektai who is more affectionately known as “Chef Piak”. She has over 35 passionate years of experience in the kitchen cooking up a storm. Her specialities include southern Thai style dishes such as tom yum, phanaeng curries, as well as crispy battered prawns wrapped up in cha-plu wild betel leaves drizzled in Thai sweet chilli sauce. Other must-trys include the Ngoh Hiang five spiced minced pork rolls and fresh Poh Piah salad rolls that you get to hand make yourself. Both dishes are akin to the classic old school Hokkien dishes that the Chinese tin miners use to consume back in the days of yore.

The experienced and hospitable general manager of The Slate, Mr Claude Sauter, who is a impressive polyglot that is fluent in no less than six different languages, recommends, “My favourite cocktail available at The Slate is the ‘Black Ginger Mojito’. It is an invigoratingly energising cocktail with a powerfully spicy kick as it is infused with Thai herbs such as lemongrass, kaffir lime, and galangal.”

Krystal AKA “Khun Moo” who is the elegantly fashionable owner of the Slate quipped, “A well-kept secret of this property is that there are three rare white owls that live on the grounds amongst the trees that surround Black Ginger’s lake. The owls love the nature and tropical gardens here. As nocturnal animals, they come out at night and even communicate with one another. We just spotted one earlier this evening.” I must have had an incredulously bewildered and envious look on my face as I listened to her anecdote as I was determined to spot and perhaps photograph those magical creatures.

So mystical and high vibe is The Slate’s Black Ginger and its lavish environs that it is also home to other endemic birds such as Brahminy Kites and iridescent Asian Sunbirds that resemble large hummingbirds. We looked as hard as we could to try to find those elusive three snowy white owls but alas, much to our chagrin and dismay, those evasive owls eluded us on both occasions. Instead, we were treated to an orchestra of croaking frogs, chirping crickets, buzzing bees, fluttering butterflies and darting dragonflies. All of these critters and insects call the maze-like gardens, cascading waterfall features and tranquil ponds of The Slate their home.

Another major highlight over at The Slate that we thoroughly enjoyed is the stunningly gorgeous “The Nest” located at the resort’s equally spectacular Coqoon Spa. The Nest is designed to allow dappled daylight to creep in through the crevices of the woven rattan walls, thereby creating a sublime and ethereal atmosphere inside the cocoon of this cozy private spa haven. Do try out the spa’s champaka flower scrub and body wraps treatments while there.

Other worthy mentions include the KRU Signature VitaDrips, which are multi-vitamin infusion IV drips to help boost the immune system and combat fatigue. All IV drips and medical therapy sessions are conducted over at the KRU Precision Wellness clinic that is discreetly tucked away in a newly refurbished villa at a quieter corner of the Coqoon spa so as to accord complete privacy and serenity. The Slate’s Stockroom is also one of the best and most elaborate resort boutique that I have ever seen as it is filled to the brim with a myriad of peculiar curios such as antique furniture, chic resort wear, essential oil infused toiletries, artisanal handicrafts, knick knacks, bric-a-brac, Thai souvenirs, and much more.

I am generally not a big fan of hotel buffet breakfasts as they are usually sterile and cookie cutter, which makes me want to lose my appetite early in the morning. Thankfully, the sumptuous breakfast buffet spread over at the hotel’s all day dining restaurant Tin Mine is an exception to this rule. The delectable breakfast buffet spread changes daily, and was something that I looked forward to each morning during our stays. I must add that all of the deliciously prepared dishes that we had over at The Slate were stellar and the six course degustation dinner menus over at the intimate Rivet are not to be missed. After dinner, hop over and head up above to the Rebar for a refreshing digestif drink or two.

During the twilight golden hour of sunset, we took a leisurely stroll along Nai Yang beach and Sirinat National Park. We stopped to gasp in awe at the spellbinding majesty of the setting sun, and eagerly snapped photographs in order to freeze time and immortalise those memories. Towering Casuarina trees line the shoreline of Nai Yang beach that ends over at the airport. On the way, we passed by a scanty scattering of local shops, restaurants, bars, massage parlours and other retail establishments. We relished the fact that this remote area of Phuket felt quaint and is so far removed from the hustle and bustle of tourist thronged Patong that is much further down south.

There is never a dull moment over at The Slate in Phuket. Take your pick from private cooking classes over at Moo’s Kitchen, carefully curated Chef’s Table experiences that are spearheaded by Chef Piak, Buddhist monk-led meditation sessions, ubiquitous yoga and fitness themed classes over at the Indigo gym, and much more. Khun Moo also shared with us about their new and upcoming Bill Bensley designed F&B establishment that will resemble an opulent and decadent Chinese opium den, and which will be conveniently located at the central heart of Phuket’s Old Town. This exquisite new dining concept is slated (pun intended) to open its doors to the public by the end of the year or early next year.

The Slate also frequently hosts special themed dinner party activities such as Brazilian Churrascos. For the year end, there are a good selection of various Christmas and New Year countdown celebration parties, masquerade gala dinners, and other festivities to experience and to indulge in. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Images: Luke Elijah

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