Just a few minutes south of the airport in Phuket, The Slate is a real treat for the design conscious. If you tell someone that you’re staying at The Slate, those with their fingers on the luxury travel pulse will recognise it as the new incarnation of the famous Indigo Pearl resort, but the recent refurbishment has swept aside the aging decor and replaced it with an exciting combination of quirky industrial references to the local tin mining history and authentic Thai style.
Tin, known as ‘black gold’, was abundant in Phuket, with the ore often being found alongside slate, and tin mining was a key industry and wealth creator for the area throughout the last few centuries. One of the descendants of a major mining family, Wichit Na-Ranong, is now the owner of The Slate and it was his interest in his family history that motivated the rebranding of the hotel. Having enlisted internationally acclaimed architect Bill Bensley, The Slate has really raised the bar for contemporary design in Thai luxury travel. The lobby is an eclectic mix of salvaged tin mining relics and coloured glass mobiles, all set against cool grey stone. Bright heliconia flowers are somewhat of an emblem and pop up in unique arrangements around the hotel – they even have a gallery dedicated to these designs.
Also in the lobby is a gallery of contemporary art, a boutique for purchasing products used in the Coqoon Spa and a shop which sells literally EVERYTHING that can be found in the hotel, from cutlery to lighting to beds. Behind the lobby is the culinary school kitchen, at which guests can take classes in a range of cuisines, and Tin Mine, the most central of the food options at which breakfast is served. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the best breakfast I have ever seen at a hotel. As well as the usual fresh fruit station and endless cereal, deli and bread options, there was a chef ready to prepare pancakes, crepes and waffles to order and an open kitchen serving up hot food as fast as you could request it (although, as with everywhere else in Thailand, locals do need to be reassured that I do eat spicy food and I do, in fact, want fresh chili in my omelette). There’s more… heaped dishes of crispy bacon, a range of Thai and Chinese options, pastries and croissants piled high, and they will even have a go at making unusual requests (you might need a couple of attempts to explain that you just want porridge made with coconut milk).
I have not yet mentioned the room. Our Pearl Bed Suite was a three minute walk from the main building but very convenient for access to the big adults-only pool, distinct from the family pool in that the bar is swim-up rather than tucked around a corner (a third pool is for ages 14 and up, providing a nice haven for those who have slightly older children) and the depth is quite sufficient for a proper swim. The room has the same eclectic design that characterises the rest of the hotel, with royal blue and grey furnishings against more stone walls. An enormous day bed and oversized stone bath sit on the ample balcony which, although it has a marvellous view across the trees seemed to be completely shielded from the view of other guests. Cute touches, such as industrial wheels for the taps and custom-made tin vessels for the toiletries, were reminders of the attention to detail that has gone into this refurbishment.
It would be quite possible to spend a week or two at The Slate without leaving the property. There are many activities available – apart from those already mentioned, private dinners can be organised on the beach, the Nai Yang Sea Bees Diving Centre offers marine exploration from snorkelling to advanced SCUBA sites, and there are facilities for tennis, yoga, sea sports, biking and Muay Thai (Thai boxing) classes. You can visit the beach, where you can confidently abandon your personal belonging on loungers and beanbags within the hotel grounds while you scurry across a tiny lane to the glorious empty sands. There are several bars, including the very chic Rebar and the Tonkah Tin Syndicate sports bar (which has pool tables, sports on TV and a potentially dangerous free-flowing local rum offer on Thursday…), and restaurants, including Rivet, Dirty Monstera and – for the health conscious – the Underground Café. Offsite, there are cultural activities, such as visiting local temples and visiting the markets of Phuket town.
Even the Coqoon Spa offers a unique and quirky experience, as we found when we went for an aromatherapy massage in ‘The Nest’. While selecting our scented oils, we first spotted ‘The Nest’ from the spa reception. It was a wicker construction that looked like it had been build by a giant weaver bird. Handmade by local experts, The Nest is reached by climbing about fifty steps and comprises a twin treatment room and a bathroom, both wicker constructions, joined by a small bridge. Fittings inside The Nest are definitely on the luxurious side of rustic, but the feeling of being enveloped by nature is quite captivating. My massage was very soothing and I found the scent I had chosen – bergamot – was perfect for making me feel invigorated and refreshed at the same time. This facility would be a charming and romantic activity for a couple, but it suited us as friends very well too and we were talking about it for some time afterwards.
The other showstopper at The Slate is their flagship restaurant, Black Ginger. As the night draws in, a passage to the restaurant is lit by electric blue, backlit shields, and diners pass through this to a wooden jetty flanked by huge flaming torches. They must then board a pulley raft, complete with more torches, to cross the water to the restaurant, which sits on its own decked area in the middle of a small lake.
Stepping into the restaurant is like opening a Japanese black lacquer box full of glittering crystal – the chandeliers are immense but the lighting is exceptionally dim. The menu – if you can see the silver text on the black paper – is full of refined Thai delights and we made several selections. One highlight was the southern style curry, gaeng poo bai cha ploo, a yellow curry with crab and cha-plu leaves that was rich and fragrant. We also enjoyed a warmly spiced chicken stir-fry with dried chilies and cashews, a crisp, fresh salad of barracuda fillets with chili, mint and coriander, and some soft shell crab with a tangy relish. Ice-cream was sufficient for dessert after we had almost reached bursting point, but the usual super-sweet Thai puddings were also on offer. After dinner, we took a cocktail to the outdoor bar and dodged mosquitoes until it was time to board the raft again and return to our room.
The Slate has a wonderful mix of traditional Thai features that pay homage to the local tin mining industry and striking contemporary design touches. With the many activities on offer, a stay here is a constant voyage of exploration, peeking around hidden corners and finding a variety of secluded nooks or vibrant food and beverage options. For those who pass through Phuket and are looking for something with a real wow-factor, the exciting design concept and the incredible luxury experience at The Slate will leave you in awe about the wonderful treasures you can dig up!
Nai Yang Beach
116, Moo 1, Sakhu, Thalang