Picture perfect Phuket

Sawatdee khap”, our friendly driver welcomes at Phuket Airport as he bows and presses his hands together, before guiding us to a private minibus, where fresh, lemon-pressed towels and chilled water await – what a generous, respectful welcome I reflect, as we begin our 30 minute journey to Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort. This wouldn’t …

Sawatdee khap”, our friendly driver welcomes at Phuket Airport as he bows and presses his hands together, before guiding us to a private minibus, where fresh, lemon-pressed towels and chilled water await – what a generous, respectful welcome I reflect, as we begin our 30 minute journey to Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort.

This wouldn’t be the last time we received such an embracing reception over the next couple of days – each as kind and welcoming as the previous – something I later learnt to simply call, Thai hospitality.

Upon reaching our destination, it’s apparent that this resort benefits from several beautiful natural advantages. Encircled by a picturesque lagoon, which you’re able to take idyllic boat trips around, Outrigger Laguna Phuket sits upon the shores of Bang Tao Beach, with sunset views overlooking the Andaman Sea – the scene is tropical and beautiful to say the least.

The hotel reception is open to the elements and features a stunning steeple Thai roof, dark wood furnishings and gorgeous flower arrangements of varied species – although it’s the colourful orchids that stand out to me.

Around the entire resort, well-manicured gardens and pretty blooms line the way, with postcard-worthy mountainous backdrops grabbing my attention in nearly every direction I look.

It’s hard to believe that just after a six-hour flight from Dubai, I’m encompassed in luscious natural surroundings – even if just for a weekend getaway, this destination is without a doubt an ideal spot for escaping the hustle and bustle of city life.

One thing that I particularly like is the distinct presence of culture and heritage here – something I feel is vital to truly experiencing a new destination, otherwise you may as well be vacationing in a hotel neighbouring your home. Outrigger Laguna seamlessly brings together all elements of a great resort, to culminate a formula that really works.

With 225 guest rooms, eight suites and a luxurious two-bedroom villa on offer, the resort is more than equipped to catering for families, friends and couples alike. Accommodation interiors here are contemporary and fresh, with slight Thai touches throughout and each featuring their own individual wow-factors – a highlight being that every room or suit offers unrivalled views over the lagoon or glistening Andaman Sea.

Something for everyone

Whether you’re ready to explore or relax by the beach, all it takes is a look around Outrigger Laguna to realise that there’s activities suited for keeping anyone and everyone satisfied – no matter the age.

As a beach lover, I found my element sitting beachside watching the world go by, while fellow guests enjoyed water sports including jet skiing, wind surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, tubing and more. Or, for a calmer experience, we were able to venture lagoon-side for stand-up paddle boarding or a short boat ride.

For children, not only does the resort have it’s very own fun ‘Koh Kids Club’ teamed by a friendly group of nannies, there’s also an exciting 55-metre spiral slide that slips into a specially designed, children’s swimming pool (which sits aside various other adult-friendly pools).

Next up, is the Angsana Day Spa – one of my favourite locations of the trip, and not just because of the professionalism and service provided by the therapist (Thai massages truly live up to expectation) – but rather, for the sights. After the tranquil treatment, guests are invited to sit overlooking the lagoon. It’s one of the most serene moments you could imagine – surrounded only by nature, here the spa allows you to completely relax and be at peace. I’d recommend timing it for sunset, to add to the experience.

Culinary delights

As keen food enthusiasts, you’ll be pleased to hear that Laguna as a destination resort has more than 30 restaurants on offer for visitors, which are allaccessible via free shuttle buses.

For diners wishing to dine a little closer, Outrigger’s onsite restaurants have a range of mouthwatering options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or even a quick snack.

At the resort’s Locavore Restaurant, the kitchens are divided into two, one for creating authentic Thai cuisine and one for international flavours. But, when in Thailand, one must eat. Thai food – and that we did. The Thai’s really love their use of spice (I definitely learnt my lesson), so if you’re not used to it be sure to profoundly state to the server that you don’t want your food spicy. Spice preferences aside, Thai cuisine is simply divine, it’s so flavourful and beautifully prepared – you can tell with each bite that a lot of love and care went into creating the dish. There’s some really interesting taste combinations – starting with a tom yum goong, a spicy and sweet tiger prawn soup, seasoned with lime, chili and lemongrass (another ingredient the locals love!), or a personal favourite of mine was the pad thai nuapoo goong pow, which is made up of traditional fried rice noodles with tamarind, bean sprouts, garlic and crab meat and grilled prawns. Other dishes you can expect to find on the menu include the likes of goon pad med ma-maung, a stir-fried shrimp dish that is served with cashew nut and dried chili, or pla lui suan, a crispy whole sea bass that is mixed with Thai herbs. Whatever dish you opt for at Locavore, it’s near impossible to be disappointed.

