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All reviews across the river private pool main pool phuket airport beach resort general manager excellent food through luxury escapes local area special thanks stayed nights attention to detail food and beverage relais chateaux every guest fresh fruit highest quality
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Reviewed 26 February 2015

We had a five night stay booked in Feb that we extended to nine nights due to an issue with other accommodation on our trip. We had also stayed in the Wanakarn the previous March.

Frode the Wanakarn’s Norwegian GM is a star, we contacted him about bringing forward our arrival date due to an issue with our current accommodation, Frode sprang into action and confirmed they could accommodate us and could send a car that evening to collect us if we wanted, with a real and genuine concern that we minimise the impact to our holiday.

Within a couple of hours we were in the comfy confines of the Wanakarn's S Class Mercedes and on route.

We were warmly greeted on arrival as repeat guests at reception, given a whistle stop tour of the resort on the way to our villa with simple checks that we remembered where the fitness suites, spa, business facility’s, shop and on site nurses office were. Once we got to the room the checking was as easy with our passports and card taken for processing, and returned to us while at the bar about fifteen minutes later, one very nice point was that we were reminded that our villa was the mirror image of the one we stayed in last year and not to get confused in the night and bump into anything and hurt our selves.

We received an equally warm reception in the bar / dinning area from the F&B team, with Frode coming over while doing his evening check in with the guests to ensure we were okay and happy with our room. With the same concern that all was well and that it was good to have us back from the executive chef “Jib”.

All in all it was a thoroughly pleasant and heartfelt welcome back to the Wanakarn.

On to the resort its self, The Wanakarn is a small resort, 14 detached pool villas laid out in pairs with a adjoining doors in the pool areas allowing lager groups to be accommodated. The pools while not large enough for laps, allow private sunbathing and keeping cool if the main pool or either beach is not your cup of tea.
The villas are well appointed with TV / Blu Ray player and stereo, espresso machine. The AC is an indirect affair and allows the villa to remain cool without direct cold air being blown onto you and it’s very quiet in its operation. I think that the only thing that would improve the villas would be having a separate living and sleeping area rather than being open plan as this would allow early risers to take tea or coffee without impacting their partner. House keeping manage to perform the magic of keeping the room clean and replenished with towels etc. without being seen and lovely chocolates each night on turndown.

The main pool is easily large enough for laps and has sunbeds on one side with 10-12 beds, which are spaced quite closely together but with small “hedges” in between to allow for privacy, this was never a real issue as during our time there I don’t think more than 6 pool beds including ours were ever occupied. I spoke with Frode about the beds and he advised me there are some plans in place to rejuvenate and expand the pool decking area.

There are two beaches, one in front of the pool & bar / dining areas, set on a tidal river inlet with a sprinkling of beds and shades. The second, ocean beach is a short boat ride across the river. The second beach is staffed from morning to sunset and drinks and food can be ordered and delivered by boat as needed. As these are made freshly to order you might want to allow a little longer than if ordering around the pool.

With the choice of villa pool, main pool, river or ocean beach it’s hard to imagine a situation where you couldn’t find somewhere to relax in the sun while staying here. Another nice little touch is the regular cool boxes that are delivered while you are sunning yourself which contain cold water, cold towels and fresh fruit which seem arrive every 2 or so hours.

The open air bar / dining area is well stocked and staffed, with some great food options, I can personally recommend the Wagyu Steak and Eggs, Wanton Soup or Thai Omelette for breakfast. For lunch there are a number of western and Thai options none of which have disappointed. This is reflected in the evening menu, Frode took great delight in telling me of the six-month quest to perfect the BBQ sauce for the comfort ribs Jib and he added to the menu this year, be warned these are real cave man sized comfort food ribs.

One of the many assets of the Wanakarn is Jib the executive chef, who is keen to meet all the guests, tailor the menu to their tastes and dietary requirements and shows her passion for all things food and shares her experiences of working in some of the top kitchens around the world.

