If you've been following The Innbox for awhile now, you've probably picked up on the fact that I'm not a big fan of resorts. My main reasons for avoiding them being that they are expensive, often devoid of any personality, and too insulated from the actual place you're there to visit. I know, I know, #notallresorts— that's exactly what this review is about.
Since my birthday was coming up, I really wanted to treat myself. What would make a self-proclaimed hotel nerd happier than spending the entire day in a beautiful, well designed space? Though I've stayed in many hotels over the years, I'm always balancing time relaxing at the place I'm staying at with adventuring out into the city I'm visiting. This time, I didn't want to feel pressured to go outside. I wanted to just be able to fully relax and enjoy myself. Which is when it started to occur to me... this might be why some people do the resort thing.
It kind of makes sense, right? If you're going to spend the money to stay at a resort, you might as well... stay at the resort. We still booked a few days in Phuket at a cheaper hostel for the days when we would actually go out and explore the island.
I decided on the SALA Phuket because it was an outlier in my research. Most of the resorts in Phuket that actually had unique, interesting looking suites were generally in the over $450/night range. While the more affordable resorts all had that standard sleek, minimalist look which I know I could experience at the average hotel for much less. I liked the SALA's use of patterns and their beautiful balance of indoor and outdoor spaces. I also liked that SALA is a home-grown Thai hospitality company, as opposed to the plethora of international chains that have made their way to Phuket.
We arrived at the Sala Phuket at exactly 4 PM— their designated check-in time. After being greeted with a refreshing glass of lemongrass iced tea and a short wait, we were escorted to our suite by one of the hotel staff. They gave us a quick tour of the premises and then left us to enjoy ourselves in our new space.
In case guests arrive before 4 PM, the hotel also has a designated guest lounge and library for people to hang out in while they wait for their room to be ready.
The Sala Phuket offers a vast range of different room options, from the most affordable balcony rooms (starting at a little over $112/night) to expansive two-bedroom pool villas (up to $450). We opted for the Sala Pool Suite, the resort's most popular option at just under $250/night which nabs you a glamorous little enclave with its own private pool.
Upon entering the suite the first thing we saw was its centerpiece— a bright blue pool that's the perfect size for two to four people to comfortably enjoy. Directly across from the entrance is a narrow, glass windowed building which serves as the suite's bedroom.
The bedroom has an extremely spacious layout: there's a large king bed right in the middle of the room, with plenty of space for a desk on one side of it and a sofa and coffee-table on the other. There is a narrow walkway behind the bed reserved for the mini-bar as well as closet space. I was relieved to find that one of the closets had a full-length mirror in it; an amenity that should be guarantee but isn't always.
Like many hotels in Asia, electricity in the suite is controlled by your key. While inside we always managed to stay comfortably cool thanks to the 5-speed fans, which can be controlled for either side of the room. The room's small living area also includes a comfortable sofa which I could easily see being used as an additional bed for a small child. In the middle of the day when it was too hot to be outdoors we retreated inside the breezy bedroom and spent the next few hours lounging around watching cable TV movies on the flatscreen before it was cool enough for another dip in the pool.
The outdoor bathroom is one of the suite's highlights— particularly the glamorous soak tub that overlooks the pool. The tub even comes stocked with Himalayan bath salts and a tray that's perfect for balancing a glass of wine or a book on while you enjoy your soak. The only downside to the bath situation is that because it's so big, it took a considerable amount of time to fill the tub with water.
For quicker rinses there's also an outdoor shower on a wooden platform to the right of the bath tub. There's an optional privacy curtain you can use around it if needed, although when not in use it adds to the suite's palatial ambiance.
Kitty corner from the shower is the outdoor toilet, which feels quite private thanks to its clever placement. It's also conveniently located by one of the side doors in the bedroom suite for quick access. The only downside to the outdoor toilet situation is, unsurprisingly, the potential for unwanted 'guests'. In the middle of the night I woke up really needing to go and came outside to find a huge cicada just chilling in front of the toilet. I tried to hold it for another ten minutes, hoping the bug would go away on its own. I tried to flap a towel at it and it wouldn't move. Eventually I had to resort to swiftly reaching around and grabbing the bum-gun (that's the water hose next to most toilets in Asian countries) and forcefully spray the cicada off the platform and back into the nearby bushes.
I do want to make it clear though that despite the unwanted intruder, the bathroom is impeccably clean. Cleaner than many indoor bathrooms in hotels I've stayed at. I think the resort does an amazing job at maintaining a space that's ripe for insect life— we are staying on an island after all, so it's to be expected. There were occasionally baby geckos hanging around the walls of the toilet area but they are always harmless and if anything help to deter other pests from the area. For anyone who really can't deal, some of the less expensive rooms and suites do have indoor bathrooms that look just as nice.
