Review: Iniala, Phuket

Iniala

Consisting of only 3 villas and 1 penthouse, Iniala recently celebrated its second birthday.  With a huge range of international designers being given free reign to design the property, along with Michelin star chefs, an ex-North Island GM and a whole host of activities, Iniala has been firmly rooted at the top of our places to visit.  Although it has won numerous rewards, information on it is sparse and there are very few reviews that talk much in detail about what the property offers.  Hopefully this helps anyone thinking of visiting.

Iniala, Phuket (although not really), Thailand
Room type: Penthouse + Villa Siam
Duration: 15th -> 21st December
Booked with: Direct with hotel

I really took one for the team here.  Before you start thanking me for my services to humanity in coming to Iniala and writing this report, I feel it’s only fair to explain that I have never been to a Holiday Inn, so cannot speak with the upmost authority on the subject of luxury.  Nor have I ever eaten in Taco Bell or ever watched any of “The Real Housewives”, so it’s fair to say my taste is incredibly limited and quite frankly poor.  But from my limited experience, Iniala is one of the best resorts in the world. It is certainly the best I’ve ever been to.

So, where do I even begin here?  Let’s start at the end, so you good folks don’t need to bother reading all of this:  come here immediately.  Beyond your budget?  Well let’s strip out some of your non-essentials.  Car?  That can go.  TV – gone.  House, your mistress and utility bills will have to come a distant second.  Eating even starts to become a non-essential.  Iniala doesn’t just look after you, it wants to love you.  It has the upmost level of exexibility, personalised service, incredible rooms and food.  If you enjoy holidays where your required effort is greater than lifting your finger to call your butler, then this is not the place for you.

Penthouse view

Pre-sales

For either longer stays or those that cost more than the internal organs I now need to sell to pay for the trip, I always contact the resort directly in order to find out more information.  My experience of this is not particularly great.  North Island generally takes up to 4 days to respond to an enquiry, Fregate is around 2 days and Laucala didn’t even bother responding to me at all, until I had booked and paid a deposit, then they deemed me worthy of their greatness.  Iniala fits into a similar price range and therefore would act as a competitor, yet tells a different story entirely.

A welcome gift, AKA a bribe to make me write nice things.

I spoke to someone via Live Chat via their website, then within hours had all the information I asked for.  The same person I spoke to then was available for any questions, changes or requests the entire time.  Every request was dealt with almost immediately; nothing was ever a problem all from the point of our first contact in March.  Our original booking was only for 3 nights, yet we ended up doubling it to 6 and cancelling Amanpuri.

They also have the single greatest pre-arrival question I’ve ever seen, which needs engraving into a rock and turned into a giant statue over looking some South American city: “What level of service do you prefer? We try to customise to suit our guests’ preferences. For example, would you like butlers with you at all time or prefer a more discreet service with an emphasis on privacy?”.   This would correctly lead you to assume that you’re in for a treat.  Good assumption, I say to you.

Getting there

Just like the Aman’s in Bali, we were greeted just before immigration by someone who took us down the VIP lane, even though the entire area was empty (mostly due to our art of always sitting in row 1, only ever taking carry-on luggage and also running off the plane and through the airport like we’re being attacked by a swam of bees).  Still, for those 3 special seconds, I felt important.  Afterwards we were immediately greeted by 2 Iniala employees, one who would be our morning butler for our stay, who took us away in their fully-kitted-out vehicle that made Aman’s vehicles suddenly appear like you were riding a nearly-dead camel.  Just like how my dad always used to tell me that where we were heading was “just around the corner”, I always find any time a hotel says “just 20 minutes” away that they really mean 30-40.  Iniala joins this non-exclusive club as well.

Christmas in Phuket

Rooms

I’ve had worst days

“All inclusive” makes the hairs on the back of necks rise for most luxury travellers.  It makes you think of late night entertainment by over 50s adults or barely pubescent teens, along with some awful buffet with greasy food in some old dining room that could be mistaken for a morgue.  Maybe that’s just me.  In recent years this has started to change and now all inclusive just means “don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of this”.  Iniala does this perfectly.  Every villa has your own butler, chef, spa therapist, driver and house keeper.  Everything is included, from food, drink, laundry, airport transfers, movies, BBQs, massages and activities.

Our stay list was done to absolute perfection.  We’ve seen some very, very good attempts in the past (Song Saa and were Amanoi notably brilliant – they went to their respective capital cities to source what we asked for) but Iniala has taken it to an entire new level.  Every single request has been ticked off.  They even imported some items from England and purchased the pillow that I prefer – a clear sign of my new found diva status.