Two instances of this spring to mind.
One when I accidentally mentioned to Frode on our arrival that it was our wedding anniversary, Jib and he managed to get a special desert created for us with no notice.
The second was when Jib asked if there was anything we would like not on the menu we joked being English our national dish is now curry and how was she with Indian food. “Oh – No!” Jib cried but she didn’t bat an eyelid and said she would go shopping for ingredients later in the week. A few days later Jib reminded us and said their pastry chef was working on our Nan breads and it was “curry” night. The food was a great Indian / Thai fusion and more than met our expectations, my wife is convinced that the dishes should be added to the permanent menu.

The staff are a true credit to the resort, with a large number of them from the local area with little prior experience of the F&B service industry, with a smaller number of staff coming from Cambodia with more formal F&B training. The way the staff support each other and look to cross train shows a clear commitment to improving their skills.
So yes as some other reviewers have noted there are sometimes some communication issues but I have never felt these have impacted our experience, Frode has managed to create a team that care passionately about the guest experience, building a relationship and rapport with guests rather that simply serving them and the team to a man (and woman) seem to take it as a personal failure if they can’t meet the guests needs.

During our stay I believe at times the Wanakarn was close to capacity but apart from noticing a few more tables at dinner you would think it was at fifty percent occupancy at most.

Other reviewers have noted that one thing they would change is some additional dining areas to prevent having to take all meals in the same area, which is a fair comment and I have seen more tables being moved our to the river side decking to give diners a different option in the evening, its also worth noting that there is a air conditioned dining room available at request should you want to eat out of the heat. Personally my wife and I accept that if you stay in a small hideaway boutique resort with capacity of ~32 guests that multiple F&B outlets are an unrealistic expectation.

One of the great things we noticed on coming back to the Wanakarn was the personal development of some of the staff that where perhaps a little shy or had difficulty with English on our first visit now seeming to have come our of their shells and being much more comfortable in there guest interactions. We look forward to seeing more of this on our next visit.

Talking of staff we cant fail to mention Mr Frode Sund the general manager, having spoken with Frode many times I know he has a history of managing these small hideaway luxury boutique resorts, his passion as a hotelier and for his guests experience is very clear, you’ll find Frode checking in with his guests with a light touch during the day, over dinner or drinks, or simply taking coffee at the bar and shooting the breeze. Making sure that all is well with their stay, passing on details of the local area for those wishing to “escape” paradise and see the local temples or towns. The way in which he sprang into action when we told him about our earlier accommodation woes is just one small indication of his passion and professionalism but one that will stay with my wife and myself for a long time.

I’ll close by saying that if small barefoot luxury is what you are looking for then I think the Wanakarn is the place for you, if you are looking for chic, modern, technologies laden villas and starched service then think again and give the Wanakarn a try I think its natural friendly and relationship driven service will win you round.

Date of stay: February 2015
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Location
    • Rooms
    • Service
16  Thank Simon_Morgan
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 2 February 2015