To the left of the mirror is a spacious lounge area, outfitted with the same plush pillows as the couch indoors. After building up an appetite from swimming we'd enjoy our room service out here before heading right back to the pool.
The food at SALA certainly ranks in my top hotel food experiences, and was on par with what I would expect for a resort. Their breakfast, which was inclusive with our rate, consists of both a vast breakfast buffet and your choice of a made-to-order entree from their menu. I ordered the salmon bagel which seemed to be one of their most popular choices at breakfast.
The buffet included a cereal/yogurt/granola bar at one end of the room, a hot food bar at the other, a vegetarian/mezze and cold cut station in the middle, a fruit stand, and a toast station with a vast array of spreads to choose from. That's not including the drinks where in addition to your choice between their signature teas (roselle and lemongrass) they also offered vegetable tonics in shot form and — the crème de la crème — a complimentary bloody mary bar.
We took advantage of room service a couple of times during our stay— and I have to admit I actually preferred the room service meals I ordered to the meal we ate when we actually ventured down to the restaurant for dinner. For room service I ordered their lamb meatballs one day and their open faced steak sandwich the next, both of which were delicious.
The menu options are expanded if you physically go to the restaurant for dinner. I would characterize the majority of the menu as a modernized spin on classic Thai dishes. We ordered their fancy version of Miang Kham and a curry dish and while both were good— I could pay a fraction of the price for the same dish at the local street stalls in our neighborhood in Bangkok. So for me the highlights of their menu were the more distinctly western dishes that I can't easily get elsewhere in Thailand.
It's funny, since I normally stay in hotels with cozy little rooms, I find myself hanging out in the common areas more often. This was not the case at the SALA Phuket. With our own private pool and outdoor lounging area and room service available, we had little reason to leave the privacy of our suite outside of going to breakfast. That said, there are some really nice facilities here that I would've taken more advantage of if we had a longer stay.
There's a small but clean on-site gym on the hotel grounds with a few machines and hand-weight racks. When I saw it I definitely thought to myself "I'm totally going to work out here" but then I went back to my suite and drank a glass of wine instead.
In the same area as the gym there's also a hair salon, spa, and a sauna.
The resort's restaurant has both an indoor and outdoor area, with plenty of lounge seating and a roof deck. There's also two communal pools. The restaurant and pool are located right by the property's private beach. Compared to other beaches across Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia, it's not particularly noteworthy but it is clean and peaceful.
We didn't have too much interaction with hotel staff outside from check-in/out and food service but everyone we interacted with was really pleasant. I was also really impressed with their turndown service— aside from turning down the sheets they also come and set up mosquito repellant lights by your bed and also in the outdoor bathroom area, as well as leave you a bottle of one of their homemade teas to enjoy.
In addition, because we stayed during my birthday, the hotel sent a complimentary chocolate cake to our suite! It was super fudge-y and surprisingly big (I thought they'd send, like, a slice but it was the whole damn cake). I really appreciated the thoughtful touch.
The SALA Phuket is conveniently located very close to the airport, in an area with a few other resorts like the Renaissance Phuket and JW Marriott Phuket. There's not much to do within walking distance, and no real reason to venture out to the immediate area around the resort. I didn't mind this since I wanted to justify the cost of the resort by spending a lot of time in it, and there was little temptation to leave.
You would definitely need to hire a car or cab to come and take you to many of the popular sites on the island.
I'm genuinely surprised that a resort of this size seems so inaccessible for wheelchair users. At the very least our suite was: the entrance requires going up a short flight of steps, there's another short step elevating the outdoor bathroom area from the pool, and then a narrow walkway between the pool's edge and the entrance to the bedroom. They may have other suites that are more accessible but I haven't seen it advertised anywhere. Also, I can't recall any paved ramps for accessing the private beach.
I would recommend SALA Phuket as a "starter" resort for folks like me who aren't quite sold yet on the resort experience and want to try it out for a reasonable price. While $250/night is definitely no chump change, when considering resorts in Phuket, SALA is definitely one of the more accessible venues— and it's a good deal when taking into consideration the space, private pool, and inclusive breakfast. If you're still not convinced you can take a look at how far $200 would get you in New York City for a comparison.
To save even more money you could go for one of their balcony suites, sans pool, which start at a little over $100/night in low season.
While I can't see myself doing the resort thing for every beach trip, I'm definitely considering staying at other SALA locations throughout Thailand. Their Ko Samui and Khao Yai locations are particularly tempting. I love that the design is slightly different in each location but still has that mix of romance and modernity that is distinct to the SALA brand.
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