happy endings

paresa wedding

It seemed propitious that on my last afternoon at Paresa (my final day in Thailand, for that matter) an adorable couple tied the knot on the high lanai while I was having lunch. A new beginning twinned with a happy ending; it was a perfect bookend to my adventures in Southeast Asia. Now, to packing.

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loose-limbed and light

sunset spa

I was wrong about that massage being redundant the other day.  So wrong, in fact, that I’ve retreated back into the spa at Paresa today for something called Thai Boran Massage, an ancient Thai-style massage that dates back 2,500 years. Using no oil, the rhythmic treatment utilizes scented herbal pouches instead, concentrating on pressure points and stretching to stimulate circulation and relax muscles. I’ve had more than my fair share of massages but this turns out to be 120 minutes of bliss. When all is said and done, I feel amazing: relaxed, yet energized; loose-limbed and light. Even better, I’m not left dripping in oil.

herbal boran pouches

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in the kitchen with noon

in the kitchen with noon

Because a visit to the local market did nothing but whet my appetite for Thai food, I press-ganged Chef Noon into a brief cooking lesson in the show kitchen at Paresa. Three courses plus dessert sounded a little daunting at first but with lots of room to spread out, ingredients at the ready, and the guiding hand of Chef Noon leading me step by step, it was enlightening. Nothing too fancy; just a beginners excursion into Rattanakosin, the modern era of Thai cooking, which happens to feature a strong Chinese influence: woks, deep-frying, noodles. Goong Sarong would be our starter, a simple yet visually impressive prawn marinated in pepper, salt, and coriander root, wrapped in vermicelli noodles and deep-fried. Next, we moved on to a red curry. The secret, I learned, is to first cook the curry paste in a little oil, add your meat – we used duck breast – then coconut milk and bring it to a boil. Take it off the heat and stir in eggplant, grapes, pineapple, to allow the flavors to be drawn into the soup. Bring it to a boil a second time, adding chilis, basil, and a soupcon of ever-present fish sauce and remove from heat again. The whole process takes about five minutes. Letting the curry rest infuses the broth with the fruits and herbs, giving it a heady smell and marvelously rich taste. (And in so short a period of time – I was amazed.) Chicken stir-fry was the most easily accessible of the courses: deep fry lightly breaded chicken pieces until golden brown and allow them to drain on a paper towel. Heat a little oil in a wok, quickly frying peppers, onion, chili, and cashews. Season with oyster sauce and soy before mixing in the cooked chicken and voila, dinner is done. The results were more impressive than I had imagined, but dessert is where things really got creative. Tiny sweet Thai bananas battered in rice flour and coconut, deep-fried and served with a scoop of ice cream. There was enough batter left over that I thought I might show the chef a few tricks of my own. Thickening the batter with a bit more coconut I tossed spoonfuls into boiling oil, rolling the resulting pillows in a mix of white sugar and coconut. Beignets, I told her: fried dough balls. A bit frightened at first, Chef Noon and Fern, the curious Sales Manager who stopped in to watch us, soon gobbled them up, proving that in the kitchen we’ve all got something to learn.

mise en place

curry, soy sauce, spices, sugar

vermicelli wrapped shrimp

thai red curry with duck

chicken stir fry with cashew

deep fried banana

my beignets

fern with chef noon

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chef’s market

banzaan

Ok, I lied. After lazing around for two days I needed to get off my duff and do something, so I hijacked the chef from Paresa to take me on her morning rounds to the local market in neighboring Patong. And what a far cry from Siem Reap it was! The banzaan, or fresh market, is a contemporary two-story affair with specific sections for meat, seafood, vegetables, flowers, and a bizarre-looking selection of fruits. Everything is neatly presented – even the pigs hanging upside down are artistically arranged – and more importantly, nobody is scaling fish or beheading chickens in their bare feet. It was like Citarella, albeit with a more herbaceous, Asian flair.

black crab

half chicken

strange fruit

curry paste

super squid

sorting herbs & chilis

sweets

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morning moon

morning moon

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paresa

paresa 3

Perched high on the cliff side, over azure blue waters and a picturesque panorama of the Andaman Sea, Paresa is more than just a hotel: it’s Phuket’s best kept secret. Imagine the Swiss Family Robinson, if they were smart enough to build themselves a treehouse made of teak in the tropical forest, an outdoor shower, a fully stocked bar, and a private infinity pool cantilevered over the cliff, and you begin to get a sense of the luxury adventure that awaits. Add a team of Angels on call to do your bidding – plus a private beach club along the marvelously under-crowded Kamala Beach – and your search for the perfect idyll has ended. Or at least my search has ended. What need have I with the rest of this island when my jungle villa awaits? Cocooned, the outside world falls away. And while I’m due at the spa any minute now, for the first time in my life I’m thinking a massage might actually be redundant.

kamal beach - paresa

paresa 2

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waking up in phuket

waking up in phuket

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