During the day, enjoy lunch next to the beach and alongside the pool at Edgewater Beach Bistro. It’s a lovely little spot that allows you to gaze out to sea, and also neighbouring coastal Phuket wrapping around the bay.

For something a little more elite, Outrigger Laguna also homes a premium club, for guests looking for that little bit extra. The Club sits looking out over the lagoon – offering a slightly different angle to that I was explaining the spa provided – it’s a heavenly sight.

Although open for breakfast and dinner, which is served a la carte and buffet style, The Club also opens for varied other food and beverage concepts including high-tea and happy hour. All in all, the waterside venue is well worth the package upgrade, proving a great area for spending time with family or friends, or alternatively solo for some reflective ‘me time’.

Mediterranean delights

Adding to the resort’s impressive culinary repertoire is Metzo’s Bistro and Bar, which reopened at the end of 2015 following an extensive refurbishment. Harmoniously bringing both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours to Phuket’s door, Metzo’s Lebanese chef Mustapha Haj Omar explains that every dish listed on his menu has come from a recipe handed down to him by either his grandmother or mother – which is evident in his food. It’s food with soul.

Inside, the restaurant boasts a sleek, modern, open feel, yet isn’t cold. It’s welcoming and inviting with subtle design aspects that really make a difference, such as traditional Spanish style tiles on the floor, warm colored wooden chairs and intimate lighting.

When it comes to the food, think Morocco,Spain, Greece, Lebanon, Italy, Turkey and Egypt, to name a few. You may be wondering how one menu successfully delivers such a multitude of cuisines, but rest assured that chef Mustapha’s menu is well thought out, organised and definitely not excessive – the only trouble you’ll have here is resisting the urge to over-order.

Served sharing-style, traditional mezze and tapas vary from your authentic antipasti, moutabal and hummous – the type of hummous you end up spooning out of the dish to finish (see recipe left) – bruschetta, mushroom and tomato frittata, gambas al ajillo, beef carpaccio and more. Whereas mains include favoured dishes such as lamb kofta, shish taouk, shawarma, lamb shank tajine, lobster cannelloni and chef Mustapha’s signature dish, samakeh harra.

The chef, who held the role of head chef at the One & Only Reethi Rah Resort and Spa in the Maldives before joining Outrigger Laguna, says “samakeh harra is a Mediterranean dish and a good combination between local fish and sauce which is made from fresh ingredients such as vegetables, onion, garlic, pepper, coriander, parsley leaves cooked and sautéed in olive oil along with spices to create a wonderful aroma and flavour. The fish is gently cooked on the grill and served with sauce and potato wedges.”

Something I thought was great about Metzo’s menu was its emphasis on wholesome-made, quality food. Reflected throughout the entire menu, this value also stood when it came to the kids selection – refreshing to see a move away from the usual processed chicken nuggets and chips regime. Menu items include fresh chicken cube or tenderloin beef skewers with pita bread, bruschetta, and creamy chicken corn soup, amongst others.

It’s quite apparent that only a high calibre of product is used in this kitchen. The chef notes, “I like to use the freshest of produce, and Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine leans on fresh vegetables and meats.”

As a word of advice for home cooks out there, chef Mustapha encourages “be passionate and don’t be afraid to experiment with flavours. Recipe books are great guides for many dishes but they only act as a guide; of course they are important for highly technical dishes, or baking! Try new things and experience a variety. To be a great chef you really need to expose your taste buds to a variety of different textures, tastes and flavours!”

Phuket sights

While the focus at Outrigger Laguna is securely fixed on great, honest, quality food, in a laidback, welcoming environment – a draw that could easily keep you happily content within the resort’s grounds during your stay – you may also want to venture outside of the Laguna to discover what Phuket is all about, like we did.

Aside from beautiful beach after beautiful beach – Karon, Kata, Surin, Patong and Nai Harn, to name a few – there’s much to do around the province.

Like visiting local animals, however, be careful not to fall into tourist traps, as the area contains quite a few attractions that are quite clearly not honouring animal rights. We took a trip to a wonderful place called Bang Pe Waterfall, where a group of expats has established an amazing Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. The project focuses on nurturing gibbons back to health and keeping them out of harms way – it’s a wonderful place.

Next on the list is a trip to Big Buddha. The winding journey up to the 45-metre Buddha alone is an experience, with breathtaking birds-eye views over the Nakkerd Hills. Or, stop by the Chalong Temple – a temple said to be one of the best in Phuket.

Activities and sightseeing aside, Phuket is a vibrant, stunningly colourful destination, that’s well worth a visit (or visits). With endless sites of beauty to discover, true Thai hospitality and a myriad of gourmet pleasures to relish in – you can’t go wrong with a visit, to picture perfect Phuket.