Hamptons with a twist
IT'S 8am on this brilliant sunny day along a pristine stretch of beach at the height of Thailand's tourist season, and the only footprints in the sand are mine.
Even the armies of scuttling soldier crabs indignantly stand their ground as this lone walker dares intrude upon their territory.
As far as the eye can see, north and south, there's not a soul.
Out to sea, the horizon is clear save for two local fishermen in tiny canoes. No jet-skis or clattering longtail boats.
Ironically, just down the road is Phuket International Airport, gateway to the most popular resort island in South East Asia, busily disgorging some of its four million passengers a year in a non-stop frenzy of jets, buses, taxis, trolleys, touts and tourists.
Overwhelmingly, the hordes head south, to vibrant Phuket's myriad holiday hot spots along the island's west coast, mostly unaware that simply by making a 180-degree turn northwards from the airport, a different experience awaits.
In about 15 minutes, on Route 4 north, you've reached the start of 75km of jungle-fringed, golden coastline, peaceful, relatively under-developed and unspoiled, with a smattering of elite resorts, pool-villas, and hotels, and a nicely-balanced supply of budget accommodation.
Right now, it's basking in the recently-coined name of Thailand's Hamptons after New York's summer playground of the rich and famous.
This is Phang Nga (province) West Coast, popularly known (incorrectly) as Khao Lak which in fact is the little town and resort area at the northern end of the strip.
Phang Nga West Coast (Khao Lak, if you insist) owes its original popularity to the nearby (two hours by boat) spectacular Similan group of islands, rated in the world's top-10 dive spots.
Today, having emerged less than 30 minutes ago from Phuket airport, I am on a lonely morning stroll-of-discovery on a deserted Natai beach.
This is home to the luxury boutique resort, Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga - one of three five-star properties in a 20km radius.
(Aleenta management purposely added the word "Phuket" as a cute neighbourly marketing ploy).
Natai Beach also has several high-end private villas built decades ago by some of Thailand's wealthiest families.
On vacant sites, fishermen's shacks have taken up temporary residence, and the smouldering ashes of small cooking fires send wisps of smoke into the air.
"We are a long way from being swamped with tourists," says Aleenta executive Mongkol Jancha, "but when development comes, we pray that the ambience will not suffer."
You might catch a glimpse of one of Thailand's most celebrated (and glamorous) business women, Anchalika Kijkanakorn, owner of the intimate, award-winning Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga complex of pool villas and ocean-view suites.
The US-educated Anchalika, 39, also owns the five-star Aleenta in Hua Hin south of Bangkok, and two swish properties in Koh Samui.
And while New York's playboys and girls roam the Long Island Hamptons in search of ultimate indulgences, they might find it hard to match the Aleenta's advertised Romantic Surprise Package: "A fragrant pillow filled with lavender between your sheets ….. a snore-reduction pillow, with sculptured memory and ergonomic bolster."
Or, says the blurb…. "Why not surprise your man with a 45-minute kick-boxing session, and 30-minute foot massage?"
For the blushing young bride-groom, a surprise indeed.
GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT THAILAND
Thai Airways International flies non-stop from Brisbane to Bangkok with connections to Phuket: thaiairways.com.au
Transfer to Aleenta Resort from Phuket airport (25 minutes by private) car costs about $45.
Aleenta Phuket-Phang Nga won four Bloomberg International Hotel awards in 2011 for Best Small Hotel and Best Sustainable Hotel in Thailand/Asia Pacific: aleenta.com.
The environmentally conscious resort operators are involved in a coral reef regeneration project off Natai Beach and in preserving endangered leatherback turtles.
Eating and outings
Aleenta's executive chef Jean Louis Leon's French-Asian cuisine is a highlight.
Night owls, forget it. The nearest all-in bar scene is in Bangla Road Patong, an hour drive south. Instead, opt for romance and sunsets.