Sala Pool Villa at the Westin Siray Bay, Phuket

This is a Continuation of “Trip Report – A Private Jet Experience: Alone in First Class on ANA and Thai, Plus Singapore First, a Suite, a Villa, and Some Incredible Food Porn”

Past installments:

Having landed in Phuket, grabbed our bags and walked through customs, we exited the terminal and found the man holding the Westin sign with our name on it. They called for the hotel car (which is actually outsourced to Hello Phuket). It’s a 45 minute drive each way, and we were charged THB2000 for the roundtrip in a Camry.I had originally booked the Sheraton Hua Hin, confirming an ocean view suite, with the idea that on this trip we wouldn’t need extra flights to and from Bangkok in order to have a beach break.

But the Sheraton Hua Hin emailed to let me know that throughout most of our stay the rest of our hotel would be taken up entirely by a wedding and we might not get the peaceful, relaxing experience we had hoped for. I posted online for recommendations of alternate hotels in the area, and the Sheraton came under some pretty fierce criticism for ‘being unable to meet its minimum quality standards’ and for being duplicitous, with suggestions that they really just wanted their suite back to be able to assign it to the wedding group.

Me, I had never complained or reached out to the Sheraton, I was happy to have the heads up that I wasn’t going to get the experience I was looking for and was happy to switch hotels. But in response to the online comments, the hotel reached out to me and offered to assist in securing alternate arrangements.

Unfortunately, the better rooms at the Intercontinental Hua Hun were already sold out, and that’s the newish property in the area (plus with my Royal Ambassador status I’d hope to leverage into an even better stay). The Hyatt is a bit tired, though under renovation. Ultimately, the General Manager of the hotel suggested switching over to the new Westin Siray Bayin Phuket. He’d get me confirmed into a Sala Pool Villa, which seemed just fine to me.

With that as our plan, we were on our way to the resort, and we arrived just as the sun began to set which created a beautiful effect.

We were seated for checkin, brought cold towels and a welcome drink.

We were shown to our room. Houston, we had a problem! We were given one of the pool villas in the front row, and a corner one closest to the lobby of the resort which they explained as being one of the premium offerings in the category. But the corner villa was completely open, you could look directly onto the balcony from one of the hotel pools and even from the main hotel restaurant. There wasn’t going to be any privacy!

And the villa balcony was angled towards the beach rather than out to sea, the view at low tide was actually quite… gross. That’s one of the strange things about the hotel, the beach is not attractive. I was really afraid that the beach would be that way throughout our stay, what I discovered is that low tied starts in the evening and late morning through mid-day the water comes in and is much more attractive. But when the water is farther out, the beach is left as something of an eyesore.

I returned to the desk to ask about changing rooms. When checking in I had been told that the resort was full, but when I enquired later it seemed that some other rooms “had just become available.” They came up with two to show me. One was on the other side of the property, near the spa. It was a much larger villa, though the view of the water was completely obscured by trees. And the second was just two doors down from our original room, it had much more privacy — couldn’t be seen from the restaurant and pool — and was angled out to see so no unpleasant beach view. Much better, we’ll take it!

The room had a small kitchen area with dining table that flowed into a living room with couch and wall-mounted flat screen TV. The bathroom was large with separate shower and tub. The shower had a glass wall looking out over the bay. There was a dressing room / open closet, and a large bedroom with another flat screen television, dresser, desk, and couch.

The outdoor deck was the highlight of the room, it’s own pool looking out over the bay and lounge chairs. That’s where we spent most of our time.

After a travel day and long drive we decided to stay in our villa the first evening. We ordered room service which came quickly, it was set up nicely at the dining table and was both reasonably priced and high quality. The only complaint that I had was the limited menu — there was more in Western than Thai choices. That was a disappointment. Room service throughout the stay though was always delivered promptly, in less time than promised. Two staff members would arrive by golf cart with food, come in and set everything up graciously. And they were always quick to return when called to remove the food after we finished.

The hotel is built into the side of a large hill, and plenty of rooms are long walks and even steep walks. So the hotel has golf carts whizzing about all the time, whether shuttling guests or maintenance or food. I’ve heard complaints that room service took too long to deliver, though that wasn’t my experience. It certainly helped that we were well situation on the resort — not up the hill at all, and relatively close to the center of the resort.

