February 18, 2013

Mining History: A stay at Phuket’s Indigo Pearl Resort


 – Michael Travers

From the High Street to the entrepots of the tropics, the boutique hotel phenomenon that is sweeping the world has seen some stellar additions to the world of hostelry, and apart from keeping the likes of Philippe Starke in cigarette money in perpetuity; they are increasingly changing the culture of staying the night. Phuket is the prime breeding ground for this fashion and the Indigo Pearl, with its mix of heavy industry design and feather pillows, is one of the island’s unique leading lights.

Long before there was a tourist industry in Thailand, Phuket was a rich and prosperous island thanks mainly to the vast reserves of tin that were mined by the thousands of Malay, Burmese, Indian and Chinese immigrants who set an indelible seal on the island’s culture. The late twentieth century eventually put paid to the metal’s desirability, the industry ground to a halt, and the tools of the trade were left to rust.

But, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and with so much of the rich mining legacy simply hanging around, when it came time for the owners of Indigo Pearl to renovate their Phuket beach resort they simply went on a scavenger hunt and brought history back to life. Having had a multi-generational history in the tin-mining industry it was a no-brainer for the hotel’s owners to capitalize on their connections and so, after recruiting interior designer, Bill Bensley and artist John Underwood, the hotel was transformed from a normal day-to-day Thai beach resort into a dynamic, post-industrial hotel experience that runs 240 volts through the imagination with every turn of a reinforced concrete corner.

Subtle it is not, and futurist homage is paid to the workingman in a style akin to early Stalinist propaganda; a celebration of sweat and toil, the rivet, the screw, and most importantly the very foundations of industry - concrete and steel. Walls are (un)finished in rough textured cement, columns are wrapped in thick plates of metal with exposed fastenings, and a veritable treasure chest of found objects and materials - twisted and imagined into all manner of functioning and thought provoking lamps, tables, shapes, sculptures and furnishings - fill the public spaces.

Interestingly, mixed in with the heavy use of metal and the vast industrial sculptures that fill the hallways, the traditional high-pitched Thai-designed lobby is littered with oversized cushioned sofas in deep blue hues that invite guests out into the public spaces to recline and become a living part of the hotel. In an extra post-modern touch, purple and blue neon lights emanate from the floor beneath the soft furnishings to move even further into the world of futurist cool.

Of course, bedrooms are where guests will spend most of their time and comfort has been given equal billing inside the machine. Guests can choose from an array of room options and prices, through suites and villas right up to the showpiece Bensley Suite. Everyone is treated royally, however, and all the rooms are large and inviting and flow beautifully between sleeping, bathing and dressing areas with loads of textures, colours and visual sensations to be felt throughout. Nothing has been left to simplicity.

Culture and wow factor aside, the resort’s obligation is still to provide guests with fun and pleasure in the sun and they do that in spades with three swimming pools, a cooking and language school, their newly opened ‘tree house’ spa, a kids club and a wide array of tours and expeditions around the island. There are two fine-dining restaurants, and several bars, which also follow the industrial design theme.

Such is their uniqueness that they attract many outside visitors creating their own up-market buzz in-house making the long trek into Patong an option rather than a necessity. Or simply walk the gardens and enjoy the art. Indigo Pearl is indeed unique and will leave guests with more from their Phuket experience than go-go bars and a suntan. Everyone wants to be different and this resort gives travellers the perfect name to drop into dinner party conversation; their low cost-gem, their private slice of individuality, and a testament to their own pioneering spirit and passion for living la differance. FRV


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