My family and & I spent Christmas at the Wanakarn after a long and exhausting year. If you want peace & quiet and complete relaxation - look no further.
The property is literally in the middle of nowhere and the nearest 'shanty town' is around 8km's away. Upon arrival you are given your own bicycle to use within the grounds of the hotel or outside - and if you are fair weather cyclists like us, it will take you around 20 minutes to get into town. Just remember you have to cycle back!!! Alternatively, use the hotel car!! Upon reaching the town there is a Tesco!!! Any odds or ends you have forgotten, here is the place to shop.
The hotel is set in lush grounds and there are 15 one bed villas & one two bedroom villa. The villas have been built in twos' with an adjoining gate. This was perfect for us as we needed two rooms. All rooms are all identical - and are very nicely furnished with a day bed (3rd bed if you have a child) seating area, desk, TV and everything else that you would expect. The bathroom is spacious with plenty of cupboards and hanging space although its pretty casual here so its not necessary to dress up.
Each room has a small private pool with sun loungers so if you want complete privacy, you won't need to leave your villa.
The staff are incredibly helpful and want to please. English is a bit of a problem and quite a lot gets lost in the translation - however if you have any special dietary requirements, ask to speak directly with the head chef - she worked in the Mandarin Oriental in London before going to the Wanakarn so her English is perfect and you will get exactly what you ordered. Nothing is too much trouble for her and I think she likes to get the opportunity to speak with the guests.
The beach is beautiful and accessed by a one minute boat ride across the river - available all day, at any time. Fresh cold bottled water and a plates of fruit are provided throughout the day in ice boxes which is a nice little touch. The only drawback is there is no toilet on the beach. The beach is unspoilt and more of less empty other than a handful of other guests and staff. The sun loungers are solid and comfortable with nice big soft towels, and sun umbrellas are available.
Service is a little slow on the beach but the way to beat the system is order well in advance and you won't be waiting. Alternatively, if you know what you want and when you want it - pre order it and it will come on time. The Club Sandwich really is worth the wait!!
The General Manager, Frode, is very much hands on and genuinley wants you to have a remarkable stay - nothing is too much trouble for him and he will facilitate anything you want/need. He definitely has his ear to the ground and knows the minute anything goes slightly wrong - and can be seen doing everything he can to rectify the situation - a small problem is just as important as a big problem to him - and nothing is unsolvable.
The Wanakarn lives up to its reputation of being a hideaway resort. If you are looking to unwind and relax in a paradise setting with excellent food and wines, then this is the place for you.

Room tip: With only 15 rooms and they are all pretty close to each other, every room is a good one
Date of stay: December 2014
  • Trip type: Travelled with family
    • Value
    • Location
    • Service
13  Thank Soozywong
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 17 January 2015

Don't go, if you do not cherish isolation. Go, if you really want to get away from it all, but be pampered all the same.

On first visual impressions, this place may not necessarily win over the discerning traveler. It is not styled to the extreme. In fact, upon arrival and before getting a chance to speak with the very approachable and friendly general manager, I was convinced that the buildings had been erected about 20 years ago and had been well taken care of and updated over time. This is due both to the fact that the villas (it is an all villa hotel) could easily be just a tad bit larger and boast a separate living room and bedroom, which they don't, and the choice of materials and execution of workmanship. The grouting of the slate tiles on the terrace and around the pool could be more professional (it is crumbling, the plunge pool leaks a bit), the choice of wallpaper in parts of the living quarters and the bathroom could be less old-fashioned. The place to me seemed too late nineties (think Royal Palm Mauritius before the renovation), the drawers of the too tight and small walk-in closet space (in the bathroom) are poorly executed, much better and sturdier mechanisms are around now. Apparently, the Thai architect building all this in 2010 wanted it this way; I would have preferred a bit more attention to longevity of materials, truly functional and practical room design and up-to-date design touches, but hey...

All these "points" became minor or even negligible within a very short time after arrival. The location is fantastic, since you are (if you want to be, I was surprised how many guests spent whole days within the confines of their villas) on a completely private beach. There is no music, there is just the sound of waves, wind, birds etc. You can watch the hermit crabs walk about. To get there, you take the hotel shuttle boat across the river which separates the hotel from the beach. This is quite unique in that the hotel has a beach on the river, and across the river the actual beach. River and beach front run parallel, quite charming. This fact increases the feeling of seclusion on the beach. That said, you still have loungers, umbrellas, towels and great service.

Service is one of the key elements of what made our stay so fantastic. Whilst you are on the beach, cold water, cold towels and a bit of fresh fruit is delivered to you at noon, 2pm and 4pm. You don't ask for it, it just arrives. If you wish to order food or drink from the restaurant, someone will bring you a menu and deliver the ordered goods to you within about 45 minutes. Allow a bit of time here and there, all food and drink is made fresh just for you. I will comment further on service a (long) bit further down.

When you are on the beach, you do not encounter anyone other than other hotel guests, which can't be many as the hotel is small, maximum about 36 guests, if all villas (of which 15 are identical) plus the one grand two bedroom villa are booked and two couples bring a kid each. As far as your eyes will let you see, you see just sand, trees and ocean (in either direction). Occasionally, a fisherman or fisherwoman can be found fishing by the river or where the river joins the sea (about 10 min. stroll on the beach to the right of the resort). If you stroll along the beach to the left for about 30 minutes, you will find a temple hidden in the woods behind the beach; occasionally, local families play on the beach there. This is about all that happens on the beach. We loved it, true paradise (service included).

The landscaping of the grounds is great in that a lot of mature and beautiful vegetation can be found on the premises. The concrete walkways (also used by housekeeping buggies etc.) bothered me a bit, as they also reminded me of eighties in the tropics. Some natural stone and cleverer, more up to date design (see Twin Palms Hotel or typical Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons walkways in the tropics, for example) would do the grounds some good. Give it a few years, the newly planted shrubs, bushes etc. will blend in even more nicely with the existing mature trees. Overall, the landscaping appears as relaxed as the rest of the resort makes you feel. To be sure, my slight criticism is perhaps a bit indulgent and focused on the direct visual impact. It all "feels" calming and relaxing because it is relaxed.

Except for a view villas, you do not see the river or the beach from your living room. Those facing the beach are also closer to the communal areas. You might enjoy the view but hear more from the restaurant and pool area. 1202 has the best view (of the standard villas) but is also closest to the pool and the river beach, so your pick on preferences! Air con in the rooms is great, since indirect, so it never blows right onto you.

Bed linens, mattress, overall cleanliness, amenities, fruit basket etc. were fantastic. I do have a pet point: I would love a kitchen and bar corner which is not placed right opposite the bed. In fact, the reason I would much prefer a separate living and bedroom area is all about this. I stay up later and get up later than the better half. So the morning coffee, if enjoyed at the significant other's convenience, will wake me up. We love espresso machines in the room (we even book rooms for that alone occasionally), because we don't have to call room service, wait for it and then have their bell wake me up anyway. But for that the coffee maker (which incidentally makes a huge ruckus) needs to be out of my sleeping ear's earshot. And the bar could be better stocked; some milk for my coffee when I get up, some decent wine. I did get over it, no worries.

Food is great, fresh and surprisingly varied for a small resort. Beef is only Wagyu, fantastic. The Thai executive chef did a great job both on Thai and non-Thai fare. The a-la-carte breakfast choices are huge. And if what you want is not there, it will be made for you. Allow time for breakfast (and all other eating occasions), since even breakfast is a-la-carte and freshly prepared for you. If you cannot find exactly what you want on the menu, there is great flexibility. Chat to the executive chef, she will go out of her way to make you just what the doctor ordered. I only missed real porridge (the one on the menu is a concoction of musli and flakes).

After at the latest two days, the staff (of which there is plenty, about 110, I am told) will anticipate your needs (unless of course, these are totally different every day). Would you like us to move a table for you into your preferred corner? No problem. Would you like your freshly squeezed green apple and carrot juice (with just a bit of ginger), just like yesterday? Poached egg on brown toast, same as always? Service was very personal, extremely attentive and quite obviously always designed to make you feel as well as any service could make you feel. Sure, English was a bit of a hurdle here or there, but there was no lack of trying. It was always obvious that everyone had the best possible intentions, tiny glitches in performance were more easily forgiven than almost anywhere else I have ever been, because of the obviously good intentions. As an example: one day, I ordered food on the beach at about 1pm, and it took just about 2hrs for it to get to me. This, at the time, was actually a bit annoying. The reasons were: kitchen got the order of the orders mixed up and on top of that the person who took my order ordered the wrong dish for me. He was so obviously embarrassed by this and obviously felt seriously bad, that I forgot about it very quickly. My only wish would have been that between 1pm and 2:30pm (when the wrong dish arrived) I had been given an update as to why things took so very long. This is exactly what the GM told the poor chap who took my order. More amazing, however, the GM knew about the incident (and clearly understood what would have helped in the circumstances), because the poor chap himself had brought his mishap to the attention of the GM without me even saying a word about it to anyone but the person who took my order. I know I am verbose, you get my drift. Service is a huge plus of this resort.

Some minor points: we seemed to order a lot of "last of the lot" bottles of wine. The white wines were always way too warm to be consumed straight away. Even the reds, for our taste. They are both kept at 24 degrees celsius. For whites, it takes a bit of time in an ice bucket to get them down to drinking temperature (perhaps we were a bit impatient). We like our reds at a maximum of 15 to 20 degrees celsius, so even these needed cooling (to the horror of some of our French co-guests, who seemed to believe that reds are never chilled, never mind you are by the equator and temperatures at night are around 30 degrees celsius). Anyway, like always, the staff did the utmost to chill the wines to our preferred temperature, which could involve a waiter standing by our ice bucket turning the bottle in the ice for 10 minutes. They really mean it on the service! One can (and we did) get a bit embarrassed by all the effort, but it comes from the heart it seems, so enjoy it rather then offending the service provider by declining the service.

And no, no one is paying me to write this. I don't think I have ever been able to relax at a hotel as well as at the Wanakarn. Perhaps I have made bad choices in the past, but we will return to this one!

Date of stay: December 2014
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Service
13  Thank PainfulGuest
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 5 January 2015

It is not often that reality exceeds what you are shown on colour pictures - but in Wanakarn this is the case!
From the moment we were picked up in the latest airconditioned Mercedes limousine at the airport in late December up to our departure in January, my wife and me felt in a truly different world and the resorts slogan "the search is over - paradise found..." is not far fetched. Embedded in stunning nature, this place offers all the beauty and relaxing peace that our body and soul needed to relax from a usually hectic and stressy everydays life!
The villa is of generous size with a clean pool, comfortable couches and private atmosphere. The sandy beach simply a dream - not one pebble stone between our toes, even in the warm and very clear sea - and most of the time we had it all alone for ourselves. Little extras like ice-cooled baskets with fruits and drinks or ordered meals rounded up some perfect days...
The food is excellent and the chef de cuisine, a lively and smart young lady with a solid international background, offers an amazing variety of dishes in great quality. And even though it was high season (fully booked with 30 guests!) she found time to listen to our "wish-list" and always performed. Back at home now, I am not sure what I miss more - a bite from the extraordinary and richly decorated New Years eve buffet or my tender Wagyu-steak for breakfast.....
But what is a place without its staff? The locally hired people are of a natural kindnes and friendlines which we often missed in other places in this category. Always observant and considerate, each one of them really tried to pamper us in every possible way during our stay and the rare occasions of a negligeable shortfall were waived with a smile from our side - because they give their heart to the guests and every day was started with a warm welcome at the breakfast table!
Last, but not least - the GM of Wanakarn, Mr. Frude Sund. The charismatic Norvegian is a very experienced and knowledgeable man of old school who takes the concerns and wishes of his guests serious and reacts immediately. Always present at the right time, our arrival and departure included, we often watched him lending his ear to everybody who crossed his way, not only once or twice, but daily - as part of his dedicated duty. In our opinion, a world class manager!
It is thanks to Mr. Sund and his wonderful staff and the exquisite cuisine that makes the difference to other high end resorts in South East Asia and makes us return again and again.

Martin and Silvana Haussener, Switzerland

Date of stay: January 2015
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Sleep Quality
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
13  Thank Martin H
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 4 December 2014

This was a very quiet Hotel, which due to the time we went, at the beginning of the season, was particularly quiet. What I really liked here was that you were made to feel like a part of a large family. The staff were all from the locality, and although not necessarily the best trained in Thailand, they more than made up with it by there friendliness and their desire to please.
Although the Hotel is a "Hidden Gem", for me the real hidden gem is the chef. The food was prepared exactly as you asked for it, nothing seemed too much trouble.
There is a beach which is reached by boat across a fairly narrow stretch of tidal river. The staff are always on hand to ferry you across, and back, and fruit and water was provided at frequent intervals along with towels for the sunbeds. Another thing which made you feel both welcome, and a part of the "family" was that the General Manager was always around, and seemed to know the guests by name.

Room tip: This is a small hotel, and all the rooms seem very similar.
Date of stay: November 2014
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Sleep Quality
    • Service
10  Thank MacM828
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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