Perched like Zeus’s Mount Olympus high above the sea and precariously close to the edge of a cliff, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the stunning views from the hotel’s terrace for those of the Aegean. Yet these waters are those of the Andaman Sea’s Phang Nga Bay, famed for its role in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.
The simple exterior may put some people off initially; it looks like a modern art museum, but once inside it’s another story entirely. For within, Italian avant-garde designer Paola Navone’s minimalist designs, combined with the use of local materials and colour schemes, shed a whole new light on the typical five-star Phuket hotel style.
I like a hotel that goes completely against the grain to create a place that stands out from the crowd. There are some incredible architectural sculptures within the hotel, featured in many an Architectural Digest around the world, plus quirky little touches dotted here and there to give a softer, more Asian feel.
Originally built for another, unassociated project, COMO acquired the deserted building and created a hotel with incredible accommodation, stunning views from all rooms, a pool deck that would rival any in Miami’s South Beach and the true feeling of space within that can be hard to find in other hotels. The food and beverage experience is excellent, with a lot of choices. You’ll also find, as at any COMO, that the spa is top-notch.
In summary, the hotel is a true delight and works for many, including large numbers of repeat guests who return time and time again. For the Asian crowd, it enables them to have a Mediterranean experience without the long travel time, and for the European expats a taste of home. There were many Europeans here when I stayed, who had travelled to Phuket searching for the exquisite and unique. The facilities and the impeccably trained staff made sure they got that – in abundance.
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By hotel car, it took only around 30 minutes to get from Phuket’s international airport to the hotel. The sweeping, curved drive up to the arrival pavilion of the hotel is impressive. My check-in was handled in under 10 minutes, and even though I had arrived well before check-in time, I was taken to my room post-haste.
The lobby area is huge, with low seating areas, water features and, on one side, an incredible view of the sea beyond. The colour scheme is predominantly off-white, with touches of Thai-inspired bright tones, including orange pillars, reflecting the colours of the sunset.
Rooms and suites
My Bay Suite, in the north wing with gorgeous views overlooking Phang Nga Bay, was immense. The entry corridor had doors that hid a guest bathroom and a walk-in wardrobe which, on further inspection, had doors on either side so you could access the main bathroom and the other side of the suite. There was a huge dining area with a large table and a gorgeous overhanging light comprising numerous small glass shades – a modern take on a chandelier.
The remainder of the suite had a huge, open-plan living area with back-to-back L-shaped sofas with purposely washed-out cotton covers in a turquoise hue. It was warm, inviting and very comfy. There was also an ample desk and a couple of small occasional tables to give the room a homely and lived-in feel. Around the corner was the bedroom, again all open-plan, featuring a super-king bed, surrounded by small, turquoise pottery tables.
Simple in decor and mainly all-white walls, colour came from the turquoise fabrics on the sofa, the pottery and the headboard. Outside on the large terrace was a small table and chairs but nothing else, so it did feel a bit soulless. I later found out that it usually has large day beds too, but as it was low season they had sent mine off to be refurbished before high season. The views from the terrace were lovely.
One thing to note is that the buildings of the hotel are divided into north and south wings, and there’s a main wing containing the reception and main areas. This means that all the rooms and suites are next to one another and so not particularly private. Essentially, you could be overlooked by someone else, but there were overhangs and dividers between the spaces offering seclusion of a sort.
Pool Suites have pools the full width of the terrace with infinity edges facing Phang Nga Bay. Although they have canopies similar to a wooden pagoda, they are not completely private – an issue that didn’t seem to bother the guest staying below me who was swimming ‘au naturel’ in her pool. For mobility-impaired guests, the COMO is very accessible as the suites are large and spacious and all on one level, and there are elevators between the levels and ramps around the main areas of the hotel.
Guests looking for more space can go for private villas within the resort, from one to four bedrooms, which are stunning. A short stroll from the main area of the hotel, they all come with endless sea views. Inside, the tiles are white and grey, while the furniture is mostly blue. I would highly recommend these villas for families or friends travelling together, for that little extra bit of privacy and a large sundeck around the pool.
