Nowadays that’s all changed as a gathering influx of tourists and residents discover this formerly quiet corner of Phuket. However, the opportunities for unhurried, traffic-free cycling in beguiling surroundings is certainly still a major draw-card for Phuket’s lycra louts.
Peace and quiet are becoming rare in Phuket and are now found only in a few quieter corners, of which Mai Khao is definitely one. Here there’s still a reminder of our tropical island as it used to be. The sand stretches for kilometres, palms sway in the breeze and the sea is begging for you to swim.
Mai Khao remained undeveloped and largely ignored by tourists as late as the turn of the millennium and only two visionaries seemed to see any potential in “White Tree Beach”… one reptilian and the other human.
Leatherback and green sea turtles have laid their eggs on Mai Khao since time immemorial… literally so, since leatherbacks, which can weigh up to 700 kilograms, have been around for at least 150 million years.
The second Mai Khao visionary was one William Ellwood Heinecke, Chairman of Minor Group, who in partnership with the Marriott Group opened the JW Marriott on Mai Khao in 2002.
While seeing the great potential of Mai Khao, Bill Heinecke was also alive to the need to conserve the unspoiled environment, as this was a major attraction to visitors and one that would become increasingly compromised in Phuket as unregulated development proceeded.
Minor Group’s own developments by contrast were built with utmost care for the natural environment and Bill Heinecke instigated educational programs and the famous Mai Khao Turtle Foundation which became part of the ethos of his Mai Khao resorts and which continues to this day.
We had the pleasure of staying at another Bill Heinecke development, the gorgeous Anantara Resort, meaning literally “without end” in Sanskrit, which is dedicated to introducing its guests to the delights of Thai culture which Heinecke clearly reveres. Heinecke’s favourite architect/designer Bill Bensley worked his creative magic in landscaping and designing the gorgeous pool-villas spread around the verdant grounds and lagoons, complemented by wooden walkways, fountains and even splashing ducks who inhabit their very own “Duck Pool Villa”.
Complementing the luxury resort’s inviting accommodation is a host of services and facilities of the highest standard and for visitors who enjoy pedalling there’s even a cycling program that takes guests around the local area with guides and bikes provided.
We opted to cycle around the lakes of Mai Khao in the evening, spotting mud-bathing water buffalo and fat monitor lizards waddling about the banks. Then we cycled out onto the highway and turned left up towards Sarasin Bridge, keeping well into the side of the road shoulder to stay clear of the hurtling traffic. The old Sarasin Bridge stands below the new busy traffic lanes and provides a pleasant picnic and promenading spot for locals – the views across the expansive estuary to the west and into Phang Nga Bay to the east are glorious.
Back in the Anantara’s fabulous west-facing beach bar overlooking Mai Khao and their beautiful casuarina-fringed grounds we sipped our cooling drinks. We then enjoyed the most fabulous seafood supper sitting on the outdoor terrace of Anantara’s Sea.Fire.Salt restaurant – replete with a Salt Library, a Salt Sommelier and incredibly succulent seafood prepared and served on blocks of Himalayan salt. The outdoor fire-juggling show added a pyrotechnical touch of brilliance to the already magical conclusion to our ride and reiterated how very special this corner of Phuket is.
So, take a bow Mai Khao.
“Bicycling” Baz Daniel fell off his first bicycle aged three... a case of love at first slight. Since then he has spent a further 65 years falling on and off bicycles all over the world, but his passion endures. When not in traction, he found time to become Senior VP of the world’s largest advertising and communications group, finally retiring to Phuket in 2006. He has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adventures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.