The only complaint that I had about the room was bugs. Now, a tropical environment means bugs for sure. Built into the hill as this is, with lush greenery, of course there will be bugs. I’m perfectly comfortable with that. But I don’t think they’ve paid enough attention to their treatment program. There were ant colonies living beneath our villa, so it’s no surprise that when we woke up the first morning there were ants all over the bedroom. We called for them to spray which kept them out for awhile, we just had to keep asking for additional spraying daily. They would congregate in certain spots on the deck, too, and again spraying helped keep them at bay. But the caulking around the base of the villa wasn’t done correctly, there were large holes for bugs to find their way into and nest, and once done you get more than just the usual bugs for the area.

Breakfast was both a highlight and one of the biggest disappointments of the resort, at the same time. The breakfast spread was huge and diverse, from noodles and dim sum to crepes, to Western food to various Asian varieties and also bread and even ice cream, plus fruit and smoothies and cooked-to-order eggs and French toast. On the other hand, service at the main restaurant where breakfast is served was abysmal. It might take just a few moments to be seated, and a coffee order would be taken, not only would coffee take a long time but good luck ever getting anyone’s attention again for a refill. You could go to the coffee station at the buffet, but I learned quickly that when they offered to bring you the coffee you were better off waiting for it instead because they would deliver it in a reasonable amount of time (or at all) only about half the time.

And this was the time that we saw most of the other guests at the hotel, and frankly we were mixing with a huge cross-section of people. That’s great, as far as it goes, but particularly par for the course was seeing folks turn up to breakfast in their bath robes. Not really what I’m looking for on vacation, if you want to eat breakfast in your bathrobe, that’s what room service is for.

The spa was fine, but nothing special. They take reservations efficiently. It’s definitely on the pricey side for the area, think $80 treatments for the most part.

There’s no special waiting area, either before or afterward, to ease into or out of your treatment. Welcome and parting drinks are done in the treatment bungalow. Instead of fresh flowers underneath your massage table, they have a bowl of pebbles. And when you’re through you’re escorted back to the desk for payment and things unceremoniously end. It’s just time to leave! In fact, on our second treatment one of the ladies who had given us a massage came over, interrupted the desk attendant who had me sign a bill so that she could check her schedule for the rest of the day. Not a relaxing experience. The treatments were fine, also, but not among the better ones I’ve had in Thailand.

I should note, that whether in the spa or in the restaurants or for room service, there was never any line to sign for additional gratuity, there was built in service charge and that’s it, which is appreciated.

Other service issues we ran into, we never received turndown service which was strange. And I had inquired in advance about taking a cooking class at the resort, I was told when they’re offered. So I asked a couple of days in advance to reserve this, the hotel had to look into it and got back to me with different times than I had been told earlier. I asked about the original times, which worked better for our schedule, and was told they would check and come back to me. They never did. Now this being Thailand I realize that lack of a response can just as easily be that they can’t do what I ask, rather than forgetfulness, but it’s still the type of negative that I do remember and I didn’t get to take the cooking class I wanted. I guess I could have adjusted my schedule to what they had most recently offered and followed up with them to do it, but I never got there. Opportunity lost.

I think the service problems here are best summed up by the leftover beer and wine bottles I saw in the morning, in the lobby lounge area, while walking to breakfast. Surely these had been sitting out for several hours, and not in an obscure spot, they were in direct eyeshot of the check-in desks. And yet there they sat.

The resort itself is beautifully landscaped, there’s tons of glass used and everything looks out on the bay which is beautiful as long as you’re not angled towards the beach during low tide. Pools were never crowded, beach was never crowded, gym is really quite nice and never crowded and this is evening during the weekend and during a heavily booked period.

And it’s really nice, lit up at night. (My pictures don’t do it justice.)

The property is removed from everything in the area, there’s nothing really walkable. Cabs aren’t cheap for the area but aren’t expensive at all by world standard. They’ll come someone from down the road, and about THB500 would get a cab into Phuket Town 15-20 minutes away, have the car wait for you for a couple of hours even, and bring you back to the resort. So while some complain about the ‘taxi mafia’ in the area which limits the ability to offer dirt-cheap car service pricing, I really didn’t have a beef.

I used a car to take me to Manhattan Tailors in town, my wife and I bought a good bit of clothing and I was thoroughly pleased with the service and quality. Their pricing is higher than what I’ve paid elsewhere in Thailand, even after bargaining (I probably could have pushed harder). But everything was well-done.

Initially I ordered two suits, with extra paints each, and a jacket along with four shirts. And my wife ordered a suit and a jacket. We returned to the tailor shop for our second fitting, and they came to our hotel for third and fourth fittings.

I was happy enough with the quality I was seeing when they came to the hotel that I ordered more, including matching pants to go with the jacket they had made for me.