The technology in the room was, on the whole, good. Wi-fi was strong throughout my stay, and there was a bank of sockets above the desk where you could charge all your gizmos with no problem. There didn’t seem to be any sockets where I could charge my phone and still have it next to my bed, so that was probably my only issue. There were two huge flat-screen TVs on the wall, in the living room and the bedroom, and I liked that. As well as the varied TV channels in numerous languages, there were also internet radio channels from around the world – which the hotel used at check-in and turndown to create a mood in your room. The air-con worked exceptionally well and was quiet. I love new hotels like this, those that make your comfort and convenience a top priority.
What a bathroom! As large as some bedrooms in city hotels, it had floor-to-ceiling turquoise tiles and a large, free-standing bathtub, a huge walk-in shower with a powerful rainfall shower, a toilet cubicle and a double vanity area with huge mirrors and starlit lighting all the way round to ensure excellent grooming. Through another sliding door was access to the walk-in wardrobe. The room layout had been well thought through.
My only slightly negative comment was that the tiling in the bathroom was somewhat overwhelming, and I did find it a bit dark, but as the lighting around the mirrors was excellent, there was no problem when getting dolled up for the day. Adding to the perfection of the bathroom space were COMO’s Shambhala toiletries, my all-time favourite.
The hotel has two lovely dining options, La Sirena, the Italian restaurant which I dined in several times as I loved the feel of the space and the food. It is set back from the pool terrace and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The space is cavernous, with very high ceilings and offering, at the same time, an intimate feeling.
The floors are chequerboard white and black tiles, and dining space and seating is made up of lovely, comfy white sofas with swirling patterned cushions in, again, black and white. Shades of turquoise break up the monotony in the sofas and stained-glass features, not to mention the huge, wood-fired traditional pizza oven.
The food and the service here was impeccable throughout my stay. There was a huge variety of choice at breakfast, including fruit, fresh juices, smoothies, cereals and home-made granolas. Breads changed each day, along with a choice of muffins, patisseries and Danish pastries. I loved the novel way the toast was cooked on small, wood-fired barbecues, which gave incredible-tasting toast. Cooked dishes were also available, made to order.
In the evenings, the lighting was impressive from the overhead chandelier-style pendants hanging from the super-high ceiling – like large rods of light descending from heaven. The lighting throughout the hotel was simply stunning and made the space very cosy and romantic. The food was well presented and beautifully tasty – there were baskets of freshly made Italian breads including different focaccia, olive breads and grissini. Menu items were fairly simple but beautiful, including antipasto platters, fresh fish and different cuts of meat, along with pasta and pizzas. I had a tuna fillet with salsa verde. Loaded with parsley, smooth olive oil and bold flavours, the fish was cooked to perfection, and with my choice of sides, it was a great alternative to the Thai food I had eaten most nights. The meal was finished off with a yummy tiramisu for dessert – as good as any I’ve had in Italy.
Other restaurant options
I also ate in the Thai restaurant overlooking the pool, a complete contrast to the styling of the Italian restaurant. Whereas La Sirena is all light and space, Nahmyaa is dark and moody, with brightness coming from the hues of blood red and orange decor, reflecting the colours of the sunset.
Prices are not for the faint-hearted, but with a menu inspired by Thai street fare, the food was delicious. Sates, soups and fish cakes are offered as starters, and mains of Thai curries and fish dishes are cooked to your taste. I opted for river prawns with sticky rice and a spicy sauce, before managing to squeeze in a portion of sweet rice with mango for dessert.
Spa and wellness
The renowned COMO Shambhala Retreat is a serene space, where everything feels natural. There are gorgeous relaxation areas and terraces with views of the cerulean sea. The retreat sits beautifully in its surroundings.
I spent quite a bit of time here and recommend it as a destination in itself. I enjoyed a 90-minute COMO Shambhala massage with signature oils and left feeling like I was floating on air.