The rooms are the show stealer at Iniala.  They have to be, as there is very little else here.  It’s very clear that with Iniala that this holiday is all about you and no one else.  Perfect for the narcissist in us all.  It is designed all around you, your requirements, at your schedule and how you want it.  There are no communal areas; your villa is a fully self-sufficient area where everything is taken care of; where you’ll eat your meals, drink, swim, relax, plan your day, discuss your meals with your chef, have your spa treatments or even occasionally sleep.  The rooms here are simply stunning and beyond anything I’ve seen elsewhere.  There is an art gallery at Iniala to purchase some of the art on display, but the rooms in themselves fit that criteria at times.

At 450sqm The Penthouse is the smallest of the villas, but having had a tour of every villa, I consider it the best one for a couple.  Whilst the other villas are bigger, this space is separated across 3 bedrooms.  The Penthouse brings everything together into one massive space, but one that can be separated off so you can have complete privacy and peace and quiet in one area, whilst someone else can sleep in the other.

The floor is made of memory foam, making you wonder why no hotel has ever decided to do this before.  In fact, why isn’t everything this way?  Football pitches, car parks and ice skating rings would just be a much more cheerful place if they were made of memory form instead.  Could you imagine wanting to fight someone when your feet felt that good?

We moved between the Penthouse and Villa Siam.  I originally booked the Penthouse for 6 nights, but upon noticing Villa Siam was available enquired about the price difference for that too and in the end decided to move for originally 2 nights, but then reduced it down to 1 as we loved the Penthouse so much.  I have been made to feel like the only guest in other hotels, but this may is certainly the first time that I’ve stayed in a 10 bedroom resort and taken up 4 of the rooms.

Penthouse patio
Penthouse pool
Penthouse bedroom
Penthouse sitting area
Penthouse lounge
Penthouse lounge at night
Penthouse kitchen
Spa setup in bedroom
Penthouse bedroom

Amenities

Even though it is a small resort, we are finding that our day is being booked out completely when we sit down to plan it.  Thai boxing, a run along the beach with an instructor, a non-stop flow of treatments from highly trained therapists, chefs prepared to make you anything you want (no, really – we’ve been dining on bizarre Peruvian dishes made by Spanish chefs whilst in Thailand.  Peak cosmopolitan.), cycle trips, shopping trips, canoeing, swimming and a whole host of other activities outside the resort.  As space is a premium  – 3 of the villas are all right next to each other on the beach front – and little else apart from that, it may put you off to come here, but it just puts more focus on what you want.

  • There is no separate spa area, so therefore there are no additional facilities such as steam rooms, jacuzzis etc.
  • If any of the other villas are empty, you are welcome to use any of their rooms.  The Collector’s Villa has a 24 seat cinema, which we were welcome to use.  It’s hard to beat a viewing of Twelve Monkeys in your own cinema whilst being served any food you want.
  • This place isn’t really for those looking to hang out and meet others, as there is no communal area. The concept of Iniala really is that there is no need to ever leave your room.  I’ve stayed in resorts before where we’ve said you didn’t need to leave, but Iniala really doesn’t give you much choice in this.

It is worth emphasising though what the resort does have:

  • Kids hotel, which allows children to stay the night and staff look after them around the clock.
  • Gym with boxing ring
  • Pool table + art gallery
  • Beautiful beach
  • Top-end restaurant
  • A whole series of activities, including non-motorised water sports, cycling, yoga, pilates, cooking lessons, wine tasting and many more.
  • Faster Internet than both my house in Cambridge and office in London, although this may say more about the terrible infrastructure in England.
Boxing ring and gym
Pool table and art room
Kids hotel
Kids hotel guide
Kids hotel
Kids hotel

Food

The only food menu that you will find at Iniala is at breakfast –  a simple two page spread of daily specials or your own personalised menu for lunch or dinner.  You can of course order anything you want, but it’s useful to see some suggestions from the chefs, especially for the culinary impaired like myself.  Once you’ve ordered your breakfast, then you will receive a huge selection of pastries and fresh fruit, juices and really anything else you want.

They really will make anything for you, any way you want, with any ingredients you want.  Every day the head chef will come visit you, discuss what you’d like for today and tomorrow, so they can source the ingredients, and help you create your own menu.  My ineptitude when it comes to describing what food I like now means the head chef of Iniala is a connoisseur of Google Images on English restaurants.  It took a day to get it right, but after that I felt the quality of the food was incredible and matched exactly what I wanted – and for once that wasn’t just a bag of junk food.

Each villa also has a mini bar – with the Penthouse also having a full sized fridge –  stacked with anything you want.