Now, this isn’t a $99 suit place, or if it is that’s not what I got. I was definitely paying as much here for custom tailored as I’d be paying say off the rack at Macy’s (though without extra alterations charges or tax perhaps). For a better quality, better-fitting suit. I was pleased, even if I wasn’t getting dirt-cheap pricing.

Back at the hotel, the Asian restaurant was closed the first night I wanted to dine there. So we had dinner in the main restaurant where we’d had breakfast. They offered a pricey and extensive buffet, but I wasn’t up for that, we ordered off the menu instead.

Our last night we did have a very enjoyable meal at the Asian restaurant. Again, menu isn’t primarily Thai, dishes are from all over Asia but the service here was much better than in the main restaurant and the quality was also good.

The desserts were the highlight. I was thrilledto find someplace serving bua loy, though it was only ok (the best I’ve ever eaten was at the Oriental hotel in Bangkok). And the lemongrass sorbet was simply incredible, it was as though we were having a spa for dessert.

In the end, if the hotel would pay a bit of attention to the pest control treatments, then the standalone pool villas would be perfect places. If you never left your room, if you could order a wider variety of thai food from room service, then the property would be an amazing value and a special experience. If you did leave the room, you’d want a bit better service especially at the main hotel restaurant.

But coming into contact with other guests, with mediocre service, does take it down a notch and I’m not sure I’d return. In hindsight I think I’d return to the Le Meridien Khao Lak, about an hour and 20 minutes from the airport. At the point we’re driving so far, a little bit further would get a better value overall.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thanks so much for the continuing saga Gary. Love reading it. And your review is very thoughtful and appropriately frank. My sense is that for someone of great taste and experience such as yourself, commercially branded hotel chains that offer a higher end but mass-appeal product, are not cutting it for you, or if they once were, have ceased cutting it for you….I would think that it would be a rare IC, Westin, IC, Conrad, etc., that would meet your seasoned taste…Not sure if I am correct here..just a guess..

  2. @Zak there are very much mass branded properties that DO work well, e.g. club accomodations at the Intercontinental Bali are excellent, I absolutely love love love the Le Meridien Chiang Rai for instance. And I suppose the problem is that I cannot *afford* Aman properties…

  3. Wow – will have to try the Meridien Chang Rai with such support of someone such as yourself. Many thanks.

    In any event, the accommodations at the Westin looked very nice especially with the pool, and by no means inexpensive. Love brand new hotels!!

    If anyone from Aman is reading this, you must ask Gary to tour your resorts and write about it!

  4. Hah. I’ll caveat the LM Chiang Rai comment by saying that I stayed there shortly after open when there were only about 10 other guests at the resort. And their wonderful GM has since left to run the Andaman in Malaysia. So I cannot promise it’s as amazing as when I stayed, but extensive trip report here:

    And indeed, the Westin is a nice physical property. I loved the villa. Good service most of the time. Just need work on the little details, a bit more proactive followup, and start over with the staff in the main restaurant. Spa experience could be tweaked a little bit. The beach situation with low tide is just unfortunate.

  5. “…towards the beach rather than out to see.”

    You mean out to sea, right? 😉

    As for the hotel guests in their bathrobes: I agree with you on this matter, but it is understandable for the region. Most of these nouveaux riches Asians were farmers a generation or two ago, so their manners are still lacking.

  6. Don’t see a problem with bathrobes at breakfast in Asia. Perhaps they just came back from a swim. Anyway, wou’re in Asia afterall. If you saw this in the Caribbean or in Monaco, that’s another story.

    Were you comped the villa? Looked like a nice room!

  7. @John as I mentioned no I wasn’t comped the villa, I was however confirmed the upgrade in advance, trading the ocean suite at Hua Hin that I was booking.

  8. I thought I’d give an update based on my experience this month (Dec 2012). I stayed 3 nights at the Westin Siray Bay (it was my second time there) and 5 nights at the Le Meridien Khao Lak (my 4th time there.) This was the first time that I thought the Westin far out-performed the LM in terms of service. The LM has gone significantly down hill. I’ll actually be blogging about the new GM that was brought in to fix things. He changed the entire management team in late August/early September and they’ve got a lot of work to do! I had a far better experience at the Westin.

  9. @ Gary : Thanks for the detailed review of the hotel. I will be spending my HM there soon. Could anyone tell me if we get vegetarian food in the hotel and approx cost for the same, it would be very helpful for me.

    Thanks once again Gary.

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