Wan Issara spooned mouthfuls of anchovy pasta on my plate, swearing his life on it. "It's the best I've had," said the 36-year-old Thai hotelier, gesturing to my plate that's already filled with sushi on one corner and a strip of beef on the other. I was dining at a restaurant in a resort in southern Thailand, with the faint sound of waves crashing onto the shores of Natai Beach just a short stroll away. I was not expecting al-dente perfection in each succulently salty bite.
But Issara is someone you'd trust, even if he might be biased — I'm talking about the managing director of Baba Beach Club, where I had been spending my hedonistic weekend. Debuting last October, the resort (pardon me, "club", as it's called) lies north of Phuket, just 20 minutes from the airport. Sri Panwa's latest development, it features 18 suites and penthouses, 10 three-bedroom villas and one 5-bedroom villa on a strip of sand where the glitterati frequent. On my tour of the club, I was told that the Kardashians had visited a neighbouring resort months back.
A former pool boy at Lake Garda's Villa Feltrinelli, Issara knows Italian food, and then some. Throughout the night's courses that could silence both Italian and Japanese food snobs, the hotelier regaled me with stories of his electrifying, turbulent youth, which saw him living in the U.K., Miami, Italy and Switzerland. A fan of electronic, funk and soul music, he's that club kid who grew up. With more than 53,000 followers on Instagram, the Bangkok-based father-of-one is followed by the likes of DJs Dubfire, Nicole Moudaber, Carnage and Seth Troxler, as well as Singapore's captain of cool, entrepreneur Earn Chen. Lindsay Lohan comments on his photos. The Mean Girls star was also present at Baba Beach Club's first major party last November, where Swiss community label Die Empathie showcased six out of their 10 DJs from their stage lineup at Quest Festival Vietnam. Thailand's own Mendy Indigo joined the likes of Troja, Temo Sayin, MYLE, Tim Roemer and Singapore-based Amber H.
As you stroll to your duplex Gabana villa after checking in with an icy butterfly pea drink in one hand, you'll notice how open the compound is. There's nothing between you and the 200-metre stretch of beach save for a crop of mangrove trees — no barrier or gate that will slow down the flow from poolside to beachside. Designed with a Shino-Portuguese influence in mind (think: Shanghai Tang meets Ralph Lauren), villas face the pool, which is where guests tend to gravitate towards. Curated playlists stream through Funktion-One sound systems, touted to be the best in the world —festivals such as Glastonbury use the same.
Alike the resort's design, nothing is too loud, kitschy or brash. However, it attracts a particular crowd: Music-lovers who enjoy winding down and waking up with quality music, far from the EDM and Top 40 sounds that have plagued Phuket's main watering holes for decades. The duplex Gabana villa is fitted with a music player that lets you select playlists from DJ sets that have been painstakingly recorded by Baba Beach Club. Moudaber, a Lebanese-Nigerian producer and DJ — who we saw in Ultra Singapore 2016 — is one of the talents who've personally selected the playlists.
"It's a music lover's hotel for the professional hedonist," summed up Victoria Kroon, Baba Beach Club's creative manager as we chatted over drinks at sundown. The Thai-Swedish beauty (she's also a model) is responsible for the resort's entertainment and comes backed with experience from Bangkok house and techno festival Kolour In The Park and Café del Mar Phuket. Parties are kept to a maximum of 200 people for intimacy and exclusivity, but without anything chi-chi about it — just honest-to-goodness music fans.
While Kroon admits that almost everything in Phuket is designed to direct everyone to Patong or other touristy areas, Baba Beach Club is a catalyst for change. She aims to hook up local Thai DJs with artist managers so that they are promoted properly, and plans to build a studio in the resort so that touring artists can get creative on ground. A Baba Label is also in the works. Elsewhere, Baba Beach Club sponsors Wonderfruit Festival in Pattaya. "Everyone needs to help," commented Kroon when asked about how Phuket aims to grow its party scene, "including the underground DJs themselves who want to remain 'underground', but complain the underground is not popular enough".
There's already a shift in the demands of discerning music lovers who want more than your usual overcrowded ping-pong fare. Batik and Bermudos are small music communities that have cropped up. Consisting of local underground DJs as well as party promoters, they throw events at venues such as Home Kitchen at Kalim beach and Nai Harn Reggae Bar. Apart from the resort, Café del Mar on Kamala beach is another spot Kroon recommends.
Back in the villa at Baba Beach Club, turndown service sees lights change from the default setting to either 'Chill' or 'Sexy', and a quote is left on your pillow each evening along with a tiny shell. On my last night, it read "We can always begin again', by author Jack Kornfield. As I watched the sun disappearing into the horizon in streaks of purple haze, my ears picked up the beat of the resort's laidback luxe, vibing to Phuket's exciting new direction.
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