As Thai legend goes, in ancient times, an enormous dragon roamed the skies over Phuket and when he died, his body was transformed into three islands in the aquamarine Andaman sea. Naka Island, the largest of the three, is thought to be the dragon's body and is now home to one of Thailand's most paradisal and luxurious resorts, ‘The Naka Island: a Luxury Collection resort and spa', which still tied to folklore, welcomes guests onto the dragon's belly with the reverberating boom of a gong. It's as mystical as it sounds.
It's monsoon season in Thailand, and just as we arrive at Ao Po Grand Marina, a twenty-five minute drive from Phuket's international airport, the bulging clouds break into sheets of rain. The Luxury Collection staff run to shield us from the downpour with umbrellas, apologising profusely for the weather's misbehaviour, but this isn't grey drizzle in London, it's a tropical storm: smouldering skies, sharp jagged streaks of lightening and the smell of warm earth. It's dramatic and exciting. Nevertheless, it's more enjoyable to watch than to be trapped in its growling midst, so we choose to shelter in the hull of the speed boat as we bounce across the churning seas to Naka Island's private pier and on arrival, we are quickly zipped into a golf buggy with waterproof plastic sides.
The Naka Island resort is built to represent a village, with sixty-seven villas dotted around the northeastern end of the island and a network of pathways for golf buggies to deliver room service and ferry guests to and from the communal areas.
After banging the gong, we're taken straight to our villa (like all the best luxury resorts, the administrative parts are kept to the minimum); tucked amongst the trees on the hillside above the beach, it feels completely secluded and instantly calming. The villas, like the rest of the resort, are designed so as not to distract from the beauty of the surrounding landscape. They're each constructed from natural materials with light, earthy interiors, a private pool and a sala (open air pavilion) surrounded by jungle, it's here at night that you can lie listening to the evening orchestra of cicadas and frogs.
Our bed faces the sea, with large windows giving the impression that you're almost floating on the waves, and white curtains that wrap round the bed posts at nighttime to create a cosy nest. In the rain, it's homely a space for snuggling, and when the sun shines, the walls glow with a soft natural light. Yet, it's the bathroom or rather, the outdoor bath that's the pièce de résistance. A covered walkway edged with tropical plants leads out of the bedroom, through to the shower (which also turns into a private steam room at the click of the button), outside and to the sunken bath. Tucked into it's own sheltered alcove with in-built shelves for candles at night, it's quite possibly the most romantic and relaxing bathing experience you'll ever have.
Despite the size of the resort, it's a very peaceful and private place where you can choose to hideaway and never see a single soul, or to join in with one of the complimentary classes that take place daily. We take a Muay Thai lesson on our first afternoon in the large general purpose sala (equipped with mats and punching bag), which is led by an enthusiastic ex-professional who accompanies each move with an awesome sound-effect that does well to boost a beginner's ego.
There's also yoga, Thai massage classes, circuit training, leaf painting, Thai language lessons and cookery demonstrations. The best way to explore the island, however, is by water. The resort boasts it's own collection of sail boats, paddle boards, wind surfing boards and kayaks; a round-the-island-trip in a duo kayak takes about two hours, and on a clear day it's possible to see tropical fish swimming in the glassy sea.
When you return from a hard day's paddling, there's free homemade ice cream served every afternoon (the pineapple sorbet is especially refreshing) by the infinity pool that flows over two levels with plush sun loungers in the shallows so that you don't even have to walk a step to take a dip. The gym's also located on the beach and behind that the spa with a steam, sauna and ice room plus a menu of therapeutic treatments. If you're still itching for more, you can choose to take an excursion further afield to one of the surrounding islands, but unless you're staying for a couple of weeks, I'm not sure why you'd want to leave.
The famous limestone rocks that appear in James Bond's Gold Finger are visible from the resort's Z Bar located on the furthermost tip of the resort. This is also the best spot to watch the sunset, whilst sipping on one of the signature cocktails – the creamy Naka Banana Coco Rum served in a cold coconut is delightfully tropical – and nibbling a platter of exquisite sushi canapés.
Dinner is served either at Tonsai or My Grill restaurant, both located on the beach, but for a truly exceptional experience, My Grill is the one to choose. On arriving at the restaurant, we're introduced to the wonderful sommelier, Daniele Pinto, who serves us a glass of rich and surprisingly sweet Italian Prosecco to savour whilst we wait for our food. To start, it's seared tuna salad with crab and a wasabi dressing followed by a huge seafood platter for two. As you'd expect of an island, the fish is as fresh as can be, and cooked to melt-in-the-mouth perfection.
When we board the boat back to Phuket's mainland, the sun is shining and Naka Island's at it's most spectacular. As we speed over the waves, the only real glimpse of human life on the island is the line of blue umbrellas shielding sun beds, and the glint of the pool in the light. It's a hidden retreat of subtle and sophisticated luxury, one which I can't help thinking might make a perfect honeymoon destination.
All images by James Houston