How could a humble fruit, which seemed to be classified somewhere between botulism and radioactive waste, be so threatening? Maybe I’d find out. Despite the seven-hour time difference, we’d arrived reasonably refreshed thanks to a lucky upgrade to Qatar Airways’ multi-award-winning business class service. This is pampering perfection at 35,000ft and their Qsuites with fold-flat beds, a la carte dining and blissful privacy have truly spoiled me for all future air travel.
The island of Phuket sits in the far south-west of Thailand jutting into the Andaman Sea and measures 30 by 13 miles. Walking out of the airport you’re embraced by the warmth of the Thai evening and welcomed with a slobbery wet kiss of humidity, all adding to the anticipation of this exotic location.
Next morning, we took a boat trip into the Phang Nga marine national park to the north, a shallow bay with coral reefs, mysterious caves, white sand beaches and 42 steep limestone islands scattered across the water like gnarled teeth.
Topped with mangrove forests, their vertical sides are covered with twisted stalactites which reach down, almost touching the water, giving the area a strange alien beauty. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith was shot here as was, famously, The Man With The Golden Gun, leading to one rock being renamed James Bond Island in its honour and becoming a huge tourist attraction.
After pausing for a swim in the warm sea, where shoals of tiny iridescent green fish flitted in the shallows, we headed back to our base, the luxurious Banyan Tree resort set among 89 acres of manicured lawns and palm-lined lagoons close to Bang Tao Beach, 30 minutes north of Patong.
The site began life as a polluted tin mine in 1989 and was transformed over five years by the planting of 7,000 trees. They cleansed the acidic soil and this year its 25th anniversary was marked by the opening of 25 new one-bedroom villas and eight three-bedroom residences.
The Banyan Tree complex is branded a Sanctuary For The Senses, and that’s no empty marketing speak. This is a truly sumptuous holiday experience – from the friendly, smiling staff to the outstanding facilities, accommodation and restaurants.
Even its 18-hole golf course was voted the best in Asia.
Every stylish villa on site comes with its own private pool, a huge king-size bed and, most comfortingly, a heated loo seat. And with such a spacious resort you never feel crowded by other guests – in fact, there’s a buggy service to transport you to reception or, like me, you can use one of the free bicycles to get around.
The Thai sunshine and lagoon setting immediately set your brain to relaxed mode and the aquatic theme is brought right into the centre of the hotel with deep blue swimming pools winding among palm trees and bars. The lake also provides a stunning backdrop for all the restaurants, with the chance to eat out under the stars.
We sampled the Watercourt (dim sum for breakfast, anyone?), Saffron (traditional Thai cuisine such as steamed snapper with chilli-lime sauce), Taihei (Japanese food served poolside), and Tre, a haven of exquisite fine dining overseen by chef Claudio Barzano who learned his trade under Giorgio Locatelli, one of the finest Italian chefs around. Every dish of his was a culinary work of art. Perhaps the height of indulgence though is the floating breakfast – a large circular tray groaning with pastries, salads, salmon, eggs, pancakes, waffles, sausages, hash browns, fruit, coffee and more.
It’s delivered to your villa, set free on your pool and guaranteed to break Instagram, should you care about such things.
Feeling guilty over my calorie intake, the next morning I kayaked round the lagoon before heading off to a punishing Thai boxing class.
After 40 minutes, I’d mastered the mind-boggling varieties of punching, elbowing, kneeing and kicking involved and danced around the gym throwing scything combinations at the practice pads.
It was a brilliant workout but by the end of it I was a physical wreck with arms of withered jelly.
Spa treatments are a key element of the Banyan Tree experience and I also enjoyed (honest!) a Balinese massage – being pummelled from toes to scalp for an hour.
Soothed by the tranquil setting and anaesthetised by jetlag, I’d be drifting off to sleep only to be abruptly woken by the vice-like hands of my masseuse digging into some deeply hidden muscle tissue. All gain despite the pain – wonderful.
In another treat for the senses, we attended a Thai herbal workshop where, under the instruction of the delightful Sopida, we learned about the therapeutic qualities of various spices before combining them via pestle and mortar into a small jar of aromatic potency. Well, to be honest, we mashed them up cluelessly at random, but it still made for an instant gift to take home.
The final outing of our stay was a trip to the nearby Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, a lush 30-acre site where injured, sick, old and abused elephants are rescued and offered a safe haven for the rest of their lives.
A national icon, the Thai elephant has a distinctive pale orange pigment and there are only about 4,000 still left in the wild.
The Sanctuary offers them relief from toiling in the logging or tourism industries. It can cost more than £40,000 per elephant to buy them out of slavery.
All that was left was to crash-land back to reality after days of surreal, sensual cosseting. And I never did get to sample any durian fruit. Although, given it’s meant to be like a combination of rotting fish, pig manure, turpentine and old socks, perhaps that was a blessing.
Banyan Tree offers Serenity Pool Villas at Banyan Tree Phuket resort from £360 per night on B&B (banyantree.com). Qatar Airways flies from Heathrow and Gatwick to Phuket via Doha from £711 return; departures from Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff also available (qatarairways.com). More info at tourismthailand.org.