“Will it break if I step on it?”
Those were the words I first uttered when I stepped into the stunning overwater villa 75 and onto the glass floor that rapidly brought out the inner child in me. After I was assured that it wouldn’t break by the polite bellhop who escorted me, I emphatically asked a follow-up question: “But what if I eat a really big dinner tonight?” Clearly, I was aware that my 48-hour stay at Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort would entail plenty of things to look forward to, decadent culinary indulgences being just one of them.
I ended up at this Siam-esque beach resort as a result of what I’d consider my perpetual state of being: the intersection of consumed by wanderlust (particularly for any country residing in Southeast Asia), craving Pan-Asian cuisine, and researching which hotel should host my next staycation. What I soon realized is that Anantara The Palm is the definitive destination for any UAE resident craving a trip to Thailand, but unable to board the nearly seven-hour flight that comes with it.
Everything from the flora and fauna on the property to the dining venues, décor elements, temple-inspired architectural style, spa treatments, and unexpected extras screams Thailand. My only regret? Not staying a tad longer – here’s why.
What Lies Beneath
The number 75, for me, will forever have a connotation of pure luxury following my time at the Anantara’s accomodation. My aforementioned overwater villa featured a surprisingly minimalistic, yet chic aesthetic – think: dark wooden floors, fresh orchids, an elaborately carved headboard, rustic-colored accents, plush seating, and just about the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. (Truth be told, it’s a bit of a miracle that those plump and fluffly pillows didn’t bring out the kleptomaniac in me.)
The bathroom was the epitome of the high life – not to mention that it was big enough to accommodate my entire apartment. A luxe oversized bathtub with a view to match? Check. Multiple vanity counters? Check. Enough L’Occitane products to leave you smelling like verbena for weeks on end? Check.
The pièce de résistance of the 106-square-meter villa, however, has to be the glass-floor panel that I could never quite get enough of. I managed to spy on several species of fish in a matter of two days – you’ll be amazed by just how long you’ll want to stand there, peering down at the aquatic world beneath your feet. And because I’m always up for a good novelty factor, I was delighted to learn that the 18 overwater villas at the Anantara are the first of their kind in the Middle East.
The viewing panel is located just steps away from the private deck, which comes complete with an umbrella, a table, two loungers, and a generously sized daybed. You’ll have a tough time prying yourself away from the uninterrupted views of the azure Arabian Gulf waters, but a venture outside is a must. After all, a sliver of the best that Thailand has to offer awaits just outside your doorstep. Not up for the walk across the massive property? Dial 0 and relish the luxury of being taken in a buggy to your next destination – and for obvious reasons, I’d recommend starting with the spa.
Thailand is a country that has mastered the art of all things R&R, and Anantara Spa reflects this to a T, seamlessly combining the native ingredients of the Middle East and the ancient healing traditions of Asia to make for an unforgettable pampering experience. Serene and sumptuous, it is located on an island in one of the property’s three lagoon pools. The spa menu may have you feeling a little overwhelmed, but only in the best way possible. If a taste of Thailand is what you’re seeking, put the brochure away and book in for the ‘Nham Jai’ spa journey.
The name of this 120-minute package refers to the unconditional hospitality that the country is synonymous with and literally translates to “water from the heart”. Legend has it that for thousands of years, people in Thailand would leave a jar of water outside their houses for passersby to quench their thirst. Try to arrive early to enjoy the seemingly endless amenities on offer at the spa; there’s an aroma steam room, a crystal and gemstone steam room, experience showers, and more.
After using the salt-inhalation room, as advised by the therapist, my spa journey began with a nourishing foot bath that featured milk and rose petals. Sea salt was used to exfoliate, while a refreshing peppermint spray rounded things off. The second phase of the treatment featured an apricot and date-seed scrub that smelled as appealing as it felt. This led directly to the cooling gotu kola and aloe vera body wrap, which is ideal for those who have lost track of time while lounging poolside and need a little post-sun TLC.
With the sublime combination of the scrub and the wrap applied evenly across my body, I was tightly cocooned – several times over, in fact – so the two could work their collective magic. As I lay there looking like a symbol of Egyptian mummification, the therapist treated me to a soothing scalp message. Don’t be caught off guard if you feel a tug (or two) at your hair and earlobes during this bit. Confession? I enjoyed it more than I’d care to admit.
