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Post-Tsunami Phuket: Pure Luxury for Less

Many visitors have been discouraged from vacationing on the lush island of Phuket, mistakenly believing that it was wiped out by the December Tsunami, and tourist arrivals have dropped dramatically. But savvy travelers know to find a good bargain and they are slowly but surely returning here.

Yes, a few areas sustained damage but more of the damage has been economical, due to unemployment following scores of cancellations from wary tourists. Four months on, only two areas remain damaged: Khao Lak and Ko Phi Phi. The rest of Phuket has bounced back, renovations have proceeded at a dizzying pace and walking around the lively town of Patong you may not even notice the few ground floor venues that are still being repaired.

From now until early November is the low season in Southern Thailand, and one of the most luxurious and well-situation resorts in Phuket is offering fantastic savings. The JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa (tel. 66 76 338-000; sustained only very minor damage during the Tsunami as it sits slightly elevated on a sand bank on beautiful Mai Khao Beach, the longest in Phuket. Here, you have over eight miles of undeveloped beachfront -- no buildings, no other hotels, nothing. You walk for miles and not see another person.

The resort was built adjacent to the Sirinath Marine National Park, a nesting area for sea turtles and the JW Marriott's management is actively involved in programs designed to raise awareness for the plight of the critically endangered giant leatherback turtles. The resort is a 27-acre paradise blending harmoniously with nature. Lush vegetation surrounds the low-rise structures that face the Andaman sea. The sunset view from both of its glorious pools is breathtaking. The rooms are decorated in contemporary Thai design with gleaming hardwood floors and rich silk fabric; all are extremely spacious with over-size bathtubs, separate showers and private patios or balconies. Each room comes with its own "sala" (a traditional Thai-style raised area with twin massage mats and triangular cushions -- ideal for reading or relaxing.) When former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. visited Phuket following the Tsunami, they stayed here, in the resort's one-bedroom suites.

Luxury at affordable rates is what you'll find at the JW Marriott. Around the pool, the friendly staff constantly fills your glass with ice water, hand out cold towels every hour and come around with chilled pineapple wedges to cool you down. At the serene Mandara Spa, each of the treatment rooms have their own private indoor or outdoor shower and several are especially designed for couples. The hotel's cooking school can have you making a killer Pad Thai in only half a day and there are extensive children's programs as well. You can improve your tennis game at the resort's handsome floodlit Plexipave courts.

From May 1 to October 31, 2005, the JW is offering several discount packages. A 5-night Couples Spa getaway is $1,096 for garden view and $1,816 for sea view (includes a choice of three and a half-hour spa treatments for two). A 3-night tennis package is $1,097 for a garden view and $1,217 for a sea view (includes three one-hour tennis lessons with Nash Ladha -- the resort's talented resident pro).

Room-only rates that can run as high as $585 per-night during high season are going for less than $200 until November (exact rates depend on the exact day of arrival; check rates at the property's website). All packages include accommodations for two people, airport transfers in a Mercedes limo, and lavish buffet breakfast. The hotel's five restaurants all offer a reasonably priced and excellent selection of varying cuisines. Cucina, the Italian venue, is one of the best Northern Italian restaurants in Thailand. At the beachside Sala Rim Talay, seafood reigns supreme. The delicious Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad with grilled River Prawns) is one of the restaurant's signature dishes.

If you can tear yourself away from lolling around the resort, take a day-trip to remote islands and lagoons with John Gray's Sea Canoes ( John Gray, an American expatriate, started these naturalist kayak tours in Phuket in 1989, to guide visitors to the natural beauty of Southern Thailand. As he leads you through caves and lagoons you'll be able to spot wild monkeys and tropical birds. If you choose the starlight excursion, you'll kayak under a million stars when night falls as the fireflies light up the steep cliffs of the islands all around you.

For the ultimate luxury, charter your own speedboat and go out to the remote island of Phi Phi Ley where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach, an hour's trek from Phuket. Charters and day excursions to Phi Phi Ley are offered by Andaman Leisure Phuket Co (

To reach Phuket from the U.S., U.K & Europe, Australia, or South Africa, Singapore Airlines ( offers the best connections. From Singapore, Phuket is only a short 1.5 hour hop aboard Singapore Airline's excellent regional carrier, SilkAir, operating new Airbus A320s on the route.

Singapore Airlines now offers non-stop flights to its hub at Changi Airport from Newark and Los Angeles, aboard its new luxuriously appointed Airbus A340-500. The Newark to Singapore flight is the longest non-stop journey in the world, clocking in at around 18 hours, depending on the winds.

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