Pastries wrapped to prevent both myself and the bugs eating all of them.
Morning pastries and fruit
Specially designed daily, personalised menu
Azurmendi

Service

The best place I can compare the service at Iniala to is Aman-i-Khas, in that you have a butler and they look after everything for you.  There is no reception area and no area to go if you want to visit staff – you’re given an iPhone to call your butler any time you want and they take care of everything for you.  Similar is also the number of rooms being 10, meaning no more than 20 adults will ever be around at once.  During our 6 night stay, there were several times when 2 of the other villas were empty, meaning there would have been no more than 4 rooms full.  Aman-i-Khas was world class service and Iniala matches it and betters it in most areas.

Collector’s Villa pool
  • Different to Aman-i-Khas and other butler focused resorts is that you will have two butlers a day during your stay, with one taking over at 5pm.
  • I’ve never had anyone unpack our clothes and hang up our underwear before.
  • There is more flexibility than a FIFA ethics committee member.  Everything you do is organised so well by your butler that you never once feel rushed.  Decided you want a massage at 3:30, then lunch at 4:30, followed by pilates/yoga on the beach during sunset at 6pm, but didn’t finish your massage until 5pm and finish eating until 8pm?  Not even the slightest hint of a problem.
  • Their free film selection is like nothing I’ve ever seen – it must have more movies than ants.  Being able to scroll through the entire list without passing out should be an entry exam into NASA.  If you never hear from me again, I’m being held by my own volition, watching films in paradise.
  • One evening my girlfriend ordered some awkward Peruvian dish.  This was discussed with a chef, which then resulted in yet more chefs coming to discuss it, just to apologise as they cannot source the ingredients that evening and will not be able to until the next day.
  • When your room is serviced it’s like a military operation, as so many people turn up and are finished in record time.  All laundry is done complimentary and returned the next day.  We woke up on the first day at 11am, went into the other half of the villa and found they had already cleaned the entire place, replaced all the fridge, left pastries behind and were waiting for us.
  • Management are omnipresent and always available to have a chat.

Worth knowing

  • It was not as private as I thought it would be – all 3 villas are right next to each other on the beach, meaning that if any of the other villa occupiers decide to walk down onto the beach, they can see you, if you’re at the end of your villa. For example, every single villa has a bedroom at the end, facing the beach.  In the case of the Collector’s Villa, this has a dining area too, and anyone occupying it is viewable by anyone else who is on the beach.
  • It’s not in Phuket.

The Good

  • Some of the best rooms you’ll ever seen in a resort.
  • Near perfect service and food.
  • The most flexibility of any resort I’ve ever experienced.
  • Everything at Iniala is about winning awards.  Award winning designers, 3 Michelin star chef, award winning Spanish pastry-chef-of-the-year.   
Villa Siam pool

The Bad

  • Iniala is not for everyone.  If you’re looking to meet people, this is not the place to do it.  This is day 4 of being here and so far I’ve only seen other people in their villas, which was during our first day here, and not spoken to anyone but staff.
  • The resort is only 2 years old, which shows as there are some really minor service improvements that they should be easily able to make that would replicate some of the better features of an Aman property.
  • Art is subjective, so when you make a hotel an art project than you won’t please everyone.  Most of the rooms are beautiful, whereas others just didn’t do it for me.
Pool table

The Luxurious
There are a few moments in my luxury travel experience where I’ve had to take a few moments to comprehend how ridiculous something is.  The rare moment where you experience something for the first time and have to laugh at it, as it seems so far beyond your expectation.  Some of these include:

  • First time flying Etihad’s First Apartment on their A380
  • My first Aman  experience at Amanzoe, where not only did all the staff seem to be psychic, but the building cost appeared as if budgets were just this thing that would occasionally be said, but then firmly ignored.
  • Some of the room upgrades we’ve received at Maybourne hotels (i.e. Connaught and The Berkeley)

It’s safe to say that Iniala can be added to this list.

Collector’s Villa entrance

Conclusion

I’m delighted that I’ve not only had the opportunity to try out Iniala, but that I increased our stay from 3 to 6 nights.  It may appear that there is not much to do here, but when you have a team of people who every day are ready to plan your time, it’s actually made it more busy than a normal beach holiday.  It may not be cheap, but it is worth every penny and feels like with another Iniala opening up in Malta in 2017 that they are onto something special.

One Comment

  1. There is more flexibility than a FIFA ethics committee member. Everything you do is organised so well by your butler that you never once feel rushed. Decided you want a massage at 3:30, then lunch at 4:30, followed by pilates/yoga on the beach during sunset at 6pm, but didn’t finish your massage until 5pm and finish eating until 8pm? Not even the slightest hint of a problem.

    The big question is, did the butler bring the sunset at 8pm with him?

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