The scenery in prestigious Surin is stunning; verdant jungle-covered hills provide a strong counterpoint to the azure blue sea, the area's attraction is palpable. From the moment you arrive at the 48-suite Ayara Hilltops you're instantly relaxed, it's that contagious.
The lobby area is an airy space with high ceilings, smart décor and smiling faces as the staff greeting is very warm indeed. Formalities are brief and completed with a gift of an intricate jasmine flower bracelet, refreshing cold towel and a glass of fruit juice.
There's an obvious reason why the resort is called 'Hilltops', however no mountain trekking is actually involved as the resort's tuk-tuks transport you the short distance from the lobby to the suites. Grey granite-stone road and walls contrast with the green foliage of the landscaped hills and tropical plants sprouting from every corner.
My expectation of the view rises accordingly with the distance up the hill we travel. I'm not disappointed by either the suite or the view - both have a serious quota of wow factor.
The view takes in a little of Surin and Pansea Beaches and all of Bang Tao Bay with green mountains in the distance.
The reefs around the rocks between Surin and Pansea are visible in the clear water and the west-facing vista promises spectacular sunsets.
The villa is split into two with an attractive 7 x 3.5m infinity edge pool in the middle. One extremely important factor is the huge amount of privacy afforded by this villa, once 'inside' (but still outside in the open air).
Guests can't see any other suites and are not even overlooked by neighbouring villas which ensures that you can swim in your birthday suit if you so choose. One half of the villa is the bedroom and bathroom, the other half comprises the living area.
Furniture and décor throughout is of excellent standards, all made with quality timber. Ceilings are high with fans in addition to air-conditioning. The lighting options are thorough with a choice of uplighting, downlighting and spotlights, all with dimmer switches.
The plush bedroom has a TV, DVD player/stereo system, cordless phone, two double wardrobes, a dressing table, an electric scented oil burner which does wonders for the senses, six pillows on the king-size bed (soft, medium and firm!) Décor-wise, the floors are of solid varnished hardwood and wooden slatted blinds cover all the windows while elegant statuesque wood carvings and flowering orchids finish the look.
One of the two sets of double doors has an insect screen so you can choose to take advantage of the height and sleep with the doors open to feel the cool night breeze.
The granite-set bathroom features a separate shower and bathtub, the bath is easily large enough for two people and commands yet more stunning views. There's both a hand shower and 'rain' shower inside the shower cubicle with a hair dryer, bathroom scales, bathrobes, slippers and posh bathroom products.
The sizable living area has the same elegant wooden floors and décor and two large sofas, a dining table for four, full-size fridge, a mini-bar complete with spirits and snacks, sink, telephone, desk, TV and many other small details. Wireless internet access is also available.
Outside and pool
Outside, there's a garden dining table, chairs and parasol and the sun loungers are cleverly built into a roofless sala which provides a little shade but not enough to prevent tanning. The view from the pool is simply stunning, the end of which seems to just drop away into the distance.
In all, there are four different types of suites, two of which have subtypes of standard and deluxe sea views. Not all suites have pools but those without have a whirlpool bath on the terrace/balcony and some feature outdoor showers and bathtubs (private obviously), this is a luxury resort where you can expect to be pampered. Suite sizes vary from a generous 60sqm to a whopping 220sqm and the same high standard of fixtures and fittings applies throughout the resort.
Dinner is served in the smart but relaxed Spice Restaurant where the menu consists of a range of the most popular Thai dishes from around the country. Prices are reasonable, especially the wine. There are twice-weekly themed poolside buffet dinners of 'East meets West' and 'Phuket Seafood BBQ'. Alternatively, any night of the week you can opt for a western or seafood barbeque served in the privacy of your suite, as we did.
The setting up takes a while before a sumptuous feast of snapper, prawns, crabs, rock lobster, Thai-wrapped herb chicken, mildly spicy salads and more traditional salad are prepared to your liking and served by a chef and waiter. Once you begin eating Khun Joe and Khun Ae slip into the background, leaving you to enjoy the unique setting and atmosphere.
Breakfast is quite a surreal experience as there is so much privacy here you can totally forget that you're staying at a 'hotel' so seeing other guests comes as quite a surprise. The buffet is a fine selection of Asian and western selections including eight different cheeses, smoked salmon, varied breads and pastries, the usual bacon, sausages, sautéed potatoes etc and real fresh juices (not from sweetened concentrate).
The facilities are first class; padded sunloungers and attentive staff members surround the main pool which has Jacuzzi areas and a separate children's pool. The spa, [comfort space], has treatments and products by renowned European spa company comfort zone which regularly wins accolades from international spa magazines. Additionally you'll find more traditional Thai offerings.. Spa facilities include a sauna and steam bath. Needless to say, the treatments on offer here are a fantastic way to revive your senses.
Different kinds of massage are available in addition to beauty treatments and more. Next to the spa is the gym, which is filled with modern equipment so there's no need for your fitness regime to slip. In addition to in-suite wireless internet, computers are available next to the spa and gym for internet access.
The resort has its own water treatment plant which provides taps in the resort with drinking water and to my knowledge this is a first for any resort in Thailand. Additionally, suites also have complimentary bottles of water. It should be noted that tap water in Thailand is not safe to drink.
Surin & Beach
Stunning Surin Beach is a mere stone's throw away however the hotel's buggy will take you from your suite direct to the beach where reserved sunloungers await. From November to April the water is flat and very clear, good snorkelling can be found at either end of the beach.
Surin doesn't have any of the seediness found in other parts of Phuket, it's quite the opposite which makes it a great choice for women travellers. Nightlife is as stylish as everything else here with chic wine bars, cool beach bars and trendy restaurants just a short walk away.
Overall Ayara Treetops pleases at many levels and with only 48 suites it's very intimate. Both the resort and suite layout has been designed to give maximum privacy, so much so that you hardly see other guests. The look and feel is uniquely Thai with beautiful furnishings and of course a large dose of warm Thai hospitality.
The resort doesn't have any activities for children, however babies are easily accommodated. This is a great hideaway - friends, honeymooners and couples will be really hard pressed to find a better hotel choice in Phuket and the rates seem very competitive when compared with other resorts nearby. Highly recommended.