I also tried the Guinot Hydradermie treatment – a facial to restore radiance and reveal my glowing complexion. It was a very weird feeling as they use prescriptive gels, chosen to suit your specific skin needs, then mild ionised currents which felt like pins and needles all over. Although I didn’t come out looking like Cindy Crawford, I could see a difference in my complexion.
I also took part in some of the other activities as every day they offer both complimentary and some paid activities, including Hatha and Ashtanga yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates. I went to a couple of classes and the instructors were excellent. You can also pay for a private yoga session, personal training or an assisted stretch class.
Pool and beach
An impressive walkway connects the lobby with the pool deck, where a 100-metre (328ft) infinity pool is set on one of the highest levels of the hotel, overlooking the sea beyond. It is very contemporary in feel (think Miami, South Beach). Surrounding the pool are various loungers to kick back and relax on, some individual and others in the form of double day beds with parasols.
The pool is very adult in design, although kids can enjoy the shallow end. There is full service around the pool, morning to night, from the Aqua Bar, where they create cocktails, juices and smoothies.
There’s also a purpose-built beach club on a private island with facilities such as a beachside restaurant, large swimming pool (salt water) and cabanas that can be rented for the day. There’s also a spa cabana, should you wish to have a treatment down by the beach.
Note that this island is a far trek from the hotel, and while they provide shuttle bus transfers to and from the boat transfer, these are not luxury vehicles. It’s not the hotel’s fault, as local regulations stipulate only local vehicles can be used, but it is nonetheless a bit unpleasant. Obviously the pride and joy of the particular owner, these vehicles come adorned with LED lighting around the edges, bright pink and purple furry dashboards and disco-style lighting. Trust me, you wouldn’t go twice, as the drive took around 30 minutes to get to the pier, which was heaving with people, and then I had to navigate my way through the crowds to the boat.
I believe that when I went, the normal boat was not operating due to it being in dry dock, so I’m hoping the experience is usually a lot better. But the boat I took was a traditional longboat moored by the beach, and so the access was up some very steep, metal, swimming-pool-like stairs – very difficult and uncomfortable to navigate. Also, there are only two times a day to go, 10am and 11am, coming back at 3pm and 4pm. So with nearly an hour to get there and then the same to come back, I wasn’t terribly impressed.
The beach is lovely but looked unkempt. It really needed sweeping as there was quite a bit of debris on the sand, plus there was a stray dog wandering around. Not to mention the noise of the jet skis from the neighbouring club. In short, if you have kids who need action, then go. Otherwise, the hotel pool is preferable by far.
For me this is not a kiddie-centric hotel. Perhaps it would suit teens but for younger kids I’m not convinced. There were plenty there, though – all having a good time, it seemed, and they do have activities and menus for the young.
The accommodation was generally on the large size, which would help house families, plus the villas would be ideal with their excess space and private pool.
Best was the service from the staff who, I noticed, were all extremely friendly towards children and I’m sure make them feel spoiled throughout their stay.
Staff and service
Undeniably the major USP about this hotel is the staff, who are all absolutely charming, friendly and happy to accommodate. The service was impeccable, and I felt well looked after the whole time I was here. Every day, for example, I was greeted by name at breakfast, and they asked whether I wanted to have the same meal as the day before. I felt pampered.
When passing by, the staff would enquire about my day and my stay, and all genuinely seemed interested. It is very rare that you get this from staff without it seeming a little contrived, but this was not the case here. It’s intuitive service by genuine people who strive to make your stay the best possible.
Varied in both age, style and nationality, there were a few multigenerational families here, and a few famous faces to boot. Most guests were between 30 and 50: global travellers, some with small kids in tow.
I left my room and it took me only 10 minutes to leave the hotel. The staff were all smiles and warmth as they made sure I had enjoyed my stay. I would return, I said, as soon as possible.
How to get here
40 minutes by road transfer from Phuket International Airport
79 Rooms & Suites