Once I’d rinsed off, it was time for the fourth and final phase of the ‘Nham Jai’ package: the ‘Anantara Signature Massage’, which utilized a blend of bergamot, ylang ylang, and lavender. This massage promised “purpose-designed movements that stimulate the circulation and promote deep relaxation, whilst restoring the flow of energy, or prana, along the meridian lines” – and it delivered.
Unlike some of the other massages I’ve had in the recent past, it wasn’t just the therapist’s palms involved. Her forearms, fingertips, and knuckles were all at work during various points, making for the perfect antidote to three consecutive days of rather intense hatha yoga. After an hour, a gentle tap on the gong signaled that my treatment had (unfortunately) come to an end. The consolation prize? I was famished, and knew exactly which direction to walk in.
Spice Makes Nice
In keeping with the theme of my journey to Thailand, my dining companion and I ended up at Mekong, the resort’s signature eatery. Exuding contemporary Asian flair, this award-winning restaurant is theatrically adorned with indoor waterways, Oriental wall motifs, brightly hued shutters, vibrant scatterings of red, and lanterns aplenty. However, the most Instagrammable spot of the restaurant – and arguably the hotel itself – is the outdoor terrace, where you’ll find rickshaw-style seating and eclectic birdcage lighting.
The menu here is perfect for a group of fickle eaters. Paying tribute to the famed Mekong River, it features China, Thailand, and Vietnam’s greatest culinary hits. Each dish has the flag of its country of origin next to it, which makes ordering a breeze, particularly if you have a thing for vexillology. Familiar favorites dominate the offering at Mekong, but don’t let that put you off.
The likes of spring rolls, prawn cakes, pad thai, red curry, and sticky rice with mango are all prepared to perfection. If you’re a seafood enthusiast looking to splurge, the ‘Pla Rad Prik’ deep-fried sea bass fillet served with sweet chilli sauce is just the ticket. I really could wax lyrical about this venue forever, but it’s time to address the carnivores.
Dining Down Under
Meat lovers should make a beeline for Bushman’s, an Australian restaurant renowned for its succulent cuts of prime meat. The menu boasts grade 4-5 Wagyu beef, grass-fed Angus beef from New Zealand, and even kangaroo sirloin – and speaking of wild animals from Down Under? Bushman’s also happens to be the site of my yes-that-happened food moment the night before. Admittedly, I’m not the most adventurous of diners, but I figured “when in Rome” while at this eatery. I was advised by the staff to take a chance and order the ‘Grilled Crocodile Skewers with Pomelo Salad, Spiced Peanuts, and Toasted Coconut’ – so I did.
Now, I know “tastes like chicken” is the standard response when people try something exotic, but in this case, it’s actually true. I expected the crocodile meat to have a rather dry and chewy texture (something about the look of designer handbags gave me that premonition), but it was actually quite juicy and tender. Promise. I was later told that it’s because the chefs at Bushman’s marinate the meat for a whopping 48 hours before grilling it. As expected, the “Sweet Endings” menu page consisted of popular desserts with an Aussie twist, such as ‘Australian Mess’ and ‘Flaming Rock’.
I opted for the signature ‘Tim Tam & Raspberry Tart’ that is accompanied by vanilla ice cream and lashings of chocolate sauce. Side note: if the name Tim Tam sounds familiar, it’s evident that you’ve invested way too much time watching episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. For those of you not in the know: the leading star of the Kardashian klan has professed her love of Tim Tam biscuits, which hail from Australia, on countless occasions.
In retrospect, the time I spent at the Anantara felt like a true escape, what with Thai-centric details as far as the eye can see – vintage tuk-tuks parked across the property, rambutans in the complimentary fruit platter, and staff greeting guests by saying sawasdee ka help you forget where you really are. And those “unexpected extras” that I referred to earlier? There are plenty to choose from.
The hotel is the only place in Dubai where you can ride a long-tail boat, a type of vessel that is native to Southeast Asia. You can hop onboard to take a scenic ride around the Palm Jumeirah or between the resort and Dubai Marina. If you’re feeling ambitious and hoping to recreate some of Mekong restaurant’s gems at home, you can sign up for a ‘Spice Spoons’ cooking class.
The two and a half hour session will cover the preparation of three delicious Thai dishes, and you’ll walk away with a souvenir apron, chopping board, recipe book, and certificate of achievement. However, the ultimate unexpected extra has to be the small market-style boats that meander around the lagoon pools, serving snacks and refreshing drinks, courtesy of the floating mixologist. To sum it up? This is a resort to Thai for.
For more information on Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort or to book a